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From catchphrases to unfriend

Barbara McClintock
(Language Update, Volume 7, Number 1, 2010, page 37)

Catchphrases (accroches, tournures, phrases accrocheuses or phrases chocs)1

Many great expressions enter popular culture from movies. Jerry Maguire is an American dramedy (explained below) starring Tom Cruise. It was written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who is credited with creating catchphrases such as “You complete me,” “Help me help you,” “Show me the money!” and “You had me at hello.”2

Advertisers love to use catchphrases or variations on them because they are catchy and memorable. You may have seen the recent McDonald’s commercial for free coffee. The female employee says her spiel about how good the coffee is, and the customer hushes her by saying “You had me at free,” and “Vous m’avez eu à gratuit” in the French version. Catchphrases may have connotations or cultural associations that make them difficult to translate. Of course, if an accepted translation exists, it is better to use it. In other words, a catchphrase may be a type of hidden quote (which I define as a quote not marked as such or a stock phrase with a standard translation).

TERMIUM Plus® gives slogan as an English synonym and as one of the French translations for catchphrase. However, a slogan is a short, catchy phrase used strictly for advertising or publicity purposes. It is also advisable to use the official translations for slogans. Coca-Cola is the slogan champion, in my opinion, because it promotes a new one every year. For example, “Catch the wave” can be translated several ways in French: saisir la vague, surfez sur la vague or prendre la vague. Of course, if you are referring to Coke®, you need to use the official translation, Rattrapez la vague.

Dramedy or black comedy?

The difference between black comedy (comédie à l’humour noir)3 and dramedy (comédie dramatique)4 is that black comedy makes light of serious and often taboo subjects.5 Good examples of black comedy would be M*A*S*H, set during the Korean War, and Six Feet Under, a television series based on a funeral home. Someone dies in every episode of Six Feet Under. On the other hand, dramedy, also called comedy-drama or dramatic-comedy,6 is simply a balance of comedy and drama, e.g. Forrest Gump and Jerry Maguire.

Word of the Year (2009)

Unfriend is the New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2009 Word of the Year. It is interesting because unfriend is an old noun that has changed into a verb that refers to removing someone as a friend on a social networking website. “Alice unfriended Sue after Sue posted a message about her boyfriend on Facebook!” Merriam-Webster chose the verb admonish (admonester, réprimander) as its Word of the Year based on the number of times the word was looked up in its online dictionary after news reports about Congressman Joe Wilson being admonished for calling Obama a liar.

Notes