Arrested Development: The English language in cut-offs
By Mark Peters
Arrested Development—the cult comedy set to rise from the dead on Netflix 26 May 2013—had its own distinctive language. It was a show of catchphrases.
“I’ve made a huge mistake.”
“I’m a monster!”
“There’s always money in the Banana Stand.”
Unlike 30 Rock, Seinfeld, or The Simpsons, Arrested Development didn’t crank out many new words. Much like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Arrested Development took characters, rather than language, to the limit. Sure, there was hop-on, as in “You’re gonna get some hop-ons” (while driving the preposterous stair car). “Douche chill” was a memorable exclamation by Tobias, though it was used in only one episode. Cornballer is a fun word for a ridiculously unsafe product that produced delicious cornballs and first-degree burns.
One Arrested Development term stands out: never-nude (or, if you like, never nude or nevernude).
This term was first used in the 14 December 2003 episode “In God We Trust,” when twins Michael and Lindsay Bluth discuss her farcical marriage to Tobias:
Michael: You guys were not sharing a bedroom before?
Lindsay: Well, the cut-offs weren’t exactly a turn-on.
Michael: Yeah, what’s the deal with the cut-offs?
Lindsay: You’ve got to promise not to tell anyone this.
Lindsay: He’s a never-nude.
Michael: Is that exactly what it sounds like?
Narrator Ron Howard then chimes in: “Tobias suffered a rare psychological affliction of never being able to be completely naked,” accompanied by ridiculous images of Tobias in those cut-offs. The cut-offs—a horrifying, do-it-yourself version of Daisy Dukes—are always worn by Tobias, even in the shower or under underwear. A preference for this denim disaster is the main symptom of being a never-nude, as shown by all the people wearing them at a recent fan gathering. Cut-offs are to Arrested Development fans as pointy ears are to Trekkies.
This term is not widely used, but it’s part of the lexicon for some, as shown by uses on Twitter. A female professional wrestler describes a situation that would surely make Tobias freak: “Had my first massage. As someone who is awkward being touched, ticklish, a never nude, and can’t sit still, it was a traumatizing experience.”
Here, a parent uses the term to discuss a child’s clothing preferences: “It’s the last year we’ll be able to dress the 2yo for Halloween as anything we want. Last year she was a never-nude. Any suggestions?”
I’m impressed by the following joke, which plays on the shredded wardrobe of Bruce Banner’s alter ego: “The Hulk is a never nude.”
I don’t understand this next joke, but I kind of love it anyway: “Meryl Streep is a never nude.”
As Ana Marie Cox recently demonstrated, the term can also be used for political commentary: “I should be prepping for TV but I keep wondering who in the WH is a never-nude. Pretty sure it’s not Biden… He’s more of an Oscar.” (Arrested Development fans know this is a nod to Oscar Bluth, George Bluth’s pot-smoking, lemon-grove-owning, folk-singing twin.)
Awesomely, there’s a real-life equivalent of never-nudism: gymnophobia. Gymnophobics may sound like they’re afraid of gym class, but they’re really afraid of nudity. However, I imagine they’re also afraid of gym class, which is traditionally a hellstorm of unwelcome nudity and could therefore be a Petri dish for future never-nudes.
In “Marta Complex,” narrator Howard notes that never-nudes are not recognized by the DSM-IV, the then-latest edition of the renowned psychiatric manual. Alas, the recently published DSM-5 still neglects the term. Never-nude may never be recognized by the psychiatric community or the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s as near and dear to Arrested Development fans as Buster’s hook, Lucille’s alcoholism, Job’s scooter, and George Michael and Maeby’s incestuous love.
As Tobias once said of never-nudes—in a line that perfectly doubles as a rallying cry for fans of the cultiest of cult shows—“There are dozens of us! Dozens!”
Mark Peters is a lexicographer, humorist, rabid tweeter, and language columnist for Visual Thesaurus. If you’re in Chicago, go see the sketch comedy show he wrote: Nachos…From the Abyss. Read his previous OUPblog posts on the language of Batman, reduplication, and tweets.