Television shows have a huge influence on popular culture, and so it is not surprising that many words and phrases have come into common usage through the medium of television. Here are a few of our favourite words and phrases that were popularized through iconic TV shows.
In science fiction, this is a (supposed) technique for the psychic fusion of two or more minds, permitting unrestricted communication or deep understanding. Originally from the US television series Star Trek, the use has extended beyond the original sci-fi context: one quote featuring in the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary from N.Y. Mag reads “The next [moment], he’s mind-melding with an ABC News producer about educational technology initiatives.”
Coined by the writers of the satirical television programme The Thick Of It, an omnishambles is a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, and is characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations. Omnishambles was selected as the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2012.
Cowabunga was first popularized by a character on the US television programme Howdy Doody in the 1950s and 1960s. It later became associated with surfing culture and was further popularized by use on the US television cartoon programme Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987–96).
Perhaps most commonly associated with Homer Simpson from the American cartoon series The Simpsons (1989–), created by Matt Groening. When frustrated about things not going well, the beer-loving, incompetent patriarch of the dysfunctional family exclaims ‘D’oh!’. Dan Castellaneta – the voice of Homer Simpson – notes that the scripts for The Simpsons only ever read ‘annoyed grunt’, and not ‘D’oh!’. Dan took inspiration for Homer’s ‘D’oh!’ from a similar noise made by the nemesis character in Laurel and Hardy. D’oh has been recorded (as doh, d’oh, and dooh) in the OED as early as 1945, with the current first citation from a BBC radio script.
The OED uses these quotes from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer film to illustrate this usage: “A stranger, walking the other way, bumps into Buffy, doesn’t stop… Buffy. Excuse much! Not rude or anything.” The use of ‘much’ in this way was popularized by the Buffy film and the television series derived from it, but the first OED citation is from a 1978 Saturday Night Live transcript. Find out more about Buffy‘s other distinctive words and sentence structures in our blog post about the language of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
This phrase was popularized in Britain as the catchphrase of the children’s television puppet Basil Brush, which first appeared in 1953. Boom-boom is used to draw attention to a joke or pun, especially one that the speaker or writer regards as weak, obvious, or laboured. The OED lists Monty Python’s Flying Circus as its first citation for boom-boom, with the quote “I’ve got a chauffeur and every time I go to the lavatory he drives me potty! Boom-boom!”
An acronym of Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, ‘Tardis’ is the name in the science-fiction BBC television series Doctor Who (first broadcast in 1963) of a time machine that resembles a police telephone box on the outside, but is much larger on the inside. Tardis is now used as a synonym for ‘time machine’ but also occasionally for a building or container that is in reality much larger than it seems. Illustrative quotes from the OED include: “10 Downing Street is like the ‘TARDIS’—it is much bigger inside than it looks on the outside.” Referring to the sense of a time machine, there are quotes like this: “This ground. . . is like a Tardis, transporting me back to the days of playing in front of stately homes or in some noble lord’s grounds.”
Oxford Dictionaries Online is a free site offering a comprehensive current English dictionary, grammar guidance, puzzles and games, and a language blog; as well as up-to-date bilingual dictionaries in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. The premium site, Oxford Dictionaries Pro, features smart-linked dictionaries and thesauruses, audio pronunciations, example sentences, advanced search functionality, and specialist language resources for writers and editors.
Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only language, lexicography, word, etymology, and dictionary articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to the OxfordWords blog via RSS.