There are all sorts of words and phrases from pop culture that have crossed over into the wider vernacular. Some are extremely well known. Others are less so, but still incredibly fun and useful once you know them. These are a few of my favorites.
Watsonian and Doylist
Definition: From the perspective of a person in a fictional world (Watsonian) or from the perspective of an author or reader (Doylist). Useful in discussion of a fiction to clarify if you are talking about “in universe” explanations for something that happened or the “behind the scenes” version of events.
Etymology: The terms have their origins in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and refer to the two different people who could be said to have authored those works. Dr. John Watson is a fictional character in the same world as Holmes. To him, Holmes is a real person capable of acting and thinking on his own. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a real author who sees Holmes as a fictional character whose actions are dictated by a writer and the outside pressures that influence the writer.
“A Wizard Did It.”
Definition: “It’s a mistake, but since you obviously need an explanation, it’s magic.”
Etymology: The Watsonian and Doylist perspectives assume that there are reasonable explanations for why something happened in a work of fiction. On the opposite end of the spectrum is “A wizard did it,” a bit of all purpose hand waving used to explain anything that doesn’t make sense, particularly continuity errors. The phrase was first uttered by an slightly exasperated Lucy Lawless in the tenth “Treehouse of Horror” episode of The Simpsons as she tries to explain an issue with horse continuity to Professor Frink.
Definition: A low ranking, often nameless character whose primary purpose in the story is to get killed off. Usually pertains to science fiction, but can be used in other genres as well.
Etymology: The original Star Trek was littered with unfortunate red-shirted individuals who perished quickly and frequently. A red shirt indicated a member of the operations team in this era of the venerable science fiction franchise. This included security personnel, who often faced the brunt of any hostile presence on the Enterprise, and members of the away team, who would indicate the danger that a newly discovered planet posed by getting themselves killed. Even though the relations between shirt color and occupation were switched around in later Trek series, the term stuck.
Definition: The grouping of four to ten spikes at the end of a stegosaur’s tail.
Etymology: Pop culture words and phrases often gain traction when they describe something that there isn’t currently a good word for. Such is the case with “thagomizer,” which first appeared in a Far Side cartoon suggesting that the pointy portion of the dinosaur is named for a caveman who discovered it and was killed by it. Paleontologists adopted the word and it’s since become the informal name for a stegosaur’s business end.
“But for me, it was Tuesday.”
Definition: “This is obviously a big deal to you, but I don’t even remember it.”
Etymology: The live action Street Fighter movie has never been considered a classic, but it has its moments, including this line delivered by Raul Julia in his final film performance. Julia plays the villain M. Bison, who is being confronted by the daughter of a man killed on his orders. Bison does not recall this specific incident, explaining “For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday.” The surprisingly clever line is a good example of a particularly interesting sort of relationship between protagonist and antagonist, where one is profoundly affected by an action the other considers routine. Though it’s usually applied to villains who do so many bad things they can’t remember many individual incidents, it can also work with heroes who did something unintentionally harmful that they don’t recall.
Share your own favorite geekisms – whether they’re common everywhere or just an in-joke around your house – in the comments.