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Endlessly Repeated Words on TV


 

You notice how often they say “sectionals” on Glee? It occurred to me again while watching last night that it’s a word that seems to be constantly repeated whenever they need to remind us that there are Stakes: Will will, at some point, remind his brood that they need to “get ready for sectionals” so that we can segue into a number, or so the writers can break up an argument among the kids, or just so we can know that there’s a reason why they’re singing so much and that there is a competition coming. Other people started to come up with “sectionals” drinking games as early as last year.

When I mentioned this, Justin Fowler pointed out that Chuck has its own equivalent of “sectionals,” which is the word “spy.” An inordinate number of characters are in love with saying “spy,” either to set up a joke about the incongruity of Chuck being a spy (“It’s what I do. I’m a spy.” “No, Chuck, you’re not!”) or to remind us that this is, in fact, what the characters do. Also because the show is a fantasy, the generic word “spy” probably works better than most synonyms — terms that actual spies might use to describe themselves. But it’s getting a bit ridiculous to hear people telling each other what their job is so frequently. Do TV lawyers say “I’m a lawyer” every week?

This kind of buzzword is different from a catchphrase, because it’s not intended to catch on. Yet it’s a bit more of a conscious decision on the part of writers than just having Don Draper say “What?” a lot or having a character’s name repeated too often. It’s just a word that comes up in a lot of conversations, particularly expository ones. Like The Secret Life of the American Teenager has become famous for myriad repetitions of the word “sex” — it’s not a catchphrase, it’s just an extension of the show’s apparent surprise at the fact that sex exists. It’s a verbal tic that tells us something about the writers’ minds, much as a real person’s verbal tic might tell us something about him or her.

Any other expository words that you notice coming up particularly often on TV shows, past or present? There have to be some procedurals that can’t let go of certain words, if only because they have to fall back on the same explanations or the same crime-solving methods every week, with the words to accompany them. TV scripts aren’t really the place to break out the Thesaurus and start looking for new words to describe the same thing.


 
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Endlessly Repeated Words on TV

  1. I thought the "sectionals" bit was also a bit of a running joke. Every episode the importance of getting ready for sectional is mentioned, but at no point (so far) is there ever any actual "getting ready for sectionals". Of course, there can't be, as watching students practice a number for week after week, leading to the exciting climax of the students actually performing the number we've been watching them work on for weeks on end wouldn't be great T.V. It's much more entertaining for them to make a quick reference to the need to work on sectionals, and then spend the entire episode on complex choreographed numbers that have nothing whatsoever to do with sectionals. They'll get around to prepping for sectionals the episode before sectionals, but after all of the mentions in the meantime we'll really root for them, because it'll kinda feel as though they've been slaving away getting ready for sectionals all season long.

  2. I thought the "sectionals" bit was also a bit of a running joke. Every episode the importance of getting ready for sectional is mentioned, but at no point (so far) is there ever any actual "getting ready for sectionals". Of course, there can't be, as watching students practice a number for week after week, leading to the exciting climax of the students actually performing the number we've been watching them work on for weeks on end wouldn't be great T.V. It's much more entertaining for them to make a quick reference to the need to work on sectionals, and then spend the entire episode on complex choreographed numbers that have nothing whatsoever to do with sectionals. They'll get around to prepping for sectionals the episode before sectionals, but after all of the mentions in the meantime we'll really root for them, because it'll kinda feel as though they've been slaving away getting ready for sectionals all season long.

    • Maybe getting ready for sectionals happens when the cameras aren't on.

      • True, but it does always seem as though the context of "getting ready for sectionals" is always Will being just about to explain a great idea he had for this solo, or that theme, and then getting cut off before he can even get out the IDEA for what they should work on for sectionals. In other words it's always "OK everybody, I had a great idea for a song we could do at sectionals" and not "OK everybody, let's work on that song we picked to do at sectionals". It's always "we need to work on sectionals" as opposed to "we need to keep working on sectionals".

  3. Maybe getting ready for sectionals happens when the cameras aren't on.

  4. "I didn't do it"

  5. "I didn't do it"

  6. Criminal Minds = "unsub".

  7. Criminal Minds = "unsub".

  8. True, but it does always seem as though the context of "getting ready for sectionals" is always Will being just about to explain a great idea he had for this solo, or that theme, and then getting cut off before he can even get out the IDEA for what they should work on for sectionals. In other words it's always "OK everybody, I had a great idea for a song we could do at sectionals" and not "OK everybody, let's work on that song we picked to do at sectionals". It's always "we need to work on sectionals" as opposed to "we need to keep working on sectionals".

  9. This has been discussed before but in terms of endlessly repeated words there's that moment in every episode of House where they discuss whether or not it's an autoimmune disease.

  10. I was totally going to say House. There is always one or two things that always seem to come up possibilities that are ruled out. Lupus is one. Sarcoidosis (sp?) is another. I frequently joke that they ought to do an episode where the disease is sarcoidosis because it would be freakin awesome.

  11. I was totally going to say House. There is always one or two things that always seem to come up possibilities that are ruled out. Lupus is one. Sarcoidosis (sp?) is another. I frequently joke that they ought to do an episode where the disease is sarcoidosis because it would be freakin awesome.

  12. How I Met Your Mother: "kids" (more of a catchphrase, but each episode, and most of the voiceover interruptions within the episode, starts with Saget reading "Kids…"

    Parks and Rec: "the lot" or "lot [whatever number it was]." For a while they referred to the same thing as the "park" when they were still in planning stages.

    Doctor Who: "time" (kind of central to the premise, but it tends to come up whenever they need to explain that week's particular logic for why X is happening)

  13. How I Met Your Mother: "kids" (more of a catchphrase, but each episode, and most of the voiceover interruptions within the episode, starts with Saget reading "Kids…"

    Parks and Rec: "the lot" or "lot [whatever number it was]." For a while they referred to the same thing as the "park" when they were still in planning stages.

    Doctor Who: "time" (kind of central to the premise, but it tends to come up whenever they need to explain that week's particular logic for why X is happening)

  14. Almost goes without saying, but Friday Night Lights and "football".

  15. Almost goes without saying, but Friday Night Lights and "football".

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