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.