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  • May 31st, 2013

Who Said It?

By Joel M. Vance


Once a week the portly gentleman would come into our living rooms, sideways to the camera, turn and speak to us in a slushy English accent: “Good evening!”  It was, of course, Alfred Hitchcock, and his two-word salutation, complete with upper class English mushy articulation, is a good introduction to a look at the catch-phrase vocabulary of old time television fanatics.

You hear them every morning in the coffee shop—the latest cute quote that gets repeated endlessly until it not only is worn out, but also irritating.  When you hear someone badly imitate Maxwell Smart saying “Missed it by that much!” the first time it’s bearable….but after a hundred such mangled reiterations you begin to think in terms of justifiable homicide.

Along with “Missed it by that much!” as quoted by Smart, the hapless spy hero of “Get Smart.”  You have to hold your index finger and thumb about a half-inch apart to indicate by how much “it” was missed, but the origin of the statement is obvious to those of us who grew up clustered around a 17-inch Philco in the front room.

And before that it was radio.  When the dirigible Hindenburg blew up at Lakehurst, N.J. in 1937, announcer Graham MacNamee, horrified, moaned, “Oh, the humanity!”  Others have referred to that ever since—Newman, the porky neighbor of Jerry Seinfeld, said it during an episode when his mail truck caught on fire.

A comedian named Joe Penner said, “Wanna buy a duck?” and it quickly became the Phrase of the Day.  Is there a former kid, now 50 or more, who did not imitate Bugs Bunny saying, “Eh, what’s up, Doc?”  or Porky Pig stuttering, “Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”?

Ever since the first snowy television image invaded our homes about 80 years ago, we’ve been adopting the catchphrases of favorite entertainers and turning them into part of the language. And before that it was radio.  People still say, “Just the facts, ma’am,” even though they’ve never seen or even heard of “Dragnet” and wouldn’t know Jack Webb from a spider web.

Personally I’d rather hear someone ask, “Wanna buy a duck” than to imitate Donald Trump, that egomaniac (can you imagine him as President?  I’d rather imagine Joe Penner’s duck saying, “You’re fired!”)  Or any of the water fountain comedians channeling Trump the morning after one of his idiotic shows.   Tina Fey’s devastating parody of Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live,” saying, “I can see Russia from my back yard!” has almost entered the realm of catchphrase.

If Barack Obama persists in saying, “Let me be perfectly clear” about everything, he soon will find himself in the Pantheon of Trite.  Let me be perfectly clear about that.  Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live skewered George H.W. Bush saying “Not gonna do it!” to the point that every other would-be water cooler comedian was saying it too.  Little Georgie threatened to enter the realm of most-quoted with his “Bring it on!” but he was a living joke and it didn’t take.

Okay, a quick quiz.  See if you can identify the character and the TV or radio show associated with these quotes:

  1. Oooh!  Oooh!  Oooh!
  2. And awaaay we go!
  3. You bet your sweet bippy!
  4. Cheebugga!  Cheebugga!
  5. He slud into second….
  6. You beat everything, you know?
  7. Golleee!
  8. Book ‘im, Danno
  9. Well, isn’t that just precious!
  10. Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are
  11. What a revoltin’ development this is!
  12. Well, excuuuse me!
  13. We’ve got to nip it!  Nip it in the bud!
  14. Here come de judge!
  15. Put that in your Funk and Wagnalls!
  16. I coulda been a contender!
  17. Badges?  We don’ got no badges.  We don’ need no badges [he didn’t say “steenking badges”]
  18. Missed it by that much!
  19. It might be….it could be….it is!
  20. Hi-ho Silver!  Away!
  21. T’ain’t funny, Magee!
  22. Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men?

Now if I have misquoted some character and you catch me at it, you win the Stale Cracker Award as the Trivia king or queen.  And if you want to know the answers, message me on Facebook & I’ll supply a list. One way to find out if anyone ever reads these blogs.

Meanwhile, as somebody or other once said, “Up, up and awaaaay!”


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