catchphrase

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

catchphrase
"Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone," said Robert Louis Stevenson, "but principally by catchwords" ( "Virginibus Puerisque ii.", 1881). (Robert Alexander /Getty Images)

Definition

A catchphrase is a vogue expression, often media-inspired and usually short-lived. Also called catchwords.

In a recent study ("What Makes a Catchphrase Catchy?"), Eline Zenner et al. describe catchphrases as "expressions used in (visual) media, politics, literature etc. that 'catch on' . . .: they are used freely in discourse, in contexts detached from the original source" (New Perspectives on Lexical Borrowing, 2014).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

 

Examples and Observations

  • "Wise Latina"
    (catchphrase introduced by Sonia Sotomayor, first Hispanic Supreme Court justice)
     
  • "I know nothing."
    (Manuel's catchphrase in the BBC television comedy Fawlty Towers)
     
  • "Are you 'avin' a laugh?"
    (Andy Millman's catchphrase in the BBC television comedy Extras)
     
  • "Make America Great Again"
    - "In the end, Mr. Trump’s simple promise to 'Make America Great Again,' a catchphrase Mrs. Clinton dismissed as a vow to return to a racist past already long disappeared, would draw enough white Americans to the polls to make up for his low minority support."
    (Amy Chozick, "Hillary Clinton's Expectations, and Her Ultimate Campaign Missteps." The New York Times, November 9, 2016)

    - "You know how your favorite band suddenly seems less cool once your mom knows about them? Or an internet catchphrase loses its cachet once your history teacher uses it to explain the Reconstruction era? Presidential campaigns are like that."
    (Ryan Teague Beckwith, "How a Beatles T-Shirt From Japan Became the Latest Donald Trump Merchandise." Time, August 26, 2016)

     
  • "Nuts to you, McGullicuty!"
    "The ultra-high-powered-to-the-point-of-insanity network executive, played by show-stealing Alec Baldwin, has a simple scriptwriting method: start with the catchphrases ('Nuts to you, McGullicuty!', 'Who ordered the wieners?') and work backwards."
    (Pete Cashmore, "30 Reasons Why 30 Rock Rocks!" The Guardian, February 14, 2009)
     
  • "Let Me Be Clear"
    "'Let me be clear.'

    "In the first six months of Obama’s presidency, this simple sentence has gone from political pet phrase to full-on rhetorical signature, appearing (along with its variants 'let’s be clear' and 'I want to be clear') scores of times in the commander in chief’s pre-written and extemporaneous remarks."
    (Andie Coller, "Obama's Favorite Phrase." Politico.com, August 1, 2009)

     
  • "Oh, My!"
    "[Dick] Enberg is especially remembered for developing and repeating memorable catchphrases in his broadcasts. After each Angels win, Enberg would close the TV broadcast by saying, 'And the Halo shines tonight!' After any outstanding play, you're likely to hear Enberg shout his catchphrase, 'Oh, my!'"
    (Ric W. Jensen, "Dick Enberg." American Sports: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas, ed. by Murry R. Nelson. Greenwood, 2013)
     
  • "'A catch phrase is a phrase that has caught on, and pleases the populace.' I'll go along with that, provided these substitutions be accepted: 'saying' for 'phrase'; and 'public' for the tendentious 'populace.'"
    (Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Catch Phrases. Routledge, 1986)
     
  • Sources of Catchphrases
    "Catch phrases can come from a variety of media sources. During the 1984 presidential campaign, Walter Mondale asked his Democratic rival Gary Hart, 'Where's the beef?' when he wanted to question his opponent's political experience. Although the expression has since died, at the time there was widespread use of this phrase, which originated from a Wendy's hamburger chain television commercial.

    "Other examples of catch phrases include Homer Simpson's 'D'oh'; 'Bringing sexy back,' from Justin Timberlake's hit single; 'I'm kind of a big deal,' a famous line from the 2004 comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy."
    (Joseph Turow, Media Today. Taylor & Francis, 2008)
     
  • Dated Catchphrases
    "A catchphrase often wears itself out through overuse. A faux pas among those in the know is to date oneself by the use of an out-of-date catchphrase. As we examined catchphrases . . ., we noted that the older catchphrases (e.g., the journalistic If in doubt, strike it out, from 1894) seem more fresh than the more recent ones (Are we having fun yet? from 1984)."
    (Dale D. Johnson et al., "Logology: Word and Language Play" in Vocabulary Instruction, eds. J. F. Baumann and E. J. Kameenui. Guilford, 2003)
     
  • The Catchphrase Craze
    "Prince must be peeved.

    "Taylor Swift, born six years after he urged us to 'party like it’s 1999,' is seeking a trademark for 'party like it’s 1989' and other phrases from her current album, including 'this sick beat' and 'nice to meet you; where you been.'

    "If approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Swift will have the exclusive right to use those phrases on a wide range of products, including clothing and accessories.

    "She’s not alone in trying to cash in on catchphrases:

    • The Seattle Seahawks have filed trademark applications for 'boom' and the number 12, according to The Seattle Times.

    • Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman registered 'height doesn’t measure heart.' . . .

    "It’s all part of a disquieting trend to lock up property rights at the expense of others’ free speech."
    (Ken Paulson, "Catchphrase Craze Comes With Costs." The Californian, February 4, 2015)
     

  • The Lighter Side of Catchphrases
    Marge: I saved these for you, Bart. You'll always have them to remind you of the time when you were the whole world's special little guy.
    Bart: Thanks, Mom.
    Lisa: And now you can go back to just being you, instead of a one-dimensional character with a silly catchphrase.
    Homer: D'oh!
    Bart: Aye Carumba.
    Marge: Hmmmmm.
    Ned Flanders: Hidely-ho.
    Barney Gumble: [belches]
    Nelson: Ha-ha.
    Mr. Burns: Excellent.
    [Everyone stares at Lisa.]
    Lisa: If anyone wants me, I'll be in my room.
    Homer: What kind of catchphrase is that?
    ("Bart Gets Famous." The Simpsons, 1994)

    "'It's just like Vince always said. I should think about what I do before I do it. How does he put it? "Considering the consequences is awesomeness . . . sss . . .."' He turned away and feverishly shook his head, mumbling. 'That is the worst catchphrase ever.'"
    (David O. Russell and Andrew Auseon, Alienated. Simon & Schuster, 2009)
     

 

Alternate Spellings: catch phrase