10 Famous Phrases Introduced by Television Shows

10 Famous Phrases Introduced by Television Shows

Updated on October 15, 2022 17:02 PM by Laura Mendes

English has numerous well-known expressions, but have you ever wondered where they originated? While many slang expressions have roots in numerous cultures, works of literature, and even films, quite a number originate from television programmes. After all, it makes sense; with so many people watching the same series, a few terms were sure to become part of the American language.

We can credit these TV shows for giving us phrases like "friend zone" and "regifting." Even though you might have thought that these phrases were widespread knowledge in the 1990s, they weren't until Seinfeld and Friends. Have you ever referred to someone as a "Debbie Downer" or a "Poindexter"? Yes, you should thank television.

While some television programmes just lend words new meanings, others are genuinely responsible for coining entirely new words. Consider the term "cowabunga," which became popular among surfers in the 1960s but was really developed ten years earlier for the children's programme Howdy Doody. Then, when it was utilised in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the late 1980s, it experienced a rebirth. Who knew that two distinct children's television series could be linked to such a silly, amusing word?

You can read more about the many TV shows that provided the inspiration for these well-known sayings below. You'll never think of these sayings the same way again, even if you're astonished to find that some of them first appeared on television.

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Seinfeld's "Regifting"

Giving someone a present that you previously received from someone else is an idea that has been around for a very long time, although the term "regifting" first appeared on Seinfeld. In a 1995 episode, Jerry is delighted to get a label maker as a "thank you" gift from Dr Tim Whatley until Elaine tells him that she sent Tim the identical label maker. Tim is referred to as a "regifter" because he essentially reused Elaine's gift. According to Merriam-Webster, the expression first appeared in 1995, the same year the Seinfeld episode debuted on television.

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“Debbie Downer” -Saturday Night Live

Unbelievably, the term "Debbie Downer" didn't exist prior to being coined for a Saturday Night Live segment. In the skit, Rachel Dratch plays a humorously depressed woman who wrecks her group's trip to Disney World by bringing up topics like mad cow disease and heat exhaustion. The expression is now used to refer to somebody whose pessimistic worldview spoils an enjoyable encounter. In 2015, Dratch told Salon, "The phrase 'Debbie Downer' really took off in a manner I never expected." People mistakenly believe that the sketch came first and the phrase came later.

 “Google” - Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, was the first on-screen programme to use the word as a verb in 2002, even though the Google search engine was already in existence at the time. Here's how the conversation unfolds: Have you looked her up on Google yet? Willow asks Xander. Xander replies, "She's 17," in response. It's a search engine, Willow continues. Performing a fast background check on someone by Googling them quickly gained popularity.

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“Meh”- The Simpsons

It's likely that the Yiddish language is where the word "meh," which denotes slight dissatisfaction, originated. However, it was introduced to the American language in The Simpsons' "Sideshow Bob Roberts" episode from 1994 and has since been employed frequently in the show. The word was initially introduced to John Swartzwelder, the writer of The Simpsons, in 1970 by an advertising copywriter who thought it was the "funniest word in the world." The phrase has gained widespread usage as a result of Swartzwelder.

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 “Cowabunga” - Howdy Doody

The phrase "cowabunga" was coined as a welcome for Chief Thunderthud on the 1950s children's programme Howdy Doody before becoming popular as a term for surfers in the 1960s. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would later adopt the expression, which would bring it to a new generation. Even though Bart Simpson from The Simpsons almost never uses it in the series, the word has come to be linked with him.

“Five-0” -Hawaii Five-0

The term "Five-0" was adopted to refer to law enforcement on the well-known TV series Hawaii Five-0, and it quickly spread to other media. In the late 1960s-starting series, there is a unique police task team known as "Five-0." But there is no police code mentioned in "Five-0." Instead, it pays tribute to Hawaii's position as the 50th US state. No matter how particular it was, the phrase is now used to describe any police, everywhere.

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“Poindexter” - Felix the Cat

Someone who is highly bookish and maybe socially awkward is referred to as a "Poindexter," which is essentially the same as labelling them a nerd. But from where does the peculiar label come? The name Poindexter refers to a character from the Felix the Cat television programme from the 1950s. Unsurprisingly, the young prodigy is dressed in a lab coat, round glasses, and a cap. The character is said to be named after Emmet Poindexter, the attorney of series creator Joe Oriolo.

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“Spam” - Monty Python’s Flying Circus

While canned Spam has been available since the 1930s, Monty Python's Flying Circus inspired the second definition of spam that pertains to junk mail. The sketch takes place in a cafe where every item on the menu contains Spam, resulting in a chorus of Vikings singing the word nonstop until it drowns out all other talks. When message boards gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, users flooded chat rooms with lyrics from the song "Spam." The act of doing this grew to be known as "spamming," and eventually, the term came to mean the act of sending unsolicited messages to huge populations of individuals in general.

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“Mind Meld” - Star Trek

"Mind meld" is a colloquial expression that, according to Wiktionary, describes "a state of profound compatibility in opinion or plans between two people." It derives from the science fiction TV show Star Trek, where its uses are a little more straightforward. The expression, which was first used in 1966, alludes to the Vulcan alien race's telepathic talents, which allow them to communicate thoughts and sentiments with a different person. Even if it's unlikely that humans will ever be able to meld minds totally, it's nevertheless amusing to point out how frequently our thoughts overlap.

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“Friend Zone”- Friends

Ironically, a 1994 episode of Friends, in which Joey refers to Ross as the "mayor of the friend zone" after observing his lovesickness for Rachel, is responsible for popularising the term "friend zone." Since then, the phrase has had a significant upsurge and has become a part of our dating lexicon. The term "friend zone," which was first used to refer to Ross and Rachel, is now used by anyone to refer to a relationship in which one party only has a platonic relationship with the other. It can sometimes even be used as a verb, in which case one can essentially "friendzone" another person.

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