There are those phrases, snatched out of the sphere somewhere, that spread. Take this one that is new to me, but old as the hills to others. “Spoiler Alert.” It was used last night in reference to a certain town hero at the movie house, whose pre-film speeches nearly always give away the ending. One must take to chewing loudly on snacks while she speaks.
I recognized this phrase first, though, under the stockings hung by the chimney with care. This Christmas just past, the tendency of some family members to explain a gift collided with us opening our gifts at the same time this year. In turn someone would not realize that the gift they were explaining had not yet been opened. The phrase would follow.
What is this “Spoiler Alert” and other phrases like it that seep into our subconscious and speak for us. There is a certain humor to those being discussed here that separates these from the generality of the cliché. These kinds of phrases nearly always generate a laugh, where “All’s well that ends well” may not.
I’m always surprised by them. They leap out at me like conspirators, plotting an ambush across familial, geographical and societal lines. Where do they come from? A few I recognize from campy comedies or television shows, but others baffle me. They are such simple combinations of words that they seem to invade our language without much notice, until suddenly. They’re everywhere. Standing in for eloquence, these jokes get straight to the point.
But, they were someone’s eloquence, someone’s originality. Once. The french origins of the word cliché refer to the typesetting blocks that compiled phrases commonly used by writers. Again and again. But there must have been a first time for each common combination of words. A first utterance. A first thought. Do these artists revel at how their words have spread like a platinum album, recognizable in every corner of the world their language dares to go? Or are they irredeemably vexed, having their very words taken from the air so that what was once theirs is now, everyones.
Who knows who’s next. What simplicity I may slip on, and unwittingly be repeated across continents. Language. Rips out of its cage and is untamable. The very words we speak travel on their own. Stick their thumb out, carrying a cardboard sign, and inevitably are picked up and brought along. Maybe these words are my own, spoken many years ago. Perhaps they return to me, shredded and run down, enhanced and new. Home at last.