I’m sure that if I thought about it for a few minutes I could make a meaningful connection between a chicken pot pie and intergalactic space travel. I make connections between seemingly unrelated things all the time, and I haven’t yet decided if it’s a blessing or a curse.
Last night I read a poem on Chris Ransick’s WordGarden and although I think of myself as someone who is completely ignorant about most poetry, I’m finding that it’s not entirely true. There are elements of poems and literature that have worked their way into our culture and maybe even into the collective unconscious. The poem sounded familiar and I felt I knew it. And then I ran across a line in the poem:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
-- Andrew Marvell
“To His Coy Mistress”
A Fine and Private Place is also the title of a Peter S. Beagle novel that I read a dozen times when I was in high school. I loved it.
This morning I pulled a very old paperback copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass off my bookshelf – I bought it used in England in the early 80’s and it’s my favorite kind of used book – it’s inscribed -- Marjorie Burnham – from Donna, Christmas 1964. I wonder endlessly about books I find with inscriptions. Did Marjorie die? Did she and Donna have a falling out? Doesn’t Marjorie care about books given as gifts? But I digress – I turned to a random page in the book and the poem was “I Sing the Body Electric”.
The term “Body Electric” has been used in everything from story titles, movie titles, TV shows, and advertising and is the name used by dozens of companies of all kinds.
The third piece of my three legged connection is Hamlet. I have an odd and some might find, strange thing with Shakespeare. I like to rent or buy DVDs of Shakespeare’s plays and then watch them with the subtitles on. Sometimes I have to watch scenes over and over again until I completely understand what’s being said or what’s happening. My latest acquisition is Hamlet – the Kenneth Branaugh production that includes the entire play – no scenes missing. Of course just about every work of Shakespeare is filled with expressions that have become part of the common vernacular. There’s a great list of them here.
The funny thing is that expressions and terms derived from literature and films typically become so ingrained in our speech that more often than not, we forget where they came from.
I was trying to think of some other commonly used expressions of more recent derivation. Catch 22 would be one. I am fairly certain the term did not exist until Joseph Heller dreamed it up.
What expressions can you think of that were not part of the English language before they were invented in poetry, fiction, song or film?