16 Words, Phrases and Neologisms Made Popular by Movies

By: Cheryl

Let’s give Hollywood credit for introducing us to these catchphrases!

By: Sheekha Sanghvi, Marketing Manager

Today’s multicultural world has unconsciously made us borrow words, analogies, and phrases from diverse sources without even realizing it. Movies and television shows, with their broad reach, have given birth to words and dialects in themselves so many times that even dictionaries like Oxford and Merriam-Webster Dictionary have been forced to acknowledge them.

The world of film continues to enrich our speech and language today, much like authors like Shakespeare did centuries ago when their writings contributed to the English language. In fact, so much so that even those who haven’t seen the iconic movies also sometimes quote phrases or entire scenes in casual conversation. Throughout the more than century-long history of cinema, it has contributed significantly to pop-culture lingo and occasionally gives new meaning to already existing words.

Here are 16 slang terms and idioms that now look like we’ve always used them but were actually coined by movies and TV shows.

1. Gaslighting

Movie – Gaslight

poster of gaslight

The 1944 film of the same name gave this word its current definition, which now refers to a type of psychological manipulation that makes another person question their own sanity.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the phrase “giving someone the gaslight treatment” first appeared in print in the 1950s. By the early 1960s, it had evolved into the verb “gaslighting.”

2. Toast

Movie – Ghostbusters

meme: this chick is toast

Few people realized Bill Murray was creating linguistic history when he said, “All right, this chick is toast!” in the 1984 film “Ghostbusters.”

That is according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which specifically credited the movie as the term’s source. Toast, in this context, refers to “a person or object that is defunct, dead, finished, in serious difficulty, etc.

3. Catfish

Documentary – Catfish

poster of catfish

Before this documentary about a man who was deceived about the identity of the person he is speaking with online gave it a modern connotation, “to catfish” meant to attempt to catch some whiskered bottom-feeders. Later, a television show of the same name debuted, further popularising the phrase to address people with fake online profiles.

4. Yippie-ki-yay

Movie – Die Hard (1988)

meme: tippee ki yay merry christmasMost people associate this word with John McClane from the film Die Hard, who famously says, “Yippie-ki-yay, motherf**ker,” without realizing it will soon become his catchphrase. Although there have been various versions of this term since the 1930s, when Bing Crosby sang “yippie yi yo kayah,” this specific pronunciation was created on the film set.

Originally based on an old cowboy expression of joy Yippie-i-o ki yay – Bruce himself claims the line was just ad-lib, and the rest is, as they say, history.

5. The dark side

Movie – Star Wars

meme: dark side

Even though everyone immediately conjures up images of Darth Vader when they hear the phrase “the dark side,” you’d think it originated somewhere else. It turns out that Star Wars is responsible for popularizing the concept of “turning to the dark side” or “having a dark side,” which is defined as “the dark or disturbed aspect of someone or something that is typically hidden.”

6. Bucket list

Movie – Bucket List

poster of bucket list

Do you recall the 2007 film The Bucket List? In the movie, two strangers who are terminally sick attempt to cross things off their list before they “kick the bucket,” but it turns out that they were the first two to use the expression. The word was created by the film’s author, Justin Zackham, in 1999 when he created his own bucket list. After the movie made the term ubiquitous, we all assumed it had been around for a while.

The expression’s meaning was extended after the English language adopted it to encompass a list of tasks to complete before any deadline, such as the last day of classes or things to do before you turn 50, etc.

7. My bad

Movie – Clueless

meme: my bad

In contrast to today, when the phrase “my bad” is frequently used to apologize, it was less common in the early 1990s. The word is thought to have first surfaced in 1985 and was very explicitly employed in basketball jargon; in fact, newspapers would explain what the phrase meant when mentioning it.

This all changed in 1995 with the release of the romantic comedy Clueless that also provided the words “as if!” and “whatever” and other slang which are used even today, not just by teens but adults too.


Movie – American Pie

I’ll simply assume that you already understand what this one means, but in case you don’t, it implies an older woman who is sexually desirable and usually has children. In the 1999 bawdy comedy American Pie, the character John Cho uses the acronym often and gains widespread notoriety.

Before the movie came out, the phrase was used a few times on online message boards, but without a doubt, “American Pie” is responsible for popularizing it.

9. “Savvy?”

Movie – Pirates of the Caribbean

meme: savy?

Throughout the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, Capt. Jack Sparrow uses “Savvy” as a verb on multiple occasions as a one-word query following his lectures on pirate lore, “The Code,” or another rant. In essence, it is interchangeable with “Do you Understand?” Its meaning as a noun is intelligent and helpful information, right Savvy?

10. “Spam”

Series –  Monty Python’s Flying Circus

meme: spam

Have you ever wondered why we refer to unwanted emails and canned, cooked pork using the same word? Short answer: Monty Python, the renowned British absurdist comedy group! It turns out that Monty Python sang about the canned ham and made reference to it so frequently in their production of Monty Python’s Flying Circus that it ultimately served as the inspiration for the computer word, which was first used in the early 1990s.

11. Nimrod

Series – The Looney Tunes Show

According to the Bible, “Nimrod” was a hunter, king, and direct ancestor of Noah. In 1932, the cartoon character Bugs Bunny popularized the phrase “such a nimrod!” to mock Elmer Fudd, and it quickly spread to be an acronym for words like “moron” or “idiot.”

12. Paparazzi

Movie – ‘La Dolce Vita’

picture of paparazziThe term “paparazzi” was first used and also gained its popularity in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita, which stars Walter Santesso as an irritating celebrity-hoovering photographer. The Italian term evokes an annoying buzzing sound, like an insect you can’t get rid of.

13. Regifting – Degifting

Series – Seinfeld

meme: beware the regifter

The term regifting, which means an unwanted gift that is given away, was first coined on NBC’s Seinfeld. In the episode “The Label Maker.” Dr. Tim Whatley is referred to as a “regifter” by the character Elaine after giving Jerry Seinfeld a label maker that she had initially given to Whatley. Ironically, the term Degifting is another variation made famous by Seinfeld, which is the act of asking the recipient of a gift to return it.

14. Debbie Downer

Series – Saturday Night Live

poster of debbie downerDebbie Downer is a phrase often used to describe a negative or pessimistic person who only points out the depressing or gloomy sides of something, dampening others’ enthusiasm or enjoyment.

The name was popularized, if not invented, by the Debbie Downer character in a skit on the American variety programme Saturday Night Live on May 1, 2004.

15. Friend Zone – ‘Friends’

Series – Friends

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PR7jgmMW1AM[/embedyt]

The word “friend-zone,” which is used to describe a friendship between two people where only one of them has romantic feelings, is thought to have first appeared in a Friends episode from 1994. (“The One with the Blackout”).

This expression, which alludes to people who are forced to be friends rather than romantic partners, was used to describe Ross as the mayor of the friend zone due to his unreciprocated feelings for Rachel.

16. Dealbreaker

Series – 30 Rock

meme: dealbreaker

Despite the fact that deals have been struck and broken for ages, the phrase’s use regarding romantic relationships is relatively new. It gained popularity in this context thanks to the show-within-a-show “Dealbreakers!” on 30 Rock.