What: The first entry in a series looking at what makes classic movie lines so classic.
Why we care: Nothing extends a movie’s shelf life like quotability. If a line from a movie still shows up 20 years after its release, be it in conversations between friends or as a reference in Jeopardy! answers, then that movie has etched itself into the cultural fabric of history. But what makes a movie line quotable? This is a question that etymologist Mark Forsyth has thought about more than most.
In a new video from the movie obsessives at Little White Lies, which appears to be the first of a series on memorable movie quotes, Forsyth breaks down the simple trick behind not one, but several classic quotes that are still in circulation. It’s called “diacope,” and it refers to a line featuring the repetition of a word or phrase, broken up by one or two intervening words in the middle. The archetypal usage of cinematic diacope is James Bond’s iconic declaration of his own name, but there are many examples that are staples of water cooler repartee. “Run, Forrest, run,” from Forrest Gump, “Yeah, baby, yeah,” from Austin Powers, “Vegas, baby, Vegas,” from Swingers, and “Zed’s dead, baby, Zed’s dead,” from Pulp Fiction are only some of the more prominent ones.
Of course, this pattern lives beyond the silver screen, and Forsyth traces its path through Martin Luther King Jr. speeches and all the way back to Shakespeare. Have a look at the video below, and you’ll start to notice this pattern in some of the best things you’ve ever heard.