English, motherf**ker, do you speak it? (Part 1)

A five part series on words with cinematic origins

blog-bannerSince the beginning of the 20th century, be it mainstream or avant-garde, films have had an astounding influence on our ideas, attitudes and thinking unlike any other art-form. The world of film continues to inspire and awe us in all its celestial glory. We are enamoured by the language of cinema and its universal tongue. Memorable words, quotes, dialogues or scenes from our favourite films continue to stay with us, longer than anything we learn from our textbooks at school.

As communication becomes more and more visual, we need to sit and examine how much of an effect film really has had on our daily lives. For example, let’s consider how the language of cinema has affected our language. As the English language continues to adapt to the different ages, adding or acquiring new words that describe the mood and cultural climate, films have played a large part in its continued evolution. With frequent and widespread usage of popular movie catchphrases and words, they become colloquialisms and slang words. Often, many of these words are added annually to reputed dictionaries.

Here are 10 words that have become part of our pop culture, thanks to the wonderful world of cinema.

Part 1

  1. to gaslight (Gaslight, 1944)


Definition: (verb) to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity (According to the Oxford English Dictionary)

In other words, gaslighting is an organised pattern of psychological abuse where the offender manipulates certain factual information to give the victim the impression that they cannot trust their own memory, perception, and sanity.

To use it in a sentence:

shelleyWhile filming The Shining, Stanley Kubrick gaslighted Shelley Duvall hoping it would spill over into her performance.

How did it originate?

Gaslight was one of two successful plays written by noted British dramatist, Patrick Hamilton (The other being Rope, which was adapted into film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1948). It was adapted for film twice, once in 1940 and the more popular American version in 1944. The phrase obviously owes its popularity to the latter.


Directed by George Cukor, it was a dark atmospheric psychological thriller, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, about a man who manipulates his wife into thinking that she’s descending into madness. The ‘gaslight’ refers to one of the methods he employs to stir her madness. The wife complains about the intermittent flickering, dimming and brightening of the gaslights in her room but the husband attributes them as mere figments of her imagination. Though cleverly directed, one could understand why it’s not stood the test of time considering the overt melodrama.

  1. Paparazzi (La Dolce Vita, 1960)


Definition:  (noun) a freelance photographer who pursues celebrities to get photographs of them (According to the Oxford English Dictionary)

Often unaffiliated with any media organization, they are independent and often intrusive photographers who follow celebrities to capitalize on any opportunities for stories.

To use it in a sentence:


Lady Gaga has an apparent paparazzi problem.

How did it originate?


Perhaps Fellini’s most celebrated film, La dolce vita offered a stern, discerning examination of a society obsessed with fame, stardom and glamour. This  was best epitomised by the eponymous character Paparazzo, played by Walter Santesso, who is sort of a sidekick to the protagonist, Marcello Rubini (played by Marcello Mastroianni). The film follows journalist Marcello in his quest to find meaning, love and bonheur in his life amongst 24 hour party people.tumblr_ncji9z9dra1qzgwh4o1_500By providing social commentary on Italian society, it admonishes a culture which fails to look beneath the alluring lifestyles of Italy’s rich and renown. The film, self-reflective in nature, describes a dichotomy of sorts in the world of a celebrity, depicting its good and dark sides. Its seductive and scandalizing sides. A landmark film in Italian cinema, it provided a precursor into themes further discussed in his next feature, 8½.

Part 1  Part 2  part 3  part 4  part 5

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