5 Famous Catchphrases That Don’t Actually Exist
If you establish a catchphrase as a fictional character, that’s generally a good thing. After all, for people across the country to parrot a piece of signature dialogue, they have to have heard or seen it first. It’s an honor almost always reserved for something that’s hit a high level of popularity and success. Now, if you’re the actor who utters the line in question? It might be a bit of a curse, given that it’s going to be repeated to you at airport Starbucks for the rest of your life. (Thankfully, the royalty checks should help soften that blow.) What has to be even more confusing and infuriating is to be forever linked with a line that you never actually said.
Here are five catchphrases that never actually existed…
‘What’s the Deal…’
It’s the go-to line for any Seinfeld impersonator. An opening shot that announces you’re about to hear someone, likely much less talented than the man they’re aping, do their best Jerry. What probably sticks in his craw deeply enough that no amount of coffee in cars can wash it away is the fact that he’s never actually said, “What’s the deal...” I mean, sure, he’s probably combined those words in passing, by nature of there only being so many words in the English language. But as an actual, essential piece of any joke setup or sitcom dialogue, though? No dice.
The origin isn’t totally mysterious though, as it’s more of a punchy summation of observational comedy, of which Seinfeld would be a no-brainer Mount Rushmore inclusion. He’s certainly aware of it, as it starts to show up in Seinfeld ironically, a winking callback to something that never actually happened.
‘Elementary, My Dear Watson’
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, at the very least, isn’t dealing with bullshit in fast-food drive-thrus. He’s long dead, which, given the quality of some of the movies bearing his name, might be a blessing. Conan Doyle, of course, is the creator of cocaine-addicted violinist and detective, Sherlock Holmes. His stories have contributed to all sorts of lovely bits of etymology, of which my personal favorite might be the timeless, “No shit, Sherlock.”
Of course, nobody in any of his novels ever actually uttered the above. What might be more surprising is that the deerhunter-hatted investigator extraordinaire also never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” He does once describe a deduction as elementary, to Watson, but not in that phrasing. It occurs in the short story “The Crooked Man,” where Watson describes a bit of Holmes logic as “Excellent!” and Holmes replies with the single word, “Elementary.”
‘Play It Again, Sam’
Warner Bros. Pictures
Classic film Casablanca owns its share of iconic quotes. Here’s a tip: If you want any line to immediately become memorable, have Humphrey Bogart say it. With that face and voice, the guy could turn asking where the bathroom is into an essential piece of cinema. Get him to mutter something like, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” and you barely have to make the rest of the movie.
That, along with “We’ll always have Paris” and “Here’s looking at you, kid” have made it through the passage of time unscathed. The quote “Play it again, Sam,” however, has not. At no point in Casablanca does anyone say those words, in that order. It’s a bastardization of multiple lines regarding Sam, and what he should and shouldn’t play. First is, “Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake.” The second is, “Play it, Sam.” Full stop. If this Casablanca fact hasn’t sufficiently blown your mind, here’s one that might: It’s the (admittedly loose) inspiration for the snowboarding comedy movie Out Cold.
‘Beam Me Up, Scotty’
In the TV show Star Trek and the associated movies, there is indeed a character named Scotty, and he is known for beaming people up and/or down. Obviously, this would suggest that the crew members have requested that he transport them as thus. They just have never, in the history of the show, asked him to do it in that specific way.
I’m not going to delve too deep into the surrounding lore, because I am far from a Trekkie and I don’t need anyone madder at me on the internet than they already are. Honestly, though, it’s almost impressive that this one’s fake, given how long Star Trek ran for. You’d think, just out of pure statistics and linguistic limitations, they would have said this at least once. A fun fact to share the next time you’re forcing someone to listen to you talk about Star Trek!
This one’s particularly fun because it was attributed to a very real, very important man. Not only that, it became so pervasive that even the guy in question was pretty sure he said it. Before he was known for his absolutely dogshit presidency, George W. Bush was known for his less-than-stellar grasp of syntax and grammar. Will Ferrell took this trait to the bank with his impersonation of the man, including all sorts of creative vocabulary, of which the most famous was likely the word “strategery.”
It became inextricable from Bush himself. Props to the writer for choosing such an incredible single word to fuck up. Punchy, and directly connected to ideas of intelligence and thoughtfulness, it’s a perfect thing for an idiot to get wrong. Something that’s not going to do Dubya any favors in retrospect is the fact that it later came out, he also thought he said it. His daughter Jenna recounted the story to Ferrell on television — that Lorne Michaels had to explain to the ex-president that he’d never actually said that.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.