In a new weekly blog, I take excerpts from the vast and storied literary cannon in an attempt to show how raunchy and dirty-minded these great writers could be. I'll start off light and work my way up to the 20th century, when things really get downright disgusting and pornographic.
Piers Plowman by William Langland.
In this passage from a 14th century allegorical poem we find a character named "Glutton", who on his way to mass, makes a quick stop at the local pub:
Till Glutton had gulped down a gallon and a gill.
His guts began to grumble like two greedy sows;
He pissed four pints in a Paternoster's length,
And on the bugle of his backside he blew a fanfare
So that all heard that horn held their noses after... (Passus 5; 339-343)
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Did you know that one of the greatest works in all of literature has a scene with a demon breaking wind?:
They wheeled and down the left hand bank began
To march, but first each bit his tongue, and passed
The signal on to him who led the van.
He answered grossly as with trumpet blast. (Canto XXI; 136-139)*
*James Romanes Sibbald translation as found on The Project Gutenberg website
"Do you feel lucky, punk?"; "Luke, I am your father."; "Why don't you come up and see me some time?"
Just some of the famous quotes from the movies, scenes, and characters we love and cherish--and which are not actual quotes since none of the characters in these movies (Dirty Harry, The Empire Strikes Back, and She Done him Wrong*, respectively) ever said them.
So why do we misremember film lines? Does it tell us something about ourselves? Movies, tv shows, literature, etc. all feed us pop-cultural references, memes that flourish with the popularity of the films and, in the case of Mae West, actors. By themselves, they could be everyday phrases with little significance outside of the speaker and her intended audience. But put them into the context of memorable scenes and moments with which we define our culture and how we see ourselves, and they become part of our shared vernacular.
Example: "Luke, I am your father."
The actual quote: "No! I am your father!"
It's obvious from the above lines why we choose to use the misquote--yes, I believe we choose, even if unaware that we do it. Adding "Luke" to the beginning adds reference to the quote, triggering the desired nostalgia. We re-appropriate memes in order to ensure their survival. Their survival is based on the emotions such phrases evoke in us (we don't need to have seen the movie to get the quote and its purpose), and we use any means we can to better aid in the quotation's recognition.
Not only re-appropriating quotes but also improving upon them: "Why don't you come up and see me some time" sounds a lot better than "Why don't you come up some time and see me". It flows off the tongue and employs a better prosody where sound better echoes sense.
Also, to quote movies in this fast-paced world, you need to condense them so that it is easier to recite and can be passed on within the culture without difficulty. The condensed "Do you feel lucky, Punk?" is a hell of a lot easier to remember and recite than "You've got to ask yourself, 'do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"
So why quote or misquote these movies in the first place? Because we hardly ever quote them. Instead, we reenact them in narrative form. Just as Travis Bickel stands in front of a mirror in Taxi Driver, we too recite and act out the lines, "You talkin' to me?" We relate and live our lives out by pop-culture-informed narratives, and we create from them a narrative of which to build around ourselves .
So we familiarize, revise, and condense film quotes for their greater likelihood of transference and survival. We will continue to do this as long as our entertainment affects us and informs our daily lives. We never really say these quotes, we live them. **
*OK, most people do not know the name of the film. More surprising is that even less people know to whom she said these lines: a then little-known actor named Cary Grant.
**Although sometimes we quote movie lines simply to fill in the space where appropriate, for a laugh or to bring home a point; such as a response to "Surely you can't be serious!": "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley." Life would be bland without them.
Separate names with a comma.