We’ve all read them.  We all wish we could write them.  Those lines – often random sentences – that keep coming back to us.  They come from novels, short stories, films, TV shows, or radio.  Sometimes we don’t know what they’re from, sometimes we do, but wherever they came from originaly, they are now in our heads.  They’ll pop up unexpectedly at seemingly odd times, for no apparent reason.

They made an impact.

I’ll give you some examples.

  • “Oh, go play on the motorway!”  (I don’t remember the story, only that it was a post-apocalyptic world where the motorway was a perfectly safe place to play.  I remember it being quite good, though, so if anyone recognises it please tell me!  This might have been the first line.  Or it might not.)
  • “Oh tongue, give sound to joy and sing, of hope and promise on dragon wing.”  (Anne McCaffrey, from Dragonsinger)
  • “It’s all good.  All de time.”  (From Dark Angel – should be said in a Jamaican accent.  Every time I see an advert for McCain’s chips this runs through my head.)
  • “Do you know what this is?”  “I know what this is.  This is a water heater.  No, wait, it’s an espresso machine, that’s what it is.  Is it a snow cone maker?”  (From True Lies, my favourite spy film ever.  In case you were wondering, it was a nuclear bomb.)

What makes these lines unforgettable?

Alas, there is no simple formula.  The first is memorable because it defies the expectations we have and thrusts us headlong into another world.  It’s like a big neon sign saying “take nothing for granted, nothing here is what you expect”.  The second I suspect was only memorable because of the context – a long slow build up culminating in a moment of pure joy.

The third was repeated a lot – a character’s catchphrase.  I remember it because I liked the character.  And the fourth is just funny.  It’s Arnie doing his thing, dissing the bad guys.

Context, then, seems to be the key.  One is memorable because it doesn’t make sense in the context of our expectations, but makes sense in the story.  The others are memorable because we have invested our time in building up the context for the phrase.  If you want people to remember your work, you’re just going to have to make it good all the way through – having one memorable phrase probably won’t work.

What memorable phrases have you got floating around your head?  Do you remember where they are from?