Another Rant About Diction

In preparation for The Last Jedi, I’ve been re-watching the original Star Wars trilogy. And, of course, I was shouting all of my favorite lines at the screen. “But I was going to Toshi station to pick up some power converters.” “What is thy bidding, my master?” And of course, “Luke, I am your father.” But any of you true fans out there know that’s not what Darth Vader actually says. So why do so many people misquote him?

It’s actually a pretty common thing. “Beam me up, Scotty,” “Play it again, Sam,” and “Elementary, my dear Watson,” apparently never appear in the source material. (Although the misquotes themselves are often used later. For example, Woody Allen penned a script about a Casablanca obsessed film critic called Play it Again, Sam.) Yet we all know these famous misquotes, down to the pacing, accent, and sound effects where necessary. But the question remains, why?

The biggest reason is probably that people quote these famous lines in social situations. “Oh, you’re talking about Sherlock Holmes. Elementary.” Sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? By adding Luke or Scotty or my dear Watson into the quote, you’re able to contextualize it and prove that you can contribute to the conversation (however erroneously).

Another reason is that people have terrible memories. The process of remembering something actually rewrites the original memory. So your memory is less about the actual words spoken and more about what you felt when they were spoken. And that brings me to my bigger point.

Darth Vader actually says, “No, I am your father.” By misquoting Darth Vader, people have preserved Vader’s original syntax. Saying, “I am your father,” while weighty, doesn’t have the same impact without that “whomp” at the beginning of it. As a performer, you want to get everyone’s attention, let them hang in suspense for a beat, then hit them with the truth. “I am your father.” You need a little something at the beginning of the quote to get that effect.

Saying “no” without an instigating reason is kind of weird. No what? No dessert? No, you’re wrong? No rest for the wicked? But this is the emotional moment when you and Luke, both learn that Vader is Luke’s father. It’s an easy and natural switch to change that “no” to “Luke.”

Your memory of the moment and of the syntax (if not the literal wording) is correct. Sometimes it’s how you say it not what you say. Keep that in mind as you write your own memorable lines. And may the force be with you, always.

5 thoughts on “Another Rant About Diction”

  1. I’m no longer certain where you’re getting your info, but good topic. I must spend some time studying much more or figuring out more. Thank you for magnificent info I used to be searching for this info for my mission.

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    1. Alex, thanks for you interest. Regarding the quotes, there are a variety of sources you can google that will list common misquotes, or, of course, you can check out the source material (Star Wars, Casablanca, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes, etc.).

      Regarding memory, I don’t recall specifically where I read about rewriting memory, though I know there are a variety of studies published about it. I would check out David Eagleman’s work, specifically “Incognito.”

      The observation and writing is my own. My interest in diction was piqued by a particular high school English teacher and informed by my own experiences in school and the film industry.

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  2. You really make it seem really easy with your presentation however I find this matter to be really one thing that I believe I might never understand. It sort of feels too complicated and extremely vast for me. I’m having a look ahead to your subsequent publish, I will attempt to get the hang of it!

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