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Pretend you're a creature living on Pluto. You're dismayed that Earth dwellers have downgraded Pluto from a noble planet to a piddling dwarf planet.

You decide to travel to Earth to learn more about these thoughtless people. Surgery makes you look human. You order all the English grammar and word-usage books available on and study like mad for an entire Plutonian month. That's more than 20 years in Earth time!

You land in Washington because it's the city mentioned most on CNN's Milky Way News.

Mostly, you communicate fine with the humans. But a few times a day, they display inexplicable behavior.

A fan whirs in your office. Your co-worker Harry talks into the fan, saying, "Luke, I'm your father." The wind makes his voice sound choppy and mechanical. Harry has told you he has no children, so you wonder who Luke is.

Co-worker Gary gets up from his desk and announces he's going to lunch and adds in a raspy Austrian accent, "I'll be bahhk." Before this, Gary had spoken with an American accent, and his voice had no roughness. You wonder whether he has a sore throat.

A woman named Stella in another department delivers papers to your office every couple of days. Wally, who works across from you, stands up each time she passes, puts his hands on his face and cries out as if in pain, "Stella!" Without fail, Stella rolls her eyes and deadpans, "Give it up, Stanley." So many aspects of this interaction mystify you.

One evening, the people from work gather at a bar for Frank's birthday. A brunette throws on a platinum blond wig and starts singing in a breathy voice, "Happy Birthday, Mr. President ...."

You hadn't heard that Frank had been promoted to president.

The bar's pianist, Louis, plays a lively song that gets everyone on the dance floor. After the song ends, Frank says to Louis, "Play it again, Sam!" You think to yourself, if this guy is going to be president, he had better start getting people's names right.

One week, the office people try a new restaurant. One daily special is risotto with sauteed fava beans. Hank at your table says, "Oh, I think I'll eat these fava beans with a nice Chianti." Then he does an odd vibrating motion with his lower lip.

You know the boss frowns on lunchtime drinking, and you wonder whether anyone else finds that mouth movement creepy. But the others at the table just laugh.

One afternoon, you're distracted at work, and when you come out of your haze, you realize Joe has been trying to get your attention. You say, "Are you talking to me?" Joe repeats what you've said, over and over. Each time, he stretches out the word a bit more. "You ... talking ... to ... me?" He adds, "Well, I'm the only one here." You are baffled.

Finally, you can take it no more. These people don't follow logic. You head home to Pluto, which will always be a planet in your eyes.

Thanks for pretending along with me. I've done this to illustrate a point. A person can know all the words, rules, guidelines and intricacies of the language and still feel confused daily.

Pop culture adds a bounty of idioms, phrases and allusions to the language. The English language keeps us busy. Possibly this is a big part of why search engines were created. (Go ahead and Google "Say hello to my little friend" or "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle.")

Here's a rundown of those references our Plutonian encountered.

"Luke, I'm your father." This isn't the actual quote from Star Wars: Episode V -- The Empire Strikes Back, but it's one that people often say. Spoiler alert: The real quote is from a conversation between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

DV: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.

LS: He told me enough. He told me you killed him.

DV: No. I am your father.

"I'll be bahhk" is my interpretation of bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's line "I'll be back" in The Terminator. He managed to slip the phrase into a number of movies after that, too.

"Stella!" is what Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski wails in A Streetcar Named Desire. That is how he apologizes to wife Stella, played by Kim Hunter, for his temper tantrum. She forgives him.

"Happy Birthday, Mr. President ..." is from Marilyn Monroe's song to John F. Kennedy at the president's birthday celebration in 1962. Several other stars also performed that night, including Jack Benny, Danny Kaye, Ella Fitzgerald, Maria Callas and Jimmy Durante. But Monroe's performance is the one that lingers in memories.

"Play it again, Sam" is another movie misquote. In the 1942 film Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart as Rick asks his piano player (Dooley Wilson) to sing a song that recalls Rick's happier times with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). He says, "If she can stand it, I can. Play it!"

The misquote likely comes from the movie that Woody Allen made 30 years later, Play it Again, Sam.

"Fava beans with a nice Chianti" are what creepy cannibal (a redundant phrase indeed) Hannibal Lecter serves with a victim's liver in The Silence of the Lambs.

"Are you talking to me?" is a line by Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Taxi Driver. The lines were improvised from the 1953 Alan Ladd film Shane. Shane says to a barroom bully, "You speaking to me?" The troublemaker answers, "I don't see nobody else standing there."

Sources: Internet Movie Database, Senses of Cinema

ActiveStyle on 04/16/2018

Print Headline: Quotes not always understood

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