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Warren Clements: Word Play

Odd TV expressions: 'You've just got to go with crab people' Add to ...

In last week’s column, I wrote about the curious phrase “unauthorized autobiography.” Permit me to give credit where credit is due.

Robert Buckman, who died last Sunday, was a writer, performer, physician and wit who combined all his talents and skills, with a large measure of humanity, to make life more bearable for a great many people. What I didn’t know, until I read his obituary, is that his 1999 memoir Not Dead Yet bore the subtitle The Unauthorised Autobiography of Dr. Robert Buckman.

This means that his witticism predated the publication in 2002 of Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, in 2008 of Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography, and in 2011 of Julian Assange: The Unauthorized Autobiography. If there is an earlier instance than Buckman’s, I do not know of it.

Elsewhere in Wordland, the expression “jumping the shark” is entrenched in our language. It derives from a ludicrous episode of the TV sitcom Happy Days in which the Fonz jumped over a shark while wearing water skis (the Fonz, not the shark). The phrase became a synonym for the point at which a show, movie or other cultural entity loses its way and exhausts the patience even of fans.

The phrase now has a cousin: “You’ve just got to go with crab people.” Trey Parker and Matt Stone, co-creators of the animated show South Park, were interviewed in a recent issue of the magazine Entertainment Weekly. They recalled a seventh-season episode of their show that they would just as soon forget. Two-thirds of the way through the program, a team from the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy turned out to be (in EW’s words) “subterranean-dwelling ‘crab people’ hell-bent on taking over the world.”

Stone recalls the writing session that produced this lame twist. “Trey said ‘crab people,’ and we joked about how dumb it was. But we couldn’t figure out anything better.” Parker adds: ‘“Crab people’ became this thing [in the writers’ room] It’s like, you just know there’s something better, but you can’t think of it, and now you’ve just got to go with crab people.”

I had planned a snappy comment to accompany this item, but I lost it, and I couldn’t think of another one, so I’ve substituted the sentence now drawing to a close. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with crab people.

Amusing typos continue to pop up. Gail Benjafield spotted one in an article about Ottawa’s push for an exemption from the United States’ Buy American policies. One sentence read: “Nonetheless, the provision ‘poisons the water,’ said Perrin Beatty, head of the Canadian Chamber of Commence.” Well, the chamber has to start somewhere. That would have been a perfect post for the late Menachem Begin.

Jackie Norris Dean noticed a stray sound-alike in an article about Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, when he was still deciding whether to run for a third term. “There is kind of a typical experience as a premier,” he was quoted as saying. “You go in, you win a couple, you get out. Go serve on boards, take your head out of the political ringer and take on a much more private life.”

Dean comments: “It seems the Premier must have been going like the clappers these past eight years.” Perhaps it was a reference to the division bells that summon MPPs to vote in the Ontario legislature: the damn bells sans merci.

In the end McGuinty decided to run, and secured a minority government for his trouble. Time will tell whether his choice was right or wrung.

I know, I know, but sometimes you’ve just got to go with crab people.

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