I don't think there is a term for this, and I really want there to be. Maybe we can figure it out together.
Here's the thing. There is a certain type of dialogue where the character stops speaking, and the writer takes over. Specifically, the writer takes over in order to leave a note for him- or herself to fix later. And then doesn't.
I might've called it sciencefictionitis because it used to seem that it was always in science fiction. I feel as if there have been countless examples, but the one I somehow never forget is the line "deploy the weapon!"
Well, I say I never forget it. This line is the one that prangs into my head every time there's a similar example of this, er, whatever it is, but for the life of me, I can't remember which SF show or film it was in.
If only there were some kind of, I don't know, worldwide something… that had science fiction fans using it…
Oh, god in heaven, it was this? "Star Trek: Nemesis" by John Logan. I've apparently had this dreadful line in my head for 17 years. I've been mentally quoting a film I found gratingly bad. I tell you, if I had only read some more classics in my time, my quoting would be so useful now. Or at least not so annoying.
Star Trek: Nemesis has a lot of problems, but in this particular case the villain is trying to sound incredibly dangerous and, I believe, the writer is trying to sound very science-fictiony. "Deploy" is a good word, tick, there's a military feel to that, check, sounds really serious, fine.
But whatever value you or an actor can wring out of the word "deploy", it is somewhat punctured by following it with "the weapon".
I hear that line and I picture the writer staring at the screen, thinking how "gun" doesn't seem big enough. And having failed to find anything about phaser cannons in their thesaurus, deciding they'd come back to this line later.
There is another possibility. At worst, I see the writer actually thinking it's impressive – "The Weapon!" – but I really don't believe that.
I'm afraid I think the truth is in the middle. That the writer of this, or any of the many similar. lines across film, radio, theatre and television, doesn't think it's good, doesn't think it's bad, and instead just figures that it's fine because we won't notice.
I would remind this particular writer that I've noticed for 17 years.
But the reason I've taken this long to talk to you about it is partly because I really have never managed to find a term for it, and mostly also because I just heard the same type of line on the new big-budget drama "The Morning Show." Twice. In quick succession.
First, Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) asks someone if they can maybe just stay home to watch "the British cooking show." She says that and I'm hearing "stay home to watch the British cooking show whose name a) I can't find on Google just now and 2) might need legal clearances anyway."
Then when that person can't stay, they insist "But I'll be back on Friday for The Event."
They didn't really capitalise The Event, but it sounded like they did. So did someone else talking about it in the immediately preceding scene.
Here you know the line is meant to intrigue us. We're meant to wonder what this big event could be, you know we are primed to stay in our seats and ignoring all the notifications that come up on our phones or wherever we're watching it.
And yet you know when they say "I'll be back on Friday for The Event", I'm hearing "I'm out of the episode for the next twenty minutes but you'll see me again just before the cliffhanger which will be set somewhere big, somewhere really exciting that I'l figure out when I'm writing act 5."
Nobody in the world has ever or will ever say they'll be back on Friday for The Event and therefore can't stay in to watch the British cooking show.
I do not mean, in the slightest, that there are rules for this kind of thing, though. "The Morning Show" is one of the tentpole series of the new Apple TV+ service and Dickinson, another, lower profile series on there, arguably does something similar yet it's great.
It's a period piece about 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson – I tell you now as I'll tell you over and over, she's my favourite – and it wilfully kicks around with dialogue.
After Dickinson writes her wonderful "Because I could not stop for death…" poem, she looks up and says "Nailed it."
Then the show is set around 1850 and in the middle of a perfect-sounding exchange of period dialogue, she'll say "Bullshit".
It is wrong, wrong, wrong, and I adore it. There is something so vivid about it, I don't understand how writer/creator Alena Smith pulls it off, but she does with utter verve and I am racing back to watch more.
I do think some of it comes down to intent. I don't picture Smith sitting there thinking "What's a good 19th Century word for bullshit?" and shrugging, figuring she'll consult a historian before the next draft. Instead, I think she chose that word, and all these "wrong" words, knowing to the pixel what effect it has and what it does for the characters.
Frankly, she's also braver than I am.
At the opposite end of all this, I was criticising a soap script this week, saying I found it really hard to get through the cliched dialogue. The person I was reading the script for told me that was the problem with soap, they have to write naturalistic dialogue, they can't go off into great speeches or have the episode play around with music and effects.
Soaps do not have naturalistic dialogue, they don't have characters speaking the way people talk in real life.
Instead, soaps have characters speak the way other soap characters have spoken in the past. "What's that supposed to mean?" It is a contrived and specific language and I have no problem with that, except when you tell me it's natural or, it turns out, that I have to read it.
Soap writing is a truly specific skill that I do not have, yet I think even it would stumble with a phrase that was out of line with the rest. Dot Cotton will never talk about The Event. I can only imagine Ena Sharples saying "you deploy the weapon, Minnie Caldwell, and we'll have no more of your lip."