December 10, 2004

Dudes, It's John and Marsha

The current dude flap features (invented) exchanges consisting entirely of occurrences of the word dude, with varying prosodies and accompanying gestures, the whole thing telling a story. These lexically minimalist dialogues are fables, of course -- tales conveying either the poverty of the expressive resources of the young, or (more positively) their creativity in using language in context.

The lexically minimalist dialogue is not a new literary form. Over fifty years ago (February 1951, to be exact), Stan Freberg issued a recording of his most famous comic routine, "John and Marsha", the words to which are, well, John and Marsha and nothing else except discourse particles like um hm and oh and various kinds of laughter. No visuals at all.

Sites that offer you lyrics for songs are pretty much stumped by this one. One site gives you only the first three (of, by my count, seventeen) exchanges, and then lapses into ellipsis dots: "John... Marsha... John... Marsha... John... Marsha..." Not only does this fail to suggest the prosodic characteristics and voice qualities of the performance, it totally misses the climax of the piece: "Oh Marsha Marsha Marsha"... "John John"... "Marsha Marsha Marsha"... "John John John"... "Marsha Marsha Marsha Marsha"... "John John John John John"... [long pause before the denouement] "Marsha"... "Hm John"... "Marsha" [the end]. I chose the word "climax" intentionally; apparently, some people found this section obscene and thought it should be censored. It wasn't, and Freberg sold tons of copies.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at December 10, 2004 07:19 PM