July 18, 2005

Bakhtin in the West Wing

Howard Kurtz writing in the WaPo 7/17/2005, referring to Matt Cooper's revelations in the latest Time Magazine (which requires a subscription to access):

Cooper cleared up one lingering mystery: his description in a memo of his talk with Rove as being on "double super secret background." He said this was "a play on a reference to the film 'Animal House,' in which John Belushi's wild Delta House fraternity is placed on 'double secret probation.'"

The "double super secret background" phase was first published in Michael Isikoff in Newsweek, in a column that (I think) appeared on July 10. Many people (including me) picked up on this as an allusion to Animal House, for example in this July 10th comment on Kos:

Is Rove a fan of "Animal House"?
And does "double super secret background" have anything to do with this:

[Dean Wormer's plotting to get rid of Delta House]
Greg Marmalard: But Delta's already on probation.
Dean Vernon Wormer: They are? Well, as of this moment, they're on DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION!

This allusion consists of two (fairly common) words embedded in a four-word phrase:

Original: double       secret probation
Allusion: double super secret background

I've never seen a systematic empirical study of how echoes like this work. Once it was Homer, Horace, the Bible or Shakespeare that were the most likely sources, while these days it's more likely to be a movie ("I'm shocked! shocked!") or a TV show ("Mmm... exams!").

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 18, 2005 06:37 AM