Coining Catchphrases on ‘Seinfeld’

“Humor can be dissected as a frog can,” E.B. White famously wrote, “but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the purely scientific mind.” It’s from this quotation that Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations With Today’s Top Comedy Writers, Mike Sacks’ 2014 collection of interviews with humorists, takes its title, and contrary to White’s claim, the discussions are enlivening, revealing, and likely of interest to an audience beyond just die-hard comedy nerds. From Sacks’ interview with journalist and television writer Peter Mehlman, a look at how some of Seinfeld‘s catchphrases were unintentionally coined:

You wrote twenty-two episodes of Seinfeld. Quite a few lines from these episodes became well-known and found their way into the popular vernacular, including “yada yada yada” and “double-dip.” Did you have any idea while you were writing these scripts that a particular line would later hit with the public?

No, I never had an idea. I never knew, really, what would become popular. It always surprised me, actually.

So none of the lines were written to be a catchphrase?

No. Every line was written just to be funny and to further the plot. But, actually, there was one time that I did think that a certain phrase would become popular. And I was completely wrong. In the “Yada Yada” episode [April 24, 1997], I really thought that it was going to be the “antidentite” line that was going to be the big phrase, and it was not. That line went: “If this wasn’t my son’s wedding day, I’d knock your teeth out, you antidentite bastard.” The man who said it was a dentist. And no one remembers that phrase; it’s the “yada yada yada” line that everyone remembers.

But it’s interesting. When a phrase or word becomes popular on a show, it’s like a pop song. Everybody remembers the hook. Nobody really listens to the verses.

In 1993, you wrote a Seinfeld script called “The Implant” that included the “double-dipping” line. Did the story come from a real-life experience?

It did, yes. I was at a party and somebody flipped out because someone else double-dipped a chip. They didn’t say “double-dipped.” I had to make up the phrase, but that wasn’t exactly a tough phrase to make up. To me, “double-dipping” sounded funny and it fit, but I never intended it to stand out. I never consciously thought, Oh, my god, I can actually add to the lexicon.

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