The Language of 30 Rock

Posted by Mark Peters

blurgh-30-rock-peters

How Liz Lemon and company have enriched our lexicon.

Since its debut in 2006, there hasn't been a more quotable comedy than 30 Rock. Memorable lines include the quacky pronouncements of Dr. Spaceman ("Medicine's not a science"), Jack Donaghy's non-compliments ("Lemon, don't ever say you're just you, because you're better than you"), Tracy Jordan's bizarre endorsements ("I love this cornbread so much, I want to take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant"), Liz Lemon's grammatical breakdowns ("I want to go to there"), and Tracy's awesome advice ("Live every week like it's Shark Week").But it's a trio of terms that are 30 Rock's most significant linguistic impact, so far: "blurgh," "lizzing," and "mind grapes.""Blurgh" (sometimes spelled "blergh") is a synonym for "bleah" and "ugh" that was first used in "Cleveland" (April 19, 2007), a first-season episode featuring four different blurghs, each expressing a slightly different form of revulsion, deflation, or disgust.On the 30 Rock website, Tina Fey gave some insight into the term on April 26, 2007: "Blurgh is something we say around the writer's room and also since we're on network television we can't curse or anything...sometimes we run out of non-cursing ways of saying things. So we started to make up expletives...feel free to use it!" Folks have done just that-especially on Twitter, the most bountiful home of unselfconscious language use these days:"Meetings, a morning of meetings, a meeting of meetings - want to go to sleeeeep....blurgh"Oct. 21, 2009, Adam Clare"Sorry all, my mind is too blurgh with sickness to be able to write understandable reviews. I'll catch you up on your next update"Oct. 19, 2009, Simone Rigley"blurgh, i really need to fix up my myspace, its outta date and cluttered..."Oct. 16, 2009, Jay RowlandThat Oct. 19 use shows that, much like The Simpsons' "meh," "blurgh" has migrated from interjection to adjective. "Blurgh" also has something in common with "doh" and "yada yada," which were popularized by The Simpsons and Seinfeld, but not created there-"blurgh" is older than 30 Rock. The oldest use I found was in a 1993 Texas Magazine story by Nguyen Phan:Me: WHOOOAHH! Here comes another one!Him: Uh huh.Me: WHOOOAHH! MOMMY!Him: Blurgh! (sound of him vomiting)People below: Look out! Incoming!Speaking of bodily fluids, Liz Lemon's blend of laughing and whizzing-"lizzing," which also plays on the heroine's name-has been very successful since debuting in "Apollo, Apollo" (March 26, 2009). Many uses of the word directly reference lizzing (or Lizzing) in response to 30 Rock, but for true signs of success, you can't beat real-life examples that don't mention the show at all:"@kangaroocaz I lizzed ALL over yesterday from pure joy and rapture."Oct. 18, 2009, Jerryn C. Currie"OK please review this. If you want to laugh so hard that you will be 'lizzing' ....Oct. 16, 2009, Kwesi Robertson"Modest Mouse MAKES ME FEEL LIKE "LIZZING!" LIZZING LIZZING! HELP!!!"Oct. 14, 2009, cutoffjeansSince "lizzing" is a timeless concept that lacked a word, its success isn't a surprise. But some terms succeed no matter how little the world seems to demand them. Case in point: mind grapes.In "Tracy Does Conan" (Dec. 7, 2006), Jack reads Liz a draft of a possible quip he's thinking of using to introduce Jack Welch at a $1000-a-plate fundraiser: "Jack Welch has such unparalleled management skills they named Welch's grape juice after him, because he squeezes the sweetest juice out of his worker's mind grapes." Liz and Jack quickly agree this doesn't make sense, and to underscore that point, we cut to Tracy wailing, "What else? What else is on my mind grapes?"I would have wagered that "mind grapes" would stay confined to this episode and only be remembered by the 30 Rock equivalent of Trekkies. Yet this term also turns up in plenty of tweets, showing even greater versatility than "blurgh" and "lizzing":"@syncretized flip flops? in this weather? you must have crushed some of your mind grapes."Oct. 19, 2009. seandammit"is psyched about my thesis direction. Solid 2 days of mashing mind grapes that are turning into delicious thesis wine. I hope. Haha."Oct. 14, 2009, Kunal D. Patel"Plant-able birthday cards? My mind grapes just turned into raisins!..."Oct. 11, 2009, jubjubWhat's super-cool (and lexically significant) about these and others uses of "mind grapes" is how people are extending and developing the term, taking a throwaway joke and making it truly useful. On the show, mind grapes were only squeezed, but tweeters imagine them being mashed, fed, sapped, crushed, and turned into wine or raisins. Krisco420 suggests that some rhymes may peel one's mind grapes-a vivid alternative to "blow your mind" if I ever heard one.A curmudgeon might reasonably point out, "Why the blue hell do I need to talk about ‘mind grapes' when the word ‘mind' is working just fine?" Well, as Cosmo Kramer once asked, "Why go to a fine restaurant when you can just stick something in the microwave? Why go to the park and fly a kite when you can just pop a pill?" Language isn't always about brevity. People like to be clever, and they like to reference clever shows like 30 Rock. Whether that makes you blurgh or liz is up to you.