By Prarthana Mitra
Over new 100 words, used in common parlance by film buffs, nerds and critics, have found their coveted place in the English lexicon, courtesy the Oxford Dictionary. Some of the recent additions pertain to genres and styles of filmmaking, while others cover a host of technical terms widely used on film sets.
All the words and phrases are used in the language of cinema: “cinematography to criticism, film scripts to film-makers”, as stated in OED’s official website. While some of them are fairly obvious to people with even a rudimentary familiarity with films, many of the words will certainly shed further light on the technical aspects, and make watching and discussing films more enjoyable.
Your favourite filmmaker is now an adjective
Half a century after Kafkaesque was added to the lexicon, the latest entries finally incorporated adjectives such as Tarantinoesque, Kubrickian, Lynchian Fordian, Capraeque, Keatonesque, Bergmanesque to define the style popularised by the corresponding filmmakers – cult figures in the world of cinema.
“Tarantinoesque,” for example, could refer to any narrative (or situation) that consists of graphic violence, non-linear screenplay, snappy dialogue and satire, just like Quentin Tarantino’s films. Similarly, a “Kubrickian” film would refer to meticulous perfectionism, atmospheric setting, and metaphorical representation of human reality, like 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Shining. Indiewire calls “Lynchian” the best new addition, a word that can now be used to describe films or television series “characteristic, reminiscent, or imitative of the works of David Lynch.”
This year’s revision borrows as much from legendary fictional characters and setting, as it does from larger-than-life stalwarts of the film industry. Among reel characters, “Mrs Robinson” has entered the lexicon to define an older woman with a sexual propensity for a much younger man (a reference borrowed from Mike Nichols’ 1967 film The Graduate starring Dustin Hoffman). Another notable phrase from The Wizard of Oz (1939), made it to the list. Uttered by Dorothy (Judy Garland) after being transported to Oz by the tornado, “not in Kansas anymore” — will not attribute the feeling of ‘undergoing a new experience’ ‘in a strange or unfamiliar place or situation’.
Technical terms and generic additions
“Sword-and-sandal,” another of the latest inclusions, refers to Biblical, classical or mythological movies where characters used sword-like weapons and wore strappy sandals. Lawrence in Arabia, for example. One cannot ignore “mumblecore,” of course, the independent low-budget film genre that thrives on naturalism and dialogue. The popular Italian “Giallo” movement, which reinvented horror and intrigue in the seventies, also joins the league of film genres. This comes right before a remake of Giallo masterpiece Suspiria hits the theatres later this month.
Among technical terms, “diegetic” is not as well known but a very interesting aspect of sound in cinema. When the background music emanates from a visible artificial source present within the scene, like characters listening to it on a radio, the sound is called diegetic.
Similarly, “shaky cam” has become synonymous with experimental filmmaking, which thrives on footage shot on hand-held camera. While Wilhelm scream (the stock sound effect of a man screaming used in over 389 movies) did not make it to the lexicon, “walla” which describes the indistinct murmur of a big crowd onscreen is now officially an English word.
Although some of these portmanteau words were colloquially used for decades, giving them the Thesauraus status consolidates their usage in formal documents, like a research paper. Furthermore, affirming cinematic jargon like diegetic sound, Dutch angle, gag reel, and mumblecore, will generate a more vivid idea of what these terms mean to the layman and film enthusiast alike. In a way, this inclusion is a move towards de-hegemonising the power that cinephiles and film critics wield by using them generously and often superfluously, and returning language back to the common man.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius