Somewhere around 15 years ago, I started noticing a trend. If the word “meme” had been in as ubiquitous use as it is now, I’d have noticed a meme. I mentioned it to people, but it seemed to register with no one. I kept a little list of examples I’d run into. Over the years, they got more and more numerous. Now of course my list is not on paper (it’s actually an Evernote note). Being a fallen linguist, I would speak of it thusly and ask people this question:
“Have you ever noticed how many movie titles there are of the form … gerund of a transitive verb of Germanic (as opposed to Latinate) origin plus a person or place name?” People answered, “no,” which really meant, “Are you crazy?” Thinking I could bring them into my world by means of power of persuasion in sheer numbers, I’d mention just a few of the well-known examples: Eating Raoul, Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas, Feeling Minnesota, Waking Ned Devine, Being John Malkovitch, Finding Nemo, Chasing Amy, Boxing Helena, Saving Private Ryan, ….
Non-linguists would acknowledge that maybe there was something there, but, then the conversation would to other things, usually less linguistically interesting. Linguists were only slightly, and I mean slightly, more interested. But there’s no arguing the meme is there and the pattern/process is, to use a linguistic term, realtively productive.
There are variations to be sure, not always precisely gerund + person/place name. Sometimes it’s more a turn of phrase: Trading Places, Being There, Turning Paige, Changing Lanes, …. Still, the main pattern is there (remember, transitive verb, no preposition, preferably with a Germanic root; though one can imagine a few Latinate verbs that would work) and a certain rhythm is there.
Here is the list in its current state and a graph showing the number of examples from the list occurring in each year since 1979. We may have peaked in 2009, but maybe not. If you want to pitch a movie in Hollywood, I urge you to consider the pattern; brainstorm a little: Using Gerund, Writing Title, Pitching Concept, Pitching John Woo, Selling Meemo, Bowling Bowling Green, Thinking Clare-ly, Taking Pains, Wheeling West Virginia, …. Why, the possibilities are mindless.
P.S. Thanks to Louise for the suggestion to blog this, and to Haley for the post title.
|Desperately Seeking Susan||1985|
|Finding Mary March||1988|
|Desperately Seeking Roger (TV)||1991|
|Flogging Molly (band)||1993|
|Desperately Seeking Sanctuary (TV)||1994|
|Haunting Julia (play)||1994|
|Seeking the Cafe Bob||1994|
|Leaving Las Vegas||1995|
|Saving Private Ryan||1998|
|Being John Malkovich||1999|
|Desperately Seeking Helen||1999|
|Seeking Solutions (TV)||1999|
|Waking Ned Devine||1999|
|Kissing Jessica Stein||2001|
|Desperately Seeking Seka (TV)||2002|
|Chasing Freedom (TV)||2004|
|Desperately Seeking Sheila (TV)||2004|
|Desperately Seeking Something (TV)||2004|
|Seeking Salvation (V)||2004|
|Seeking Harvey Weinstein||2005|
|Behind the Scenes of Seeking Mary||2006|
|Seeking 1906 (TV)||2006|
|Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney||2008|
|Forgetting Sarah Marshall||2008|
|Desperately Seeking Dinosaurs||2009|
|Seeking Simone (TV series)||2009|
|Taking Chance (Kevin Bacon)||2009|
|Desperately Seeking Europe||2010|
|Seeking Happily Ever After||2010|
|Desperately Seeking Happiness||2011|
|Desperately Seeking Santa (TV)||2011|
|Finding Sarah (TV)||2011|
|Seeking Asian Female||2012|
|Seeking Dolly Parton||2013|