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"Fred Madden, in Jabberwocky (Summer/Autumn 1988), calls attention to a chapter titled "Popular Follies of Great Cities" in Charles Mackay's classic work, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841). Mackay tells of various catch phrases which sprang up suddenly in London. One such phrase was "Who are you," spoken with emphasis on the first and last words. It appeared suddenly, "like a mushroom. . . . One day it was unheard, unknown, uninvented; the next day it pervaded London. . . . Every new comer into an alehouse tap room was asked unceremoniously 'Who are you?' "

In "Who Are You: A Reply" (Jabberwocky, Winter/Spring 1990), John Clark points out that Lewis Carroll owned Mackay's book and probably heard the question shouted at him when it was a short-lived London rage. Did he have this craze in mind when he had his blue Caterpillar, sitting on a mushroom, ask Alice, "Who are you?" It certainly seems possible.

-- from The Annotated Alice: the Definitive Edition, ed. Martin Gardner.

I found this particularly interesting because most of the pre-internet "memes" I can think of had their source in commercial enterprises, where you could ascribe the desire to insert a catchphrase into daily use as an obvious goal of advertising. I'm not sure I can think of one that didn't have a commercial (advertising or popular movie or tv show) origin.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 13th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
Interesting - when I started reading I thought you meant that the catch phrase was inspired by Lewis Carroll, not the other way around.
All the catchphrases I can think of do seem to have a media-based origin but they're not always a commercial media origin. I'm thinking of news or celebrity-based catchphrases - "Can we all get along?" or "You *like* me!".
If you count catchphrases that pop up just in families or among small groups there are definitely non-media based ones - things that little Billy said when he was learning how to talk or something inane that the principal said one time at an assembly, etc.
Mar. 13th, 2010 05:08 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's fascinating!
Mar. 13th, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's very cool. :)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )