Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ask The A.V. Club: June 15, 2007

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Standing In The Titles That You Once Wore

My friend has the Bob Dylan record Bringing It All Back Home. I checked out the same exact album from the library, but it is titled Subterranean Homesick Blues. I think he has the correct album title, but I do not know why the one I checked out was named after the first track. Do you know why it has two different names?

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Emily Messer

Christopher Bahn responds:

Bringing It All Back Home is definitely the official name of the album, and is the only title listed on Dylan's official website. However, especially in the 1960s, when albums were often considered just a collection of songs instead of a singular artistic statement in their own right, it wasn't uncommon for them to be re-titled, repackaged, or otherwise messed around with—usually for commercial reasons—when they were released in different countries. For instance, although the American and English pressings of The Beatles' Rubber Soul were released at the same time, the U.S. version dropped four songs and added two more not found on the British version. The album you found at the library was probably the Dutch or West German release of Back Home, according to what I found at the Dylan fan website Searching For A Gem, which catalogs his various non-bootleg rarities. The title change was apparently made to capitalize on the popularity of the "Subterranean" single, which was a top-10 hit for Dylan in Europe at the time; otherwise, the album is the same as the American release. You can see images of the European versions here.

That Was No Movie, That Was My Wife!

What is the origin of the term "wait for it" used before the punchline of jokes? I first remember hearing it on Arrested Development, by the character Gob, or Ron Howard as narrator. It's usually snuck into the line as a quick aside: "The chicken crossed the road—wait for it—to get to the other side." I thought it was funny when I first heard it, especially when used by someone like Will Arnett, but now it's getting annoying. Even journalists have picked up on the term now, and I've seen it used in several articles.

Ashley

Donna Bowman has no time to wait:

Young people these days. They think they invented catchphrases. Well, you didn't, you snot-nosed kids! In a 2005 discussion thread on The Apple Blog, a casual question about the origin of "Wait for it…" ("Is that from a movie?") elicited the following wildly inaccurate suggestions: Braveheart, First Knight, Kindergarten Cop, Star Wars, Patch Adams, M*A*S*H (the TV series), The Matrix, Superman Returns, The Sandlot, Big Daddy, "one of the OCEAN films, either OCEAN's 11, 12 or 13," Saving Private Ryan, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, American Pie, Jaws, Old School, and Robin Williams: Live On Broadway. Sheesh. As anybody who watches BBC programming knows, "wait for it" is a British expression, not an American one—and it isn't of recent vintage, either.

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Just ask Eric Partridge, the well-traveled lexicographer who put together A Dictionary Of Catch Phrases in 1977, just two years before his death. In that work he traces "wait for it—wait for it" to two possible early 20th-century sources. It's possible that the phrase derives from the British army, when soldiers are warned by their superior officers not to execute the next command in a series until they're told to do so. This derivation would pinpoint World War I as the entrance of the catchphrase into the popular lexicon.

Or, Partridge opines, the phrase may derive originally from the British music halls. Comedians and farcical actors were urged to "wait for it—wait for it," meaning to allow during rehearsals for the rise and fall of laughter from the audience before continuing. Eventually, the phrase emerged from rehearsal onto the stage itself, in a bit of meta-humor that acknowledges the entire theatrical situation. If it originated on the stage, then its use as a catchphrase could be traced to the late 19th century.

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The earliest published example Partridge provides uses the phrase in the latter context. It dates from 1935, in a Noel Coward play called Red Peppers, and it's a classic vaudeville setup, in which our target phrase appears in the stage directions:

GEORGE: I saw a very strange thing the other day.

LILY: What was it?

GEORGE: Twelve men standing under one umbrella and they didn't get wet.

LILY: How's that?

GEORGE: It wasn't raining. [Wait for it—wait for it.]

"Properly," Partridge advises, "the phrase is rapidly repeated." In its evolution through Monty Python into the American scene, the rapidity has turned into exaggerated extension, and the repeat has gradually been lost. And the phrase has acquired something of a different context, now intended most often as a pause for suspense or a beat before a punchline. On television, it's most frequently employed by self-consciously theatrical characters such as Arrested Development's Gob or How I Met Your Mother's Barney. So, Ashley, they're meant to be annoying, and everybody else is riffing off a century-old comic trope. Your remedial British linguistic homework is 32 hours of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

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Ask An A.V. Club Intern

Over the last six months, intrepid A.V. Club intern Zoe Weisman has periodically stepped in to help us dig through our backlog of "please identify this!" questions. Her internship is over and she's on to new and no doubt better things, but she left us with a few final questions answered:

In the late '80s/early '90s, a young English boy briefly found fame as someone who had a knack for finding valuable antiques. I clearly remember reading a magazine profile on him (perhaps in People) and seeing him somewhere else, maybe on TV. He was around 9 or 10 years old, had blond hair, and was a natty dresser. He had a stuck-up, prissy way about him—I clearly remember him being quoted as saying "If more children were like me, the world would be a better place." My question is, who was this kid, and why was I supposed to care about him?

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Natty Soltesz

James Harries was a golden-haired child prodigy who rose to fame after appearing on Terry Wogan's chat show; supposedly he had an uncanny knowledge of antiques, though in later years, he's said he was coached with a few stock answers he could use to get around questions. He dropped out of school at age 10 to open an antique shop, and later became the target of a scandal when it was discovered that his supposedly genius family had mostly gotten their degrees and qualifications fradulently. Harries went on to get a sex-change operation, and is now known as Lauren. The 2004 British made-for-TV documentary Little Lady Fauntleroy follows Harries and her dysfunctional family. Check out this tribute website, which tracks her transformation. To answer your second question, you were supposed to care about him because he was a saucy child prodigy who hated everyone. People can't wait for geniuses to grow up and fail to maintain the same level of success they had as children.

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Growing up back in the '80s, my brother and I used to watch reruns of Tom And Jerry. There was one episode in particular called "Pecos Pest." In it, Jerry's cousin plays guitar, his guitar strings periodically break, and he grabs Tom's whiskers as replacement strings. Hilarity ensues. The song that his cousin normally played is "Froggie Went A-Courtin'." We don't much care about this song, but in one scene, Jerry's cousin plays an encore without any words. We are wondering what this song is and who does it, etc. Thanks for your help.

d

Jerry's cousin was voiced by musician and comic George "Shug" Fisher, who portrayed Shorty on The Beverly Hillbillies. He also did all of the arrangements for the episode you mention, and is responsible for the snazzy guitar improvisation you're so fond of. (Unfortunately, since it was an improvisation, there's no title, and you probably won't find it on an album anywhere.) Fisher is a member of the group Sons Of The Pioneers, which he joined in 1943 as a bass player. The band has survived for nearly seven decades; you can find one of their albums for sale here.

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This '70s TV show featured an awkward teenager and I'm pretty sure his name was Harold. His mom witnesses Harold accidentally kill a young girl and hides him by walling off a room or rooms within her house. Mom dies and an unsuspecting family moves into the house with a teenage hottie. Harold spies on the hottie behind the walls of the house and eventually lets her into his hidden lair, with a large psychedelic mural of her. This movie laid a heavy trip on me as a kid and I thought it was called Weird Harold, but I can't find anything listed on the Web. Did I dream this film? Thanks ahead for the hookup!

JT

You're a little off with the title, but you nailed the adjective-name sequence and plot. This 1974 made-for-television thriller is called Bad Ronald. Scott Jacoby plays Ronald, a creepy teen who accidentally kills a young girl and is hidden by his equally creepy mother. Left to rot in solitude after his mom's death, he becomes obsessed with the teenage girl who serendipitously moves in and fails to notice that her walls are being eaten away by peepholes. Not only does he paint a psychedelic mural of her, he captures her and psychotically proclaims that he is Prince Normand, leader of Trent. There's a clip reel here. The VHS is available on Amazon, but prices are steep, since it's out of print.

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This has been driving me nuts for a few years, but maybe you could help. I'm wondering if you remember a sitcom from the '80s that featured a knight and princess living in modern times. I want to say that the princess was a Snow White/Cinderella type and the knight was a Prince Valiant type. There may have been a mother-in-law involved, as well as kids who may have handled the modern times better than their parents. I'm sure that their real identities were a secret, and that was a plot device as well. Any help will be appreciated.

Jim

You're describing The Charmings, probably the only sitcom based on a medieval family trying to adjust to life in the '80s. The show starts where the Snow White fable left off. After a thousand years, Snow White, Prince Charming, and a renegade dwarf wake up from an evil-spell-induced coma. They find themselves in California, 1987, where they pose as a normal family. The kids are forced to hide their identities, but like the children of American immigrants, they adjust quickly to life with cold medication, candy, and television. Episodes are available in installments on YouTube, and there's even a Charmings.org for the super-nostalgic.

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That's it from Zoe… thanks for everything, and all of us here at The A.V. Club wish you health, happiness, and fewer random questions about dusty pop culture in your future.

Next week: Blockbuster, copyright law, an art film about escalators, and whatever else you ask us about. Send your questions to asktheavclub@theonion.com.

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