OED 3: The Revisioning (October 2018)

OED 3: The Revisioning (October 2018)

The phrase ‘the language of cinema’ is typically used when referring to visual literacy: the means by  which we ‘read’ the way a film was shot and edited, with camera movement, cuts, and close-ups used as a form of communication. But as with any area of specialism, film has its own ever-expanding lexicon, and such is cinema’s popularity and influence that the words involved often make their way through to mainstream consciousness. With this in mind we’ve added over 100 words and phrases as part of this update to increase the OED’s own stock of film terms. Like the finest Spielbergian fare, there’s something for everyone, with words derived from all areas of the industry: cinematography to criticism, film scripts to film-makers.

This last group is perhaps the single most obvious source for the new additions: 20 new adjectives relating to specific directors have been included. The list runs through a range of genres and locations, from the wide landscapes of the American West evoked by Fordian to Swedish soul-searching with Bergmanesque. The oldest takes us back to the silent era and Buster Keaton: Keatonesque dates from 1921, near the start of an extraordinary run of success for the comic actor and film-maker, and typically refers to Keaton’s famous deadpan expression and penchant for physical comedy. The most recent is Tarantinoesque, first seen in 1994 – the year Pulp Fiction appeared in cinemas, and only two years after Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature as a director, Reservoir Dogs. The word’s use touches on a number of features clear in these two early films – graphic and stylized violence, cineliterate references, non-linear storylines, sharp dialogue, and more – and is a reminder of the impact these films had on cinema in the 1990s.

Tarantinoesque OEDTarantinoesque

But it’s not directors alone whose names are remembered. Jack Foley was an American sound technician, who established himself as a leader in this field at the advent of sound film in the late 1920s, and was still working over thirty years later, creating the sound of a Roman army marching in Spartacus for Stanley Kubrick (cf. Kubrickian) by jangling a large ring of keys. Today Foley refers to just such effects created to mimic ambient sounds; when you hear footsteps in a film, a door closing or a gun firing, most likely that noise will have been made by a Foley artist, working on a Foley stage and using props and practical methods developed over many years. Some of them are incredibly imaginative: for example, in The Exorcist when the possessed Regan turns her head 180 degrees, the sound you hear is that of the Foley artist twisting an old leather wallet filled with credit cards.

With horror in mind, it’s noticeable that this particular genre has been able to scare up more than its fair share of the new terms. Some of them are suitably evocative: a gorehound is a fan of films characterized by scenes of graphic violence and bloodshed; a scream queen is an actress noted for her work in horror films (though, for a brief moment in the 1940s, it also described one known for her comedic roles – one sense of scream is ‘a cause of laughter; a very amusing person or situation’); and a jump scare is much as it sounds – a sudden or unexpected event, typically involving a loud sound, intended to startle an audience.
scream queen OED

scream queen

Others remind us of the worldwide box-office appeal of the horror film. Giallo is the Italian word for yellow; in Italy it became the word used to describe a thriller novel or film, due to the yellow covers used on a series of mystery novels. In English, though, giallo refers specifically to a genre of Italian thriller or horror film popular in the 1960s and 70s; these films typically involve a murder mystery, lots of graphic violence, and a dash of eroticism, mixed together to create a strangely dreamlike blend of suspense and horror. Meanwhile, showing influence from the other side of the world, J-horror was the term used to describe the Japanese films such as Ringu that made international waves at the turn of the millennium, with their combination of psychological horror, supernatural themes, and folkloric elements. And Hammer, of course, evokes a uniquely British feel; the Hammer horrors made by Hammer Film Productions, especially between the late 1950s and early 1970s, are still famous and loved for their lurid, melodramatic style.

Most of us quote lines from films now and again; who among us hasn’t accosted a six-fingered stranger with “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” But it’s not very often that lines like this escape their movie-quoting confines and become something more; something that can be adapted and used elsewhere, the cinematic reference still apparent but not the sole reason for its use. It does happen though, and some such phrases originating within films are included in this update. In the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy tells Toto “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more,” after being whisked away by the tornado. As a result, since at least 1972 people have been using the phrase not in Kansas anymore to mean ‘in a strange or unfamiliar place or situation’, or ‘undergoing a new experience’. (And yes, it is from the film, not the original book.)

Not in Kansas anymore OEDnot in Kansas anymore

Similarly (the first time anyone has said that about these two films) in 1984’s This is Spinal Tap, guitarist Nigel Tufnel points out that his amplifier has a setting that’s one louder than standard amps; it goes to eleven. (Cue confusion from film-maker Marty DiBergi, wondering why they didn’t just make the ten setting a little louder.) Since then – or at least since 1987, the date of our first quotation – (up) to eleven has been used in various different contexts to mean ‘so as to reach or surpass the maximum level or limit; to an extreme or intense degree’.

And it’s not just lines from films that become part of the public consciousness. It can happen to film titles too: see Groundhog Day, the 1993 film’s name coming to mean ‘a situation in which events seem to be recurring, esp. in an oppressively predictable way’. (Though with any luck not quite as often as in the film; its director Harold Ramis once said he believed Phil Connors to have been trapped in a 30 or 40 year time loop.) Characters too can walk off the screen and into real life; an older woman engaging in a sexual relationship with a much younger man has been called a Mrs Robinson since at least 1970, three years after The Graduate appeared in cinemas.

Mrs Robinson OED

Mrs Robinson

If you’re interested in the technical side of film-making, there’s a lot here for you. The addition of visual effect means that the modern distinction between this and special effect is clarified (the former now typically referring to effects created in post using computer software, the latter focusing on those created on set using stunts, props, etc.). The aerial shot has been in use since at least 1920, but our definition takes into account a very modern adaptation, which is the increasingly common use of drones to record footage from the skies. Going back in time, we now have an entry for glass shot: a beautifully inventive special effects technique popular in the early 20th century, whereby a shot was taken through a sheet of glass bearing a painted or photographed image of part of the setting, meaning that the image blended with the live action footage to add features that would be too difficult to create in real life. With these, match cut, bridging shot, Academy ratio, and many more, our coverage of words used in cinematography is significantly expanded.

Perhaps most pleasingly, there’s a lot here too that is as interesting from a lexicographical angle as it is from a cinephile point of view. Did you know that walla is background dialogue and other sounds recorded by voice actors?  It comes from the fact that this was the noise made by actors to represent the indistinct murmuring of a crowd: imagine a group of people muttering ‘walla walla walla’. (In the United States, at least; the British have long used ‘rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb’.)

walla OED


A Dutch angle is a camera shot which is tilted so the frame is not level, typically used to portray disorientation or unease. It’s nothing to do with Holland though; it’s a technique that was introduced by German Expressionist film-makers, and ‘Dutch’ here in fact reflects that – think ‘Deutsch’. And diegetic comes ultimately from a Greek word meaning ‘to describe, narrate’; in the film world it refers to sound that occurs within the world of the story, and can be heard by the characters – things like dialogue, music on a radio, and footsteps. (Non-diegetic sound is whatever isn’t part of the characters’ world, such as the musical score, or a voice-over.)

I could go on: kaiju, peplum, chanchada, the list of new entries that were fascinating to work on, and we hope just as interesting to read, is almost as long as Gone with the Wind. Our consultant on this range was the noted British film critic Mark Kermode, and even he learned something new (though I won’t tell you what). Whether you’re a wannabe DP, or can’t tell your Lynchian from your Langian, we hope you will too.

A full list of the film additions, and entries to which new senses have been added:

  • Academy ratio n.
  • action comedy n.
  • AD n.
  • aerial shot n.
  • AFI n.
  • Altmanesque adj.
  • anthology n.
  • arc shot n.
  • BBFC n.
  • Bergmanesque adj.
  • BFI n.
  • blink and you’ll miss it phr.
  • blooper reel n.
  • Bressonian adj.
  • bridging shot n.
  • Bunuelian adj.
  • Capraesque adj.
  • chanchada n.
  • cineliteracy n.
  • cineliterate adj.
  • Cinema Novo n.
  • cinematography n.
  • clapboard n.2
  • craft service n.
  • crawl n.1
  • cut n.2
  • diegetic adj.
  • straight (also direct) to DVD phr.
  • director of photography n.
  • director’s chair n.
  • DoP n.
  • DP n.
  • Dutch angle n.
  • edge-of-your-seat phr.
  • Eisensteinian adj.
  • end credits n.
  • flashforward adj. and n.
  • Foley n.
  • Fordian adj.
  • front projection n.
  • gag reel n.
  • giallo n.
  • glass shot n.
  • Godardian adj.
  • gorefest n.
  • gorehound n.
  • Groundhog Day n.
  • Hammer n.4
  • hanging miniature n.
  • hard R adj. (and n.)
  • Hawksian adj.
  • Hays n.
  • Herzogian adj.
  • horror n.
  • idiocracy n.2
  • in-camera adv.2
  • Indiana Jones n.
  • J-horror n.
  • jump scare n.
  • kaiju n.
  • kaiju eiga n.
  • Keatonesque adj.
  • Kubrickian adj.
  • Langian adj.
  • Lynchian adj.
  • match cut n.
  • microbudget n. and adj.
  • mise-en-scène n.
  • Mrs Robinson n.
  • mumblecore n.
  • no-budget adj.
  • Nollywood n.
  • non-diegetic adj.
  • not in Kansas anymore phr.
  • omnibus adj.
  • one-sheet n.
  • Oscar bait n.
  • peplum n.
  • portmanteau n.
  • post n.13
  • post-credit adj.
  • principal photography n.
  • production code n.
  • schlock horror n.
  • Scorsesean adj.
  • scream queen n.
  • second unit n.
  • sex comedy n.
  • shaky cam n.
  • shaky camera n.
  • short film n.
  • short subject n.
  • Sirkian adj.
  • spec adj.
  • Spielbergian adj.
  • stock footage n.
  • stoner n.1
  • sword-and-sandal n.
  • table read n.
  • Tarantinoesque adj.
  • Tarkovskian adj.
  • tentpole adj. and n.
  • three-shot n.
  • tilt shot n.
  • torture porn n.
  • travelling shot n.
  • triple-X adj.
  • (up) to eleven phr.
  • VFX n.
  • visual effect n.
  • voice acting n.
  • voice actor n.
  • voice actress n.
  • walla int. and n.
  • Wellesian adj.
  • XXX adj.

Illustrations  by Edith Pritchett.

The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.