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see what I did there?


used as a way of drawing attention to something clever and funny that you have just said or written

'If you've been living under a bush for the last few years (see what I did there?) Ray is the down-to-earth survivalist, bushcraft expert, author, photographer and the star of countless television series, who can be found in the wilds, eating from the hedgerows and making fire with sticks.'

Fife Today 28th September 2017

It's December again, Christmas is practically upon us and we're hurtling towards 2018 – yes, it's the final month of the year and so now time for me to have 'the last word'see what I did there?

a wry way of drawing attention to a witty remark, often some kind of word play or clever transposition of ideas

Admittedly, that was the worst joke ever, but also an attempt to illustrate the popular use of a phrase which feels like it should have been around for decades, but only seems to have captured the imagination of language users relatively recently.

Whether the stuff of social media posts, newspaper articles, TV repartee or informal conversations, see what I did there? now regularly pops up as a wry way of drawing attention to a witty remark, often some kind of word play or clever transposition of ideas. Anyone on the receiving end of the comment can also follow up with I see what you did there, the latter often abbreviated to ISWYDT in social media contexts, and attributed the status of internet meme, a fact which has doubtless accelerated both phrases' journeys into common currency.

Interestingly, see what I did there? seems to somehow bypass the idea of laughing at your own jokes and act as a device for drawing attention to your own cleverness without necessarily coming across as stupid or boastful. However, I see what you did there appears to have variable overtones, sometimes a genuine acknowledgement of wit, but more often a condescending response to a banal joke.

Background – see what I did there?

First use of I see what you did there pre-dates the internet and is popularly attributed to a conversation between characters Joey and Phoebe in a 1996 episode of the famous US sitcom Friends. However, see what I did there? is older still, its original use thought to be by comic actor Billy Crystal, first briefly in the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally, but more notably in the 1992 film Mr Saturday Night, which features the rise and fall of a stand-up comedian who adopts the phrase as a common refrain (and whose brother also pre-emptively counters his jokes by saying I see what you did there).

While we're on the subject of multi-word expressions (and because it's nearly Christmas and an excuse to go a little off-piste) let's now neatly segue into a quick look at one or two other relative newcomers on the phrasal block. .

If you describe someone as a GOAT, far from offensively comparing them to a four-legged farm animal with horns, you are giving them the highest of accolades. GOAT is in fact an acronym representing the phrase greatest of all time. Its origins lie with boxing icon Muhammad Ali, who famously described himself as 'the greatest', inspiring the initialism G.O.A.T. (Inc.) in conjunction with commercial use of his intellectual properties in the early 90s. Though the phrase has subsequently been used in connection with some of the world's most accomplished sports personalities, it only achieved full-blown acronym status (i.e. pronunciation as a word) relatively recently, hitting the spotlight in 2017 in relation to the amazing achievements of Swiss tennis player Roger Federer.

Moving from admiration to honesty, the colloquial phrase keep it 100, is gaining popular currency, especially in US English, to describe the state of being honest, true to yourself, having integrity etc. The phrase is sometimes associated with political satirist Larry Wilmore, who used it as the title of a TV show segment in which politicians and celebrity guests were asked 'difficult' questions. Unsurprisingly, the US media has in recent times been peppered with references to 'keeping it 100' in relation to the activities of the Trump administration.

And finally to my own personal favourite: if you waste precious time doing something which is completely pointless and futile, then your actions can be described as like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic (or moving, shifting or shuffling them). Though the origin of this phrase dates back over forty years to a quotation in the New York Times, it has re-surfaced (see what I did there?) relatively recently, used for instance in connection with mixed reactions to Twitter's proposal of lifting its 140 character limit.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published 7th December 2017.

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a thriller where you know who committed a crime and the focus of interest is on finding out why

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