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A catchphrase is any frequently repeated popular phrase, whether it be a political slogan ("No Blood for Oil"), a slang fad ("Get a life") or a commercial tagline ("Where's the beef?"). In television, catchphrases are lines from shows which become often repeated and referenced, and generally come to be associated with the show and the character or person who says the line. There are many instances, however, of catchphrases becoming so popular in common usage that they become divorced from their original intent. For example, in the movie The Godfather, the "offer he can't refuse" was that a band leader, who had refused to sign a contract to agree to work with a singer, had a gun put to his head, and he was told "either his brains or his signature would be on the contract." In popular usage, the phrase has come to mean an offer—especially a low price, warranty or special promotion—that is so good that a consumer would be a fool to pass it up.

Television catchphrases are usually, but not always, products of comedy shows. They can be as short as one word ("Schwing!") or as long as two or three sentences ("Hi. I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such films as...."). In many instances, they are lines which a character or person frequently repeats throughout the course of the series—Arrested Development's GOB Bluth's "I've made a huge mistake," for instance, or Donald Trump's "You're fired!" on The Apprentice. In other cases, the line may only be spoken once or multiple times, but only over the course of one episode. Seinfeld was particularly noted for generating catchphrases this way: "Master of my domain" (referring to an ability to avoid masturbation) and "Yada, yada, yada" (a means of skipping over parts of a story the teller does not want to admit—in the episode, the part where the teller and another person had sex, e.g.: "I ran into an old friend. We went out for drinks, talked a little while, and yada, yada, yada, I went home.") were both used repeatedly throughout one episode each (4x11 - The Contest and 8x19 - The Yada Yada, respectively). On the other hand, "They're real, and they're spectacular," which settled a debate over whether or not one of Jerry's girlfriends had gotten breast implants, was uttered only once in the entire course of the series, but very memorably by that girlfriend, played by Teri Hatcher (4x19 - The Implant).

Attitudes towards catchphrases, particularly in comedy, vary wildly. Some, such as John Cleese, consider catchphrases the antithesis of real comedy—although even they have found some catchphrases, intended to come naturally out of a character, take on a life of their own, such as Manuel's "Qué?" on Fawlty Towers. Other writers and shows, such as Seinfeld, self-consciously create catchphrases for one episode as a hook or trademark of that episode. Still other shows, particulary sketch comedies, such as Saturday Night Live, may set out to give each recurring character one or more catchphrases to make the character more memorable and help him or her generate mass appeal. Examples of popular SNL catchphrases include:

  • "I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not."
  • "That was so funny, I forgot to laugh."
  • "I'm Gumby, dammit."
  • "I'm from New Joisey! Are you from New Joisey?"
  • "You look marvelous!"
  • "Well, isn't that special?"
  • "We are here to pump... *hand clap*... you up!"
  • "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."
  • "Party on, Wayne." "Party on, Garth."
  • "Vould you like to touch my monkey?"
  • "Da Bearsss."
  • "I'm living in a vaaaaan down by the riiiiver!"
  • "Superstar!"

Other shows notable for one or more catchphrases include The Honeymooners ("One of these days, Alice! One of these days! Bang! Zoom!"); Monty Python's Flying Circus ("Nudge nudge, wink wink!"); The Brady Bunch ("Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"); Taxi ("Okie-doke!"); Friends ("How you doin'?") and Chappelle's Show ("I'm Rick James, bitch!").