The Language of [Seinfeld]: 22 Years Later

Seinfeld went off the air in 1998. That is officially 22 years ago. And yet, Seinfeld-isms abound in our modern lexicon- words and phrases that were either invented or given a boost into the realms of common slang by the show. 

Language changes rapidly. Just imagine if someone was saying ‘groovy’ or ‘square’ or ‘far-out’ 22 years after it was popularized. The fact that we still incorporate Seinfeld into our language, apply it to our experiences, and recall it in our lives is a mind-blowing testament to the greatness of the show.

Here are the Seinfeld-isms, I still come across…22 years later…and how they have remained in our American lexicon for so long.

close-talker: As long as there are old people there will be close talkers. But this term is not isolated to the elderly. I come across many individuals with a smaller understanding of appropriate distancing during a conversation, and therefore, I have many people I label as close-talkers.

puffy shirt: This, upon first watching, felt like a fun singular storyline for Jerry as he struggled with a particular piece of his wardrobe with no practical application to life outside of television. However, I have found many people lamenting the ‘puffiness’ of their tops, to which I automatically reply, “That’s a puffy shirt. You look like a pirate.” If they speak my language (the language of Seinfeld) they will reply, “But I don’t want to be a pirate.”

giddy-up: Kramer’s antics made odd things acceptable, like bursting into rooms with a crazed look and a slide. But a more applicable element from Kramer is his catchphrase, giddy-up. It had a smooth transition into American language, fitting into all sorts of familiar scenarios like after deciding what to do, beginning a car ride, acknowledging something was done well. I giddy-up all sorts of moments in life.

yada yada: Yada yada was destined to die in the nineties. That phrase had no legs. But Seinfeld strapped a rocket booster to it by making it a more subtle phrase. Rather than primarily being used to skip boring parts of a story, it has now become a sly way of insinuating that something significant or major happened and it may be too secretive or salacious to share, making the phrase much more tongue-in-cheek, fun, and useful.

serenity now: As long as people are angry they will be saying serenity now, so I don’t see this going away anytime soon. But the brilliance of the phrase is how it fills a much-needed niche. I get worked up over all manner of things, some significant, but most not. In the midst of being needlessly frustrated amongst others and needing to transition out of that frustration and back into a normal conversation where you don’t look like an angry jerk, there will never be a better phrase than serenity now.

Festivus (for the rest of us): Who hasn’t hit the holiday season and asked about Festivus or declared a strange gathering a Festivus for the rest of us? Every year I am at a gathering where someone (it’s not always me…) tells the room, “I got a lot of problems with you people.” And every once in a while, when I get really lucky, someone will tell me that the night won’t end until I pin them.

these pretzels are making me thirsty: Seinfeld took us through Acting 101 with this phrase, turning it into empty words that people can fill with whatever emotion they are feeling in the moment. So therefore, we can use this phrase whenever. I often hear it as an angry outburst (the George interpretation), but most of the time, people will just be munching on a bag of pretzels and literally get thirsty. Their retroactive realizations that they accidentally quoted Seinfeld are some precious moments.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Thank God on High for this phrase. In our current climate and culture there is always a need for mitigation. If you ever find yourself saying something in the same ballpark as judgmental, just to be safe, let everyone know where you stand by saying, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” It works like a charm. 

bizzaro: This has become a handy prefix to tack on to anything that is acting different than normal or looks like something that it is not. For example, when your friend Jeff stops being an asshole all of a sudden, its bizarro-Jeff. Or when you walk into your old high school and its nothing like you remember, its bizarro-Jefferson High. 

Jimmy leg– For all people who have ever slept in the same bed as a restless sleeper, this phrase helps us communicate what is so irritating about it. “They kick in their sleep,” sounds so calm- as if the sleeper were the victim. But when you explain that they’ve got the Jimmy leg, the true annoyance of their constant thrashing comes through. And you can’t just say it, you have to twitch between ‘Jimmy’ and ‘leg,’ just for effect.

‘bout fi’ ten minute: Standard waiting times in restaurants are usually around five to ten minutes, which allows an easy application of the stilted language of the Chinese Restaurant host. Although be careful that not too many people hear you say this, it’s funny to Seinfeld fans, but could maybe be misinterpreted by those who don’t know its origins.

re-gift: Who doesn’t have a mom or aunt who uses every possible re-gift scenario. Encouraging you to re-gift presents you don’t like, or re-gifting to you a present they did not like. There is a lot of emotions and thoughts that go along with such a strange habit, but now we can summarize them all with one word and a prefix.

bro/manzier:  Based on the amount of debate on whether this man’s supportive attire should be dubbed the bro or the manzier, this is a clothing item that should be in more common distribution. Seinfeld permeated our culture so thoroughly that any time some man boobs jiggle we think of Kramer and Frank trying out the bro/manzier together (I vote for manzier by the way).

shrinkage: Seinfeld-isms have got our collective backs by allowing us neat exits from tough scenarios or simple ways to capture complex ideas. But nothing, absolutely nothing, will top the convenient excuse Seinfeld gave all men with small penises. It’s just a bit of shrinkage, nothing to see here.

The jerk store: Seinfeld also equipped us with the ultimate insult. Insults can be tricky because they need to be quick and clever, the quicker and the cleverer the better. But Seinfeld said screw that and provided us with a pre-planned and simple insult that will bring the biggest asshole to their knees. The entire insult (as we all know) is, “Well, the jerk store called and their running out of you!” Which is fun but rarely fits into our everyday interactions. But if Seinfeld-isms have anything in common with the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park it is that they will find a way. And so the insult was shortened and manipulated until all we have to do is say jerk store, or imply that someone belongs in the jerk store and the work is done.

Soup Nazi: The prevalence of this title in our lives does not bode well for the service industry in America. It seems everyone has a shop keeper or worker of some kind who resembles the Soup Nazi in behavior or demeanor. So here is to all the Frozen Yogurt, Sandwich, Coffee, and Pastry Nazis of the world. 

Hello, Newman: If you know a Newman (as I do) this phrase is a staple of your Seinfeld phraseology repertoire, if you don’t, just adding any two-syllable name with that vitriol and frustration that makes this Seinfeld-ism so great will do. “Hellooo… Jamie.”

double dip: These bastards had it coming. With the double dip episode of Seinfeld came an emboldening of all victims of polluted salsa and spreads. We noticed you from afar, we held our peace, but after Seinfeld blew the lid off the whole operation, no one hesitates to call these people out for what they are- double dippers.

in the vault: There is promising to keep a secret, and then there is putting something in the vault. The visual is perfect, but knowing your friend is resting their secret keeping on the holy ground of a Seinfeld-ism is the greatest type of insurance they could offer. 

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If you liked this, you may also like: Dictionary of Malapropisms [Sopranos]; Slang Dictionary [Mad Max: Fury Road]; Best Insults In All Of [Succession]

13 thoughts on “The Language of [Seinfeld]: 22 Years Later

    1. I can’t say that I use that quote at all. It would definitely make a list of most memorable invented phrases though. I had to find a way to narrow the field because there are so many.

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  1. Seinfeld has certainly had its effect on pop culture, hasn’t it. For me though, I enjoyed other sitcoms like ‘Home Improvement’ and ‘Frasier’ more than this one. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, right?

    Liked by 1 person

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