Old catchphrases

"Remember the Maine!" "Dewey captured Manila." For some reason, these two old sayings are in my head today. They both arose from the Spanish-American War in 1898, yet they were commonly quoted in my childhood more than a half century later. I don’t hear them any more, though. Both are related to the rise of newspapers near the beginning of the 20th century. Yellow journalism (cheap newspapers printed sometimes on yellow paper) promoted the war as a way to increase circulation. America’s rising literacy meant that news of the Spanish-American War was more widely read than reports of previous wars. That must be why the catchphrases stuck.

"Remember the Maine!" was a rallying cry after a U.S. ship blew up in Havana, Cuba. We used to say it as an ironic cry when we went into mock battle as children. "Dewey captured Manila" grew out of a U.S. victory in the Philippines. When I was a girl, we said, "Dewey captured Manila" when someone passed along some old news. The newspapers of 1898 made a big deal of the capture, and apparently, some newspapers were behind the news. It’s equivalent to today’s dismissive "Well, duh." I can’t find much about "Dewey captured Manila," so it might have been particular to my region (western Piedmont North Carolina) and it certainly was a mid-20th century saying.

Today’s catchphrases spread much faster and expire almost as fast. No kids today say "Sock it to me" or "Where’s the beef?," let alone "Dewey captured Manila." Only those familiar phrases from the Bible and Shakespeare seem to endure in the English speaking world.

Care to add some catchphrases from the past? Add a comment or send me e-mail.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.