Most Commonly Used Phrases In Essays Are Movies

Moviegoers love a nice cliché. At least, if ticket sales for superhero comic films are any indication.

See what I did there? I just used one myself. (Actually, two.)

As a writer, I’m obligated to turn my nose up (three!) at clichés, wherever I see them. But my snobbery is hypocritical: I critique the unoriginality of my writer friends, yet I type clichés by the dozen. I roll my eyes whenever an actor says, “No! I’m coming with you!” yet wait on the edge of my seat during every Die Hard film until Bruce Willy finally says, “Yippee ki-yay, motherf—” [insert explosion/gunshot/karate chop].

The word cliché originates with ancient typesetters working at French printing presses. It was onomatopoeia for the click-shh sound that the metal letters made when set in the press. To save time, typesetters would cast commonly used phrases as single pieces, so they wouldn’t have to set letters individually, and they called those phrases “clichés.” (The English word for this, by the way, was “stereotype.”)

In everyday speech, most of us (myself included) spit trite sentences til their meanings warp—and don’t even realize it. In fact, the modern definition of cliché is “an expression that has been overused to the extent that it loses its original meaning or novelty.” It can also refer to a predictable event, or, as they say in television, a trope.

Hollywood indeed seems to be today’s biggest patron of tired ideas and cheesy phrases. Screenwriters for film and television often use clichés to convey ideas quickly. But with multimillion-dollar budgets and pretty actors who need to implement said clichés vocally on camera for millions of people, trite is more forgivable than cheesy, and Hollywood seems addicted to queso. There’s a difference between repeating a common phrase like “Let’s get out of here!” for economy’s sake and making McConaughey say, “Look what the cat dragged in.” (Magic Mike, 2012. Yes, I saw it.)

Recently, after sitting through a particularly bad Ryan Reynolds movie, I did what any conflicted word snob who thinks charts about movies are more fun than actual movies would, and started mining movie script databases to see what our most common cinematic clichés happen to be.

According to subtitle database Subtitlr, here are the most frequently-occurring words in film, excluding pronouns, articles, and prepositions. Each of the below appears in over a dozen popular movies or television shows:

Those are just solo words, though, so I spent a few (too many) hours querying QuoDB, which searches hundreds of thousands of movie and television scripts beginning in the early 1900s. From it, I charted 75 of the most used non-everyday speech phrases in cinema, ranked by relative frequency:

(My criteria: Phrase must be more than two words—ellipses count as a word, as in “What the … ?”—and either be a metaphor or exclamation. Common statements that only the most extreme cliché snobs would hate on, like “Hello, again” or “Thanks a lot,” don’t count.)

Like I mentioned before, trite phrases are less obnoxious than cheesy, no-one-would-ever-really-say-this dialogue. So, I parsed out some particularly lame overused lines from this list for more analysis.

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows us how these clichés’ popularity has ebbed and flowed over the last 200 years in literature:

(Click here to view on Google Ngram’s website.)
The most enduring phrase from this list, “Over my dead body,” has a mysterious etymology; I couldn’t find its origin anywhere before Yale Literary Magazine in 1808, though the phrase was apparently popular in that era. “Make my day” briefly overtook it in the ’80s after Clint Eastwood said it in the 1983 film Sudden Impact. My least favorite on this list, “Well, well, well,” had its heyday in the 1980s. “Dead as a doornail” spiked during World War II.

The first time someone said, “[something] is my middle name” in film was 1935, in The Hare and the Tortoise. The hare specifically said, “My middle name is Speed.” Since then, our protagonists have given themselves lots of new middle names:

  • “Punctuality is my middle name.” A Woman Without Love (1952)
  • “Trouble is my middle name.” Get Smart (series, 1966); also Frankie and Johnny (1966)
  • “Danger is my middle name.” Batman (series, 1968)
  • “Guts is my middle name.” M*A*S*H (series, 1972)
  • “Discretion is my middle name.” Rumpole of the Bailey (series, 1979)
  • “Fun is my middle name.” The King of Comedy (1982)
  • “My middle name is Divorce.” Remington Steele (Series, 1983)
  • “Catering is my middle name.” Doctor Detroit (1983)
  • “Faithful is my middle name.” Krull (1983)
  • “Fantasy is my middle name.” The A-Team (series, 1983)
  • “Money’s my middle name, baby!” Breathless (1983)
  • “Disgusting’s my middle name, honey.” Crimes of Passion (1984)
  • “Surprise is my middle name.” Hardbodies (1984)
  • “Nice is my middle name.” The Goonies (1985)
  • “Gas Can is my middle name.” Hot Cars Nasty Women (1985)

(There are 355 others, so I’ll stop at “Gas Can.”)

Clichés were all at one point novel. They often became clichés precisely because they were good; they resonated, they were memorable, or they’re handy. “Go ahead, make my day!” was awesome when Eastwood first said it down the barrel of a .44.

Truthfully, when they’re self-aware, clichés can be useful writing tools. I’d dare say deliberate clichéing can become meme bordering art form—as is often the case with satire. As Hephzibah Anderson points out in Prospect Magazine, many clichés bring camaraderie between author and audience. And they often originate from great minds like Shakespeare or Dionysius. “Far from being vacuous, the most enduring clichés tether you to generations of human experience,” she writes.

But most of the time, they’re not great. George Orwell (a variation of whose surname has become a cliché itself!), on the other hand, commanded, “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.” Though it’s tough to avoid common phrases entirely, the “best” movies tend to follow Orwell’s advice. Fun fact: None of the last five films to win the Oscar for Best Picture used any of the lines from my “cheesy” list. Slumdog Millionaire, six years back, did use “Well, well, well” once, but otherwise the no-cliché streak holds for several more years.

Part of my process as a writer is going over my rough drafts to replace or delete the inevitable host of clichés (at least the egregious ones). But this time, I deliberately skipped that step. Thus, by my count, I used more than a dozen clichés in this article. I’m afraid that original metaphor, George, is easier said than done.

Image by Warner Bros

MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics


MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.

Contributors: Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Maryam Ghafoor, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2017-10-23 08:53:38

Guidelines for referring to the works of others in your text using MLA style are covered in chapter 6 of the MLA Handbook and in chapter 7 of the MLA Style Manual. Both books provide extensive examples, so it's a good idea to consult them if you want to become even more familiar with MLA guidelines or if you have a particular reference question.

Basic in-text citation rules

In MLA style, referring to the works of others in your text is done by using what is known as parenthetical citation. This method involves placing relevant source information in parentheses after a quote or a paraphrase.

General Guidelines

  • The source information required in a parenthetical citation depends (1.) upon the source medium (e.g. Print, Web, DVD) and (2.) upon the source’s entry on the Works Cited (bibliography) page.
  • Any source information that you provide in-text must correspond to the source information on the Works Cited page. More specifically, whatever signal word or phrase you provide to your readers in the text, must be the first thing that appears on the left-hand margin of the corresponding entry in the Works Cited List.

In-text citations: Author-page style

MLA format follows the author-page method of in-text citation. This means that the author's last name and the page number(s) from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken must appear in the text, and a complete reference should appear on your Works Cited page. The author's name may appear either in the sentence itself or in parentheses following the quotation or paraphrase, but the page number(s) should always appear in the parentheses, not in the text of your sentence. For example:

Wordsworth stated that Romantic poetry was marked by a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" (263).

Romantic poetry is characterized by the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" (Wordsworth 263).

Wordsworth extensively explored the role of emotion in the creative process (263).

Both citations in the examples above, (263) and (Wordsworth 263), tell readers that the information in the sentence can be located on page 263 of a work by an author named Wordsworth. If readers want more information about this source, they can turn to the Works Cited page, where, under the name of Wordsworth, they would find the following information:

Wordsworth, William. Lyrical Ballads. Oxford UP, 1967.

In-text citations for print sources with known author

For Print sources like books, magazines, scholarly journal articles, and newspapers, provide a signal word or phrase (usually the author’s last name) and a page number. If you provide the signal word/phrase in the sentence, you do not need to include it in the parenthetical citation.

Human beings have been described by Kenneth Burke as "symbol-using animals" (3).

Human beings have been described as "symbol-using animals" (Burke 3).

These examples must correspond to an entry that begins with Burke, which will be the first thing that appears on the left-hand margin of an entry in the Works Cited:

Burke, Kenneth. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966.

In-text citations for print sources by a corporate author

When a source has a corporate author, it is acceptable to use the name of the corporation followed by the page number for the in-text citation. You should also use abbreviations (e.g., nat'l for national) where appropriate, so as to avoid interrupting the flow of reading with overly long parenthetical citations.

In-text citations for print sources with no known author

When a source has no known author, use a shortened title of the work instead of an author name. Place the title in quotation marks if it's a short work (such as an article) or italicize it if it's a longer work (e.g. plays, books, television shows, entire Web sites) and provide a page number if it is available.

We see so many global warming hotspots in North America likely because this region has "more readily accessible climatic data and more comprehensive programs to monitor and study environmental change . . ." ("Impact of Global Warming").

In this example, since the reader does not know the author of the article, an abbreviated title of the article appears in the parenthetical citation which corresponds to the full name of the article which appears first at the left-hand margin of its respective entry in the Works Cited. Thus, the writer includes the title in quotation marks as the signal phrase in the parenthetical citation in order to lead the reader directly to the source on the Works Cited page. The Works Cited entry appears as follows:

"The Impact of Global Warming in North America." Global Warming: Early Signs. 1999. Accessed 23 Mar. 2009.

We'll learn how to make a Works Cited page in a bit, but right now it's important to know that parenthetical citations and Works Cited pages allow readers to know which sources you consulted in writing your essay, so that they can either verify your interpretation of the sources or use them in their own scholarly work.

Author-page citation for classic and literary works with multiple editions

Page numbers are always required, but additional citation information can help literary scholars, who may have a different edition of a classic work like Marx and Engels's The Communist Manifesto. In such cases, give the page number of your edition (making sure the edition is listed in your Works Cited page, of course) followed by a semicolon, and then the appropriate abbreviations for volume (vol.), book (bk.), part (pt.), chapter (ch.), section (sec.), or paragraph (par.). For example:

Marx and Engels described human history as marked by class struggles (79; ch. 1).

Citing authors with same last names

Sometimes more information is necessary to identify the source from which a quotation is taken. For instance, if two or more authors have the same last name, provide both authors' first initials (or even the authors' full name if different authors share initials) in your citation. For example:

Although some medical ethicists claim that cloning will lead to designer children (R. Miller 12), others note that the advantages for medical research outweigh this consideration (A. Miller 46).

Citing a work by multiple authors

For a source with two authors, list the authors’ last names in the text or in the parenthetical citation:

Best and Marcus argue that one should read a text for what it says on its surface, rather than looking for some hidden meaning (9).

The authors claim that surface reading looks at what is “evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts” (Best and Marcus 9).

Corresponding works cited entry:

Best, David, and Sharon Marcus. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations, vol. 108, no. 1, Fall 2009, pp. 1-21. JSTOR, doi:10.1525/rep.2009.108.1.1

For a source with three or more authors, list only the first author’s last name, and replace the additional names with et al.

According to Franck et al., “Current agricultural policies in the U.S. are contributing to the poor health of Americans” (327).

The authors claim that one cause of obesity in the United States is government-funded farm subsidies (Franck et al. 327).

Corresponding works cited entry:

Franck, Caroline, et al. “Agricultural Subsidies and the American Obesity Epidemic.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine, vol. 45, no. 3, Sept. 2013, pp. 327-333.

Citing multiple works by the same author

If you cite more than one work by a particular author, include a shortened title for the particular work from which you are quoting to distinguish it from the others. Put short titles of books in italics and short titles of articles in quotation marks.

Citing two articles by the same author:

Lightenor has argued that computers are not useful tools for small children ("Too Soon" 38), though he has acknowledged elsewhere that early exposure to computer games does lead to better small motor skill development in a child's second and third year ("Hand-Eye Development" 17).

Citing two books by the same author:

Murray states that writing is "a process" that "varies with our thinking style" (Write to Learn 6). Additionally, Murray argues that the purpose of writing is to "carry ideas and information from the mind of one person into the mind of another" (A Writer Teaches Writing 3).

Additionally, if the author's name is not mentioned in the sentence, you would format your citation with the author's name followed by a comma, followed by a shortened title of the work, followed, when appropriate, by page numbers:

Visual studies, because it is such a new discipline, may be "too easy" (Elkins, "Visual Studies" 63).

Citing multivolume works

If you cite from different volumes of a multivolume work, always include the volume number followed by a colon. Put a space after the colon, then provide the page number(s). (If you only cite from one volume, provide only the page number in parentheses.)

. . . as Quintilian wrote in Institutio Oratoria (1: 14-17).

Citing the Bible

In your first parenthetical citation, you want to make clear which Bible you're using (and underline or italicize the title), as each version varies in its translation, followed by book (do not italicize or underline), chapter and verse. For example:

Ezekiel saw "what seemed to be four living creatures," each with faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (New Jerusalem Bible, Ezek. 1.5-10).

If future references employ the same edition of the Bible you’re using, list only the book, chapter, and verse in the parenthetical citation.

Citing indirect sources

Sometimes you may have to use an indirect source. An indirect source is a source cited in another source. For such indirect quotations, use "qtd. in" to indicate the source you actually consulted. For example:

Ravitch argues that high schools are pressured to act as "social service centers, and they don't do that well" (qtd. in Weisman 259).

Note that, in most cases, a responsible researcher will attempt to find the original source, rather than citing an indirect source.

Citing non-print or sources from the Internet

With more and more scholarly work being posted on the Internet, you may have to cite research you have completed in virtual environments. While many sources on the Internet should not be used for scholarly work (reference the OWL's Evaluating Sources of Information resource), some Web sources are perfectly acceptable for research. When creating in-text citations for electronic, film, or Internet sources, remember that your citation must reference the source in your Works Cited.

Sometimes writers are confused with how to craft parenthetical citations for electronic sources because of the absence of page numbers, but often, these sorts of entries do not require any sort of parenthetical citation at all. For electronic and Internet sources, follow the following guidelines:

  • Include in the text the first item that appears in the Work Cited entry that corresponds to the citation (e.g. author name, article name, website name, film name).
  • You do not need to give paragraph numbers or page numbers based on your Web browser’s print preview function.
  • Unless you must list the Web site name in the signal phrase in order to get the reader to the appropriate entry, do not include URLs in-text. Only provide partial URLs such as when the name of the site includes, for example, a domain name, like or as opposed to writing out or

Miscellaneous non-print sources

Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo stars Herzog's long-time film partner, Klaus Kinski. During the shooting of Fitzcarraldo, Herzog and Kinski were often at odds, but their explosive relationship fostered a memorable and influential film.

During the presentation, Jane Yates stated that invention and pre-writing are areas of rhetoric that need more attention.

In the two examples above “Herzog” from the first entry and “Yates” from the second lead the reader to the first item each citation’s respective entry on the Works Cited page:

Herzog, Werner, dir. Fitzcarraldo. Perf. Klaus Kinski. Filmverlag der Autoren, 1982.

Yates, Jane. "Invention in Rhetoric and Composition." Gaps Addressed: Future Work in Rhetoric and Composition, CCCC, Palmer House Hilton, 2002.

Electronic sources

One online film critic stated that Fitzcarraldo "has become notorious for its near-failure and many obstacles" (Taylor, “Fitzcarraldo”).

The Purdue OWL is accessed by millions of users every year. Its "MLA Formatting and Style Guide" is one of the most popular resources (Russell et al.).

In the first example, the writer has chosen not to include the author name in-text; however, two entries from the same author appear in the Works Cited. Thus, the writer includes both the author’s last name and the article title in the parenthetical citation in order to lead the reader to the appropriate entry on the Works Cited page (see below). In the second example, “Russell et al.” in the parenthetical citation gives the reader an author name followed by the abbreviation “et al.,” meaning, “and others,” for the article “MLA Formatting and Style Guide.” Both corresponding Works Cited entries are as follows:

Taylor, Rumsey. "Fitzcarraldo." Slant, 13 Jun. 2003,

Russell, Tony, et al. "MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Purdue OWL, 2 Aug. 2016,

Multiple citations

To cite multiple sources in the same parenthetical reference, separate the citations by a semi-colon:

. . . as has been discussed elsewhere (Burke 3; Dewey 21).

Time-based media sources

When creating in-text citations for media that has a runtime, such as a movie or podcast, include the range of hours, minutes and seconds you plan to reference, like so (00:02:15-00:02:35).

When a citation is not needed

Common sense and ethics should determine your need for documenting sources. You do not need to give sources for familiar proverbs, well-known quotations or common knowledge. Remember, this is a rhetorical choice, based on audience. If you're writing for an expert audience of a scholarly journal, for example, they'll have different expectations of what constitutes common knowledge.


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