by Molly Rosen Marriner
This is our second installment of Last Month in Pop Language, a column where the most popular (statistically) song, book, and film of the month will have their words analyzed in hopes of drawing a conclusion about language’s current usage—and future. At the end of each monthly column, we’ll draw a conclusion: Was last month’s pop language masterly, malevolent, or merely meh?
Film: A Quiet Place by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, John Krasinski
What does it say about Americans’ taste for dialogue if April’s number one film is wordless?
If the film in question is A Quiet Place, maybe the silence isn’t a sign of abandoning writing—it’s a suspenseful and stylistic choice. The film’s characters communicate through ASL to avoid violent creatures who are alerted by loud noises.
Download the film here:
A Quiet Place has one of the shortest screenplays ever written, half the length of most films. Without spoken dialogue to rely on, the film cleverly uses newspaper headlines, montages, and heavily symbolic and emotionally wrought scenes to drive action and character development. For example, rather than an expository conversation about when a baby is due or the importance of staying silent, the screenplay opens:
INT. FARMHOUSE, BEDROOM – DAY Will’s mother, MIA (30s), holds a RED CRAYON to her lips. She has lovely green eyes and auburn hair. She balances a LAUNDRY BASKET next to her PREGNANT BELLY. She stands before a CALENDAR on the wall, charting each day of her pregnancy. She crosses off another day and hands the crayon back to — Will, who colors in a NEW DRAWING. His hands dig loudly through a tin of crayons. Mia waves her finger. Will freezes, reprimanded for the hundredth time. He reaches under his parent’s bed for a pair of oversized WINTER GLOVES. He places the gloves over each hand, then quietly resumes his search.
Hmm. With so much established in that one wordless scene, maybe spoken words are overrated. Here are some literary devices from both the (rare) spoken dialogue, as well as the stage directions.
- Repetition: “Who are we if we can’t protect them? We have to protect them.”
- Callbacks: “Your father will protect you. Your father will always protect you.”
- Foreshadowing: “Every inch of wall and floor has been painstakingly covered with THICK PADDING. Sometimes FOAM, sometimes WOOL INSULATION. Too ugly to be an aesthetic choice. Must be product of necessity.”
- Suspense: “Will rolls a… five. He throws up his hands in protest. April lets out a GIGGLE. The first sound we’ve heard this whole time — JOHN’S EYES WIDEN. APRIL COVERS HER MOUTH. EVERYONE GETS DEADLY STILL. AFRAID. AND THEN WE HEAR IT. A SCREAM IN THE DISTANCE. IT IS NOT HUMAN.”
Song: “Nice for What” by Drake
Sigh: Despite the vocabulary and Dictionary.com traffic spike created by BTS’s “Euphoria,” the number one spot goes to Drake … again. Last month, Drake enjoyed continued chart dominance from “God’s Plan;” this month, he unseated himself with the aspirationally feminist “Nice for What.”
Download the song here:
We have to give Drake credit for growth: unlike “God’s Plan,” “Nice for What” tells the story of an unnamed female Drake is “peepin” on; she’s incredibly hard-working (she even—gasp—pays her own “cell phone, car bill, cable”), and perhaps more importantly, she looks club-ready while doing it. But as the chorus suggests: for what (or whom?) does she put in all the hard work?
The sentiment that women spend so much of their short life presenting themselves for others—plus a Lauryn Hill sample and female-forward music video—has given Drake critical acclaim for the song. Okay, fine: But, we challenge him to end his feminist anthem with something a little more Audre Lord and a little less “bend it over, lift it up, make that jump jump.
Either way, Drake’s certainly made some improvements on literary devices:
- Simile: “Snappin’ like you Fabo”
- Rhyme: “Bringin’ to the table”/”Everything you paid for”/”Phone bill, car note, cable”
- Rhetorical Question: “You gotta be nice for what…?”
- Euphemism: “You ain’t stressin’ off no lover in the past tense/You already had them”
Book: Fascism by Madeleine Albright
No one book dominated the charts throughout April. Much like A Wrinkle in Time in March, Ready Player One‘s movie release lead to a spike in book sales; a number of newly released “clean eating” diet books also dominated much of April’s top ten. (Maybe it’s an Earth Day thing?)
However, from its mid-April release onwards, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s 304-page Fascism held number one status. While we like to think that the American readership is hungry for diplomats’ memoirs, or in-depth explorations of modern political movements, we suspect that the sales parallel bestseller Fire and Fury: readers are hungry for a juicy takedown of the Trump White House.
Download Fascism here:
Albright may or may not deliver on POTUS anecdotes and direct challenges—her book only classifies North Korea as a modern-day fascist government. But, she certainly doesn’t shy away from language, critiquing Trump and others through a number of vivid literary devices:
- Flashback: “On the day the fascists first altered the direction of my life, I had barely mastered the art of walking. The day was March 15, 1939.”
- Alliteration: “The desire for liberty may be ingrained in every human breast, but so is the potential for complacency, confusion, and cowardice.”
- Simile: “If we think of facism as a wound from the past that had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab.”
- Subtitle: Facism: A Warning
Verdict: A Mild “Masterly”
While we can’t in good faith give any month featuring Drake a straight-up “masterly” verdict, we still have to admit that this was a good month for language in pop culture. (Uh, especially when compared to March.)
We’ve got a deeply innovative screenplay that uses language—and the lack thereof—to create suspense in brand new ways, and a heavy-hitting work of nonfiction that uses metaphors, allusions, and anecdotes to discredit the POTUS. Finally, we’ve got Drake striving for something better—and knowing when to stand back and let Lauryn Hill and Big Freedia do the talking. Who knows? Maybe May’s number ones will feature a direct political call to action—or even a four-syllable word.
Molly Rosen Marriner is a writer, editor, and basset hound aficionado who lives in Oakland, CA.