A few weeks ago, I spent some time visiting my mother. This involved watching a lot of black and white movies on TCM, her favorite movie channel. During one of the duller offerings – not all of TCM’s selections qualify as “classic” – my mind wandered to a true classic, The Wizard of Oz. It occurred to me that one simple word made the movie not only legendary but a cinematic game-changer. That word? Color.
Remember, Wizard was made a mere twelve years after talkies launched. Can you imagine the reaction from filmgoers when Dorothy stepped out of her black and white home into the riot of technicolor that was Munchkinland? Sure, the studios made plenty of black and white films after that. But the die – or dye – was cast. Color was the future.
This got me thinking about how a single word can have a cataclysmic effect. My Mad Man dad loved to repeat the adage that the most brilliant man in his business was the creative director who added the word “Repeat” after the words “Lather, Rinse” on shampoo bottles. With that one word, this hero of advertising doubled sales. (Although consumers have since wised up. I checked some shampoo bottles at our house and either the word was gone or the instructions read “Repeat if necessary.”)
Dad also gave a lot of credit to the food industry genius whose Eureka! moment was the word “holes” – as in donut holes. That single word created a delicious donut subgenre.
I began thinking about what a transformative word might be in our mystery community. After much internal debate, I landed on “Girl.” This is a slight stretch because it’s the twist in Gone Girl that created the tsunami of attention it received. Whether you’re a fan of the book or not, there’s no denying the enormous power of that jaw-dropping moment. But the ripple effect of Gone Girl begat an entire subgenre of books with the word “Girl” in the title, hence my choice.
It’s fascinating to think how sometimes one single word can beget a brilliant game-changer of an idea. Color. Repeat. Girl. Donut holes.
Okay, that’s two words. But you get the idea.
Readers, can you think of any similar words – or ideas – that proved to be game changers?