Give Each Character the Best Lines

There’s an NYT article by Eleanor Stanford about her favorite line from “When Harry Met Sally . . .” that’s my favorite, too: “You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that (and thank you, Nora Ephron). The essay analyzes why, and it made me think about some of my other favorites. Like . . .

“That escalated quickly.”

“There’s no crying in baseball.” (Bob hit me with a variation on that one yesterday.)

“And someday you’ll die, and I’ll come to your funeral in a red dress!”

I was thinking about the reason some lines stick around and I think it’s because they reflect some universal feeling, encapsulate that feeling in few words–surprise, fear, rage–while recalling a moment in a film that just nailed that complex emotion. The way “I miscalculated” is not nearly as effective as “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Or “I’m done here” is not nearly as delicious “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Or “I love you madly for all time” is not nearly as knee-weakening as “I know.”

Your turn: What lines from books, movies, songs, whatever do you use because they shorthand the moment for you? Or for whatever reason?

88 thoughts on “Give Each Character the Best Lines

    1. So many. Two that hit me tonight – E.T. At the end when RT and Eliot are sadly saying goodbye. ET lights up is index finger, touches Eliot’s head and says “I’ll be right here.” That gets me every time.

      For humor, when I have a klutzy moment – “Tis but a scratch” and “Just a flesh wound” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

      1. P.S. Jenny, SEP had a FB post asking what fav writers did we wish would publish another book. Your name came up several times in comments. I made several fans happy when I said you and Bob are collaborating on a series. You’ve both been missed.

  1. OMG, there are so many but I’m having trouble thinking of any now that I’m put on the spot… Recently, my dad and I have been breathily intoning “Luke, I am your father.” Ironically, of course. Sometimes we call each other “Daddy dearest!” and ‘Daughter dearest!” and glare at each other suspiciously before breaking up into laughter. I’m not sure that’s the kind of shorthand you’re looking for; will have to give it some more thought..

  2. The movie Vacation came out after our cross country adventure, but the line that comes to my mind is when Clark goes berserk at his family for their complaining that he says something to the effect “you’re going to have so much f#+king fun you’ll be smiling out of your a#=hole”. I remembered the only time my husband lost it was after coming down from a guard rail free mountain, white knuckling the steering wheel and the boys were wrestling in back. That time he was Clark Griswold, for sure.

  3. Obvious ones:
    « As you wish »
    « My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die »

  4. I LOVE the Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov movie “We’re No Angels”. “I don’t think I want to take inventory with you” has become an oft quoted line in our family.

  5. Wait, that’s your favourite line from When Harry Met Sally?

    The other day I was just thinking about my favourite line in all movie history, and surely everyone else’s too.

    I recently used it when I took a look at someone’s Dark & Stormy. I told the bartender, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

    Granted, I’ve also had occasion to say to a friend… “You’d like him. He’s married.”

    When Harry Met Sally…. The perfect line for every occasion.

    1. I’m bizarrely obsessed with “Baby Fishmouth.” “That’s not a saying!” “Oh, but Baby Fishmouth is sweeping the nation.” I literally laughed my head off for like ten years every time I thought of it, had to explain why, and people in school thought I was weird.

      The line about wanting to spend the rest of your life with someone as soon as possible, too. And “I’ll have what she’s having.” There’s a lot of good lines in that movie, it is my favorite.

  6. In our family, we have a steadily repeating expression that would translate roughly into “I’m coming when I’ve put on my shoes”. It’s from a childrens’s book (anybody in the U.S. familiar with Butterworth & Inkpen who turned Biblical parables into the most charming stories?) and it describes a boy who agrees to help his father but then forgets about it. In the beginning it was mainly used referring to our firstborn who tended to be late for everything. But after a while it turned out that it works great in a lot of different situations. (If the shoe fits …)

  7. Whaddya hear? Whaddya say? from the film Angels With Dirty Faces. My dad was a big fan of James Cagney and one Christmas we sat and watched all his films. I loved Strawberry Blonde.

    But when ever I use this line I always say: so, whaddya hear? and whaddya know?

  8. “Look, I have one job on this lousy ship. It’s stupid. But I’m going to do it.”

    Gwen Demarco, Galaxy Quest

      1. “Well that scene was badly written!”
        “Never give up; never surrender!”
        “Digitize me, Fred! Digitize me!”
        “Let’s get out of here before something kills Guy!”
        “Don’t you people ever watch the show?”
        So many good lines.

    1. We have A LOT of favorite lines from ‘Galaxy Quest.’ 🙂 ‘Does the rolling help?’ ‘Never give up, never surrender!’ ‘This episode was BADLY WRITTEN!!’

  9. Oh no. This is a terrible game! I could be here all day:)

    A few movie/tv lines popular around my house for various situations:

    From Foul Play:
    “Oh my God. It happened again.” (Goldie’s character)

    “Now the shit has really hit the fan.” (villain)

    From How to Steal a Million:
    “Don’t be such a baby. It’s only a flesh wound.” (Audrey’s character)

    From As Time Goes By (tv show):
    “Oh, Lionel. What have we done.” (Judi Dench character)

    From Mary Tyler Moore – when Rhoda and Mary first meet:
    “Hello. Get out of my apartment.” (Rhoda)

    From Desperately Seeking Susan:
    “Good goin’ stranger.” (Madonna as Susan to Roberta)

    From Desk Set:
    “I associate many things with many things.” (Katherine Hepburn to Spencer Tracy)

    From Something’s Gotta Give (exchange between Diane Keaton & Jack Nicholson):
    Him: “I have never lied to you. I have always told you some version of the truth.”
    Her: “The truth doesn’t have versions, okay.”

    I’m leaving it there because I seriously could do this all day. Not necessary verbatim lines but as close as I remember:)

  10. Star Trek, The Wrath of Khan, Kirk: I have had enough of you. (Should properly be punctuated with kicks to the face of the obstacle.)

    Office Space: Thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.

    Princess Bride: I do not think that word means what you think it means.

    Casablanca: We’ll always have Paris. (Only used ironically.)

    I feel like I should have a million more, but none are popping into my head. Looking forward to reading more, though!

  11. I haven’t watched Sesame Street in many years, but a few weeks ago I was counting several items and I heard it in my head as the Count muppet, complete with hahahaha and thunder.

    1. Ooh “Sesame Street”:

      “A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.”

      “Oh, I’ll never get it!”

      Not Sesame Street:


      “I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision… of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are!”

    2. Every time I’m heading for a roundabout and satnav tells me to take the whatever number exit I count them like the Count. Otherwise I’d never remember which one I’m on!

  12. From Labyrinth:
    “You say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is?”

    “It’s so stimulating, being your hat.”

    “She chose down??” “She chose down.”

    “I have fought my way here to the castle at the centre of the Labyrinth.”

    Better Off Dead:

    “Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way – turn.”

    Almost everything from Princess Bride.

  13. I recognized several of my favorites above.

    “By Grabthar’s hammer,” – Jinx (and Galaxy Quest) “…we live to tell the tale.” “…by the Sons Of Warvan , you shall be avenged!” “…what a savings.”

    “I am the bad guy!” <a title="Sylvester Stalone as Nemesis in Samaritan “>hover to see a spoiler

    “Some things must be endured if we are ever to be free.” – the priest (Ricardo Montalban) in The Longest 100 Miles. It inspired much quoting in high school and the name of my blog.

    “Some things can never be explained, my child.” – Some priest in one of those Irish Catholic movies when I was growing up. Maybe Bing Crosby. Probably not.

    “Yippy-ki-yay, malefactor!” – Die Hard, with minor editing.

    “Thank God and General Dynamics.” –Grey Lady Down. Must be used sarcastically or ironically, because General Dynamics Electric Boat Division sucked rocks when that movie was made.

    “For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble” –Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Also, “Use enough dynamite there, Butch?”

    “In brightest day, in darkest night, no evil shall escape our sight.” -Green Lantern, DC comics. (Evil frequently escaped their sight.)

    “Quick, Fred, the Super Sauce!” – Super Chicken. (Saturday morning cartoon) Also, “No time to explain, Fred – into the Super Coupe!”

    “Heavens to Murgatroyd” and “Exit, stage left.” -Snagglepuss, a Hanna-Barbara cartoon character.

    “Great Caeser’s Ghost!” -Perry White, the 1950s Superman TV show.

    Ape, an intelligent speaking gorilla on George of the Jungle was known to say, “You know, George, sometimes I don’t think you’re as dumb as I think you are.”

    “Well it’s Tommy This and Tommy That and Chuck Him Out, the Brute! But it’s Saviour of His Nation when the guns begin to shoot.” -Dudley Do-right (quoting Rudyard Kipling)

    And I’m just getting started! I’ll stop here so others can play. 🙂

    1. Into Super Chicken, are we? Let’s not forget my favorite from the theme song, “But Fred, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it!”

    2. pie jesu domine, dona eis requiem

      Latin, from the Mass for the Dead. Conventionally translated as “Pious Lord Jesus, grant them rest.”
      Can also be translated as “Good Lord, give them a break!”

      And then you smack your head.

  14. My name is Bond, James Bond!
    From SEP “wait til I tell my Mom you’re a cereal killer”. Makes me laugh every time.

  15. “The number of the counting shall be 3.”

    I’m in a team of geeks at work and someone riffed off that for the title of a bug report last week. I was very amused.

    And others from the classics:
    Don’t panic.
    I’ve got a terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side.
    Brain the size of a planet…

    And, of course, “nothing but good times ahead”.

    1. Echo the “nothing but good times ahead” I was going to use that. From the Dempseys also “if you can’t be a good example be a cautionary tale.”

  16. “Have fun stormin’ da castle!” – The Princess Bride; said to any family member as they leave home to go somewhere.

  17. Hmmm, almost all the quotes that have stuck with me are cynical. I think they give me a way to inject cynicism into a situation without feeling like a total downer.

  18. Oh, this is fun!

    They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they’ve all made themselves a part of something and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? “I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How’ve you been?” – Martin via Grosse Pointe Blank

    Ellen Brody: Martin hates boats. Martin hates water. Martin… Martin sits in his car when we go on the ferry to the mainland. I guess it’s a childhood thing. It’s a… there’s a clinical name for it isn’t there?

    Brody: Drowning.


  19. Two that I frequently think but don’t say out loud at work are “Is being an idiot like being high all the time?” from The Matchmaker, and “I’m having a nervous breakdown!” from Charade.

    In moments of transcendent joy, my whole family now use “He’s SO FLUFFY!!” from Despicable Me.

  20. From Babylon 5, both Ivanova:
    “I can only assume I am paying off karma at a vastly accelerated rate”

    From Casablanca: “this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship”

    1. and From Leverage, Hardison complimenting Parker on her self control: “… that’s, that’s GREAT babe, it’s a thing now, No Stabbing Wednesdays”

  21. From Up – “squirrel”

    From Dr Who: “Exterminate, exterminate.”

    From the Terminator: “I’ll be back (bach)”

    From the Animaniacs: “What are we going to do today Pinky? Try and take over the world.”

    From Funny Girl: “Hello gorgeous.” And now that we’ve started watching Portrait / Landscape Artist of the Year the “gorgeous” is British accent like Joan Bakewell. We also say yeahhh instead of year like Joan.

    1. I was telling one of my grandchildren about an incident early in my marriage, where Larry bought me a parakeet that sadly died next day. Suddenly all I could think was,“It was an EX PARROT!!” (I am proud to report that my grandson got the reference.)

  22. “Heh, heh, heh.”

    “Casual dress, smoking permitted. Casual dress, smoking permitted…”

    “Dave never smoked.”

    These are all from Narbonics, an online comic that ran from about 2000 to 2006 and still available. It has a wonderful plot arc and strong female characters.

    None of these look significant on the surface. “Heh, heh, heh” is characteristic of one character, the most fiendish and heartless and experienced plotter. I use it when I think I’m making really good plans, or I just carried something off well.

    “Complain to Helen!” is what all the other characters do whenever there’s a crisis, because Helen is in charge. Helen influences the course of events the most. Helen is a mad scientist!

    “Casual dress, smoking permitted” is how Dave comforts himself about the only job he could get, fresh out of college. It’s also part of how he dictates terms to a new employer, much later, after he’s developed a lot more skills. I chant it when I’m frustrated with the job I currently have.

    And once you know the whole story, there is promise of wonderful possibility encapsulated in “Dave never smoked.” It reminds me to steer toward the future I want.

    I love Narbonics so much.

    1. God, Narbonic was SO GOOD.

      “I’LL NEVER HAVE LESBIAN SEX AGAIN!” followed by a remark along the lines of “GEEZ, did I pick a bad time to come here” from his future daughter, eavesdropping.

      Also, Artie saying, “This should be fun.”

  23. This quote seems depressing, but I thought it felt hopeful. This line has always stuck in my mind. This partial explanation is copied from Geoffrey and Mika’s Blog.

    “Keep passing the open windows” is the phrase that comes from the John Irving novel The Hotel New Hampshire, published in 1981. It is a catchphrase among the Berry family, the characters whose story is told in the book. It is drawn from a story that the Berry parents tell their children about a street performer called “The King of Mice.” He committed suicide in jumping from a window. “Keep passing the open windows” is the family’s way of saying to each other to carry on when the going gets tough.

    1. That reminds me of the Crimes of the Heart line after one of the sisters pulls another’s head out of the oven years after their mother committed suicide that way: “We just have to learn how to get through these very bad days.”

  24. I don’t think these were mentioned, unless I just missed them.
    From The Princess Bride:

    “I don’t think that means what you think it means”.

    I could have misquoted that last bit a little, but the gist of it is correct.

    1. Those are the 2 I was going to mention!!!! Although I do miss hearing my niece, just before she outgrew her lisp, saying “Inconceivable!” about everything. Sigh . She is now 37.

  25. Almost all the Cohen Brothers movies. So quotable.

    My husband and I use “The whole damn state’s gone apey” from O Brother ALL THE TIME.

  26. The one my DH & I have been using recently is from the Big Bang Theory – “Are you a sex criminal?” done in Mrs. Walowitz’s voice.

    And from the Sandlot “yer killing me Smalls!”

    You all have nailed most of my favorite movies.

  27. Everything from Princess Bride and most of anything Mel Brooks.
    “There’s not crying in baseball” (but substitute whatever is happening at the moment)
    I’m a doctor, not a _____ (fill in the blank, original Star Trek)
    “My mother hung me on a door—ONCE” Johnny Dangerously

    Also, did you stop sending out email notifications after all? Because I didn’t get this one or the regular Sunday one.

  28. “Nice shootin’ , Tex!” from Ghostbusters. “Back in bowl, back in bowl!” from All of Me. “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” from Auntie Mame. “Taffeta, Darling!” from Young Frankenstein. “It’s pronounced Eye-gore”, from Young Frankenstein. “Oh you men are all alike! Seven or eight quick ones, and then you’re out with the boys to boast and brag.” Also from Young Frankenstein.

        1. “Badges! We don’t need no stinking badges!”

          “You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know … morons.

          I just love Blazing Saddles. I need to go find it to rent! Lol

  29. Since I’m late to this party I’ll only mention two. One from Bull Durham: “The world was made for those who lack self-awareness.”

    And of course, the incomparable Betty Davis in All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts everybody, we’re in for a bumpy night.”

  30. Also late to this party, but can’t resist – “WHICH we already knew” from the little known and under appreciated “Mumford”

    and not a movie, but terribly bonding with anyone who recognizes “All your base are belong to us”

  31. “Don’t forget to feed the parrot” from Cold Comfort Farm.
    “Could be worse” from the children’s picture book of the same name (by James Stevenson).
    and “But where is the green parrot?” also from a children’s picture book of that name (Thomas and Wanda Zacharias).
    Unsure why 2/3rds of these are about parrots.
    And “nothing but good times ahead”, of course.
    Oh and “The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs!” from Wind in the Willows. That’s made the parrots look less of a Thing.

  32. There are so many, but one that I haven’t seen pop up here and is used surprisingly frequently in our house is “Time… Time is what turns kittens into cats!” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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