That term may not be as popular as “meh” or “the interweb,” but I trust the meaning is clear. If not, it’s defined on Paul McFedreis’ The Word Spy as “An infant or toddler who spends a great deal of time watching television.” I prefer “crib potato” and “stroller potato,” but googling indicates that not many people agree with me. However, anyone can agree that TV has influenced language, whether you’re a loather or liker of the medium that gave us Seinfeld and Celebrity Boxing.
“Couch potato,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, can first be located in 1979 and probably originated as a play on “boob-tuber” – though any vegetable would have conveyed TV’s membrane-mashing reputation. Here’s a characteristic usage, from 1987: “Naomi, a resilient divorcee mother of two, gave up opportunities in the world of modeling and in Tinseltown L.A. in order to stop her kids becoming couch potato video generation trash brains.” Couch potato has been a tremendously successful term, spawning many variations that include “couch tomato” (a woman), “mouse potato” (someone perma-glued to the computer screen), “baked potato” (a stoned TV-watcher), and the straight-up synonyms “sofa spud,” “telespud,” and “vidspud.”
Besides terms for TV-heads, TV itself has launched many words into our brains and dictionaries. While adult shows have spread “bippy,” “doh,” “truthiness,” “spongeworthy,” and “scrumtrelescent,” kid’s TV hasn’t lagged far behind, as shown by the success of “yabba dabba doo,” “bork bork bork,” “looney tunes,” and nicknames based on SpongeBob’s name, such as “SpongeBob Drunk Pants,” “SpongeBob Emo Pants” and “SpongeBob No Pants.” Though it’s not as common as “Holy cow!” or mellifluous as “Moses smell the roses!”, the Teletubbies exclamation “bibberly cheese!” does score points for originality, enthusiasm and lactose.
Scooby-doo gave us “ruh-roh” and “zoinks,” plus “Scooby snack,” which can mean either literal dog treats or any kind of droolingly anticipated reward. “Scooby” itself means “clue,” as demonstrated in these recent blog sentences:
You don’t have a scooby by the way! (Sept. 26, 2007, Gmecha: Lawyer News)
We could sign up for a bond to pay for it but I supported Arsenal, I didn’t have a scooby about financial wotsits. (Sept. 3, 2007, Jakarta Casual)
I don’t have a scooby dooby doo what happened to it but it’s not going on.
(Aug. 31, 2007, Rachey Pie’s Blog)
Unsurprisingly, Blue’s Clues launched a similar expression:
I need a blues clue on the venue? (Feb. 19, 2007, MySpace, Mayday Mick 1.0)
If you don’t have a blues clue as to what High School Musical is, I suggest you look here or here. (Dec. 27, 2006, It’s All About Me)
Today went by so fast and I don’t really have a blues clue what happened all day. (Dec. 21, 2005, LiveJournal, samurai sword)
William S. Burroughs famously said “Language is a virus from outer space.” While linguists cannot confirm this hypothesis at this time, words do tend to spread unpredictably and warp-speedily through the culture. As a proud couch-potato video-generation trash brain, I look forward to the next infections.
What words have you noticed making the journey from the TV screen to your child’s mouth? Let us know in feedback.