50+ famous catchphrases: ‘Excuuuse me’ & other lines we loved to repeat

Vintage catchphrases

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TV catchphrases of the ’60sTV catchphrases of the ’70sTV catchphrases of the ’80s

Catchphrases, those snappy snippets of language, latch onto our culture and rarely let go. They reflect the zeitgeist — showcasing the humor, attitudes and values of their times.

From the suave utterances of film stars to the bold shouts of sitcom characters, famous catchphrases serve as cultural bookmarks, sketching moments in time with memorable, repeatable lines that can echo for generations to come.

The evolution of these catchy expressions can be traced back through decades of media. In the 1950s, movie icons like Marilyn Monroe breathed life into lines like “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” which not only captured Monroe’s glamorous on-screen persona, but also spoke to a post-war fascination with luxury and opulence.

Marilyn Monroe - Red dress in 1952

Fast forward to the 1960s, and you find television breaking new ground with catchphrases that challenged social norms, like “Sock it to me!” from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, which became synonymous with the era’s progressive spirit.

By the 1970s, television had firmly taken the reins in popular culture, delivering lines that are still quoted today. “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” became a way to express disbelief and amusement beyond the confines of the “Diff’rent Strokes” sitcom set. These phrases were then adopted by audiences, weaving their way into everyday conversation and reinforcing the television characters as household names.

Below, we’ve reprinted a fun retrospective from 1978, reflecting nostalgically on famous catchphrases from earlier decades while celebrating the [then] newest catchphrase additions from the 70s.

ABC Afterschool Special episodes, from the 70s to the 90s: The ultimate guide!

Famous catchphrases: Excuuuse me, I’m caught in a phrase (1978)

By Bob Talbert – Detroit Free Press (Michigan) December 14, 1978

We were in a restaurant during our Florida trip when a fellow who must’ve been 85 if he was a day, tipped over his chair as he got up. “Shazbot!” I thought I heard him say. I wanted to make sure.

“Sir, did I hear you say ‘shazbot’?” I asked.

“Sure did, sonny,” he said, offering me a rather arthritic Ork grip and mimicking Robin (Mork) Williams’ “Nanu nanu.”

Mork - Nanu nanu

A wild and crazy guy, eh? You bet your sweet bippy. Ah yessss. But I’m just giving you the facts, ma’am.

Catchphrases as code words

Catchphrases have a way of enlivening our lives.

Catchphrases become code words for some not-so-secret organization of people whom the catch-phrases have hooked.

That old-timer in Florida whipping out the phrases from “Mork and Mindy” that have caught on with the public is not so extreme.

In a shopping center the other day, a lady gave me an “Excuuuuse me!” when I asked if she’d mind moving her cart an inch. Thanks a lot, Steve Martin.

Radio and television have given us the giant share of our nation’s catchphrases for the past four decades. If you recall Fred Allen’s old radio shows, you’ll remember Kenny Delmar, who played Senator Claghorn, and his famous, “That’s a joke, son.”

vintage Tv and radio catchphrases

Jack Benny’s “Well-lll!” George Burns‘ “Say goodnight, Gracie.” Edward R. Murrow’s “Good night and good luck.” Red Skelton’s Little Mean Kid’s “I dood it!” Bandleader Ben Bernie’s corruption of “yes sir” to “Yowsah, yowsah.”

Famous catchphrases: A lifetime of memorable quotes

As a kid, I can remember parroting “I’se regusted” from the nation’s most popular radio show, “Amos ‘n’ Andy.” Another character on Fred Allen’s show was Titus Moody (played by Parker Fennally) who would always greet Allen with “Howdy, bub.”

And I’m quite sure if I said. “Hen-rrrry! Henry Aldrich!” many of you would give me your best cracking teenage voice saying. “Coming, mother!” And who doesn’t know the answer to, “Who was that masked man?”

Watching Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners’ Christmas special the other evening, I was reminded of how many phrases Gleason tucked into our language: “And away we go! One of these days — POW! right in the kisser . . . Wanna go to the moon?”

Jackie Gleason on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine (1953) at ClickAmericana com

How many remember Milton Berle’s lisping, “I swear I’ll kill you a million times”? Who could forget Louie Nye’s greeting of “Hi-ho, Steverino!” or Don Knotts’ indescribable “Noops” or Dayton Allen’s “Why not?” from that Steve Allen show, forerunner of today’s talk shows.

TV’s “Laugh-In” helped the world run “Sock it to me” into the ground, along with “Here come de judge” and “Verrrrry inter-resting.” That’s also where the bippy was bet on TV and Funk and Wagnall’s got a weekly plug.

YouTube video

A catchphrase a week

Don Adams as Maxwell Smart on “Get Smart” seemed to coin a new catchphrase a week for a while. Remember “Sorry about that, chief,” and “Would you believe…” and “Missed it by that much”?

Archie Bunker has contributed his share, with “meathead,” “dingbat” and “stifle yourself,” from “All in the Family.” The late Freddie Prinze’s “Looking good” will be remembered long after “Chico and the Man” is forgotten.

“Try it! You’ll like it!”

YouTube video

Radio and television scripts aren’t the only contributors to the catch-phrase lingo. Nothing pleases an advertiser more than to have a slogan or phrase from a commercial catch on.

Try these on for recognition: “Does she or doesn’t she?” . . . “Ask the man who owns one” . . . “Try it. You’ll like it.” . . . “We do good work”. . .”Mother, please. I’d rather do it myself.”

The movies have given us great lines that still live. “They went thataway” from a million cowboy oaters. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” uttered by Clark Gable in “Gone With the Wind,” is probably the most famous line from any movie.


I once ran a contest of sorts here, and that phrase was the most mentioned of all. Al Jolson’s “You ain’t seen nothing yet” was also high on the list. Jimmy Durante’s “Everybody wants to get into the act” was frequently mentioned, as were Henry Winkler’s Fonz’ “Ayyyyyyyy!” and Jimmie Walker’s “Dyn-o-mite!”

Bugs Bunny’s “What’s up, Doc,” and Porky Pig’s “Th-th-th-th-that’s all, folks!” got their share of votes, along with John Denver’s “Far out” and the Tweety Bird’s “I thought I saw a putty tat.” And from the stage and films, Henry Higgins’ “By George, I think she’s got it” drew considerable support.

My personal favorite? Fred Flintstone’s “Yabba Dabba Doo.”

TV catchphrases of the ’60sTV catchphrases of the ’70sTV catchphrases of the ’80s

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