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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

So, Where Is It From? Well, That's The Beauty of It! It Isn't From Anywhere!

I want to take a minute to ask you all a question. Tell me: have you ever heard this in a film or television show before?

“So, what does it do?”

“That's the beauty of it! It doesn't do anything!”

I went around and asked 42 people if they'd ever heard that line and their answers were all quite surprising to me.

5 said they’re “absolutely” sure they’ve heard about it.

1 said it sounded “really familiar”.

20 said it sounded “familiar”.

5 guessed where the line was from.

And 11 said they'd never heard of the line.

Combining the various levels of familiarity leads to 61.9% of those I surveyed recognizing the line. Those unfamiliar or knew where it was from make up the other 38.1%.

Those who merely said it was familiar typically said they weren't capable of placing where they heard it. Two people said it sounded like it was from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Another said it sounded like it was from The Simpsons. The one person who said it was “really familiar” said it evoked the image of Doc Brown from Back to the Future.

Surprisingly, those who said they were “absolutely” familiar with the line, or were certain they'd heard it, didn't give a name to where they'd heard it. Perhaps this was an oversight on me not asking where they'd heard it, but it struck me as peculiar.

So, the vast majority of those I asked recognized it. However, the few guesses as to where it originated are all wrong. The reality of it is: that line doesn't exist in any major motion picture—nor does it have any basis in contemporary art. As for the five who correctly guessed where it was from: two said they heard it in Phineas and Ferb while the other three said it was the “line that's never been in any movie”. While the former isn't exactly a qualifier for “knowing” the line is from, I'm counting it for simplicity's sake.

Nowadays, with its rise in popularity thanks to the internet, it has appeared in a few television shows as something of a parody. The aforementioned Phineas and Ferb, along with 30 Rock, have referenced it. As such, it's possible that some of the other people I asked remembered it from one of those shows.

However: as for its origin, that's not known. The closest anyone has ever come is a scene from the 1963 show Burke's Law. However, the line—while similar in a way—shares several differences. On top of that, many who claim to recognize the line have never watched Burke's Law, let alone even heard of it.

So exactly what is the reasoning behind this enigmatic line?

Well, you've got those who say that it's a case of the Mandela Effect or the multiverse; two parallel universes crossing and something behind left behind. Both are very fascinating in their own regards as they challenge our perception on how massive and fantastical our existence truly is. However, I'm personally more interested in the origin to this line.

Namely: memory.

Memory is imperfect and can be manipulated in many cases, thus creating a falsified memory. Logically, when confronted with a question as to whether or not you recognize something, your first instinct is to try and recognize it. If I come up to you with a flier for a missing person, you'll immediately try to do just that. As such, you can conjure the image of seeing that person at a local supermarket, gas station, or mall. Then you may convince yourself you did see that person. In reality, you may have seen someone like that person, but not that actual person.

When I confronted people with this quote, they may have had a similar reaction. I present a quote that sounds similar to one that they've heard or they merely wish to recognize it out of kindness or so they can be of help. In the case of the former, that's a bit difficult as the quote has never been found in a film or television show prior to its rise in popularity. In the case of the latter, it's very assumptive. There can be many reasons, such as the simplistic nature of the line sparking a memory of a cartoon (I'll get back to this in a little bit), having actually heard it in the aforementioned two shows, or a very similar line.

However, I firmly believe that there is a subconscious desire to recognize the line because you're asked about something you believe you've at least heard in passing.

A friend of mine, Mike, shared with me a very interesting story. He was looking for a can of Coca-Cola, but couldn't find it. He searched in his refrigerator, his bedroom, and all around his house—multiple times. After some time, he looked in his fridge and lo and behold: he saw the can. It just so happened to be invisible.

Only, it wasn't Coca-Cola. It was Pepsi.

You see: in this instance, Mike had been visualizing a can of Coca-Cola in his head. He'd been looking for that red can, not a blue can. He'd been so dead set on that red can that he was completely ignorant to the blue one.

In the case of this line, we see a similar event arise. You are asked a question: do you recognize this line? In that instance, we think about the line and where it may have been heard. You fill in the blank or blanks with the sketch. In the case of this quote, you remember a scene from a film that you love and believe that the line is from. However, unable to remember the scene word for word, you put the quote in its place. In the end, you create a false memory and believe it to be fact because that's how you remember it.

More than likely: people hear the line and due to its very simple wording and syntax, they envision someone like Doc Brown. So when asked if they remember it, they think of a film of a show that can fit that description. With that in mind, they replace the dialogue of a scene they can't recall the lines to and associate the line like the one I shared with those who I surveyed.

Sure, not everyone will do this as not everyone's the same. But based on my little study, I can see that there is a group that's prone to this.

And what truly fascinates me is that it's not limited to any one age group or generation.

When I asked people if they recognized the line, I made sure to ask people from any and all ages that I could. With that came a rather even divide of those who did and didn't recognize it. Boomers, Gen X'ers, Millennials, and Gen Z'ers were all prone to recognizing it and not being familiar.

This further reinforces my belief that the line's simplistic wording is enough to manifest a simple image of a mad doctor/scientist that we've all seen in a film or TV show. This, in turn, leads to the false memory that's made this so famous. 

However, there exists a conundrum: exactly where did this line originate from? That's a question that has fueled debate for decades. Some say it's maybe literature (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a popular one), some say a TV show, and others say a film. In the end, all have turned up empty handed and the mystery persists. Me, personally, I think it's a misquote from a popular cartoon that's taken on a life of its own.

One final note for this write-up is that this isn't the only example of a false memory in the realm of film and TV. The James Bond film, Moonraker, has the famous “Dolly's Braces” legend, wherein a character named Dolly is claimed to have braces. However, in reality, she doesn't. Exactly why, I'm unsure, but I'd hazard a guess that it's a similar situation, only with the memory being planted by others saying she did and people coming to believe.

However, I'm not a doctor. I'm not a psychologist. I'm merely someone making the observation from a distance and writing about what he thinks of it. So, I'd highly recommend that one not take what I've written here as fact as I'm certain I've gotten details about the human mind wrong.

That said: the truth behind this peculiar quote can be any number of things. Although I believe it's the doing of one's subconscious, where exactly the progenitor to this line is a mystery in of itself. It's entirely possible that there's an episode to a cartoon or television show from the 80s, 90s, or even early 00s that harbors the origin to this line. Until that day, however, it will remain a mystery. A very psychologically fascinating mystery.


  1. Huh... just when you think you've seen it all in weirdness. Really interesting stuff.

  2. The 'Dolly's braces' error from Moonraker is because she and the character Jaws fall in love at the end, and Jaws has metal teeth, therefore a lot of people fill in the image with Dolly also having metal teeth, i.e. braces. The false memory gives the scenario a perfectly symmetrical sense.

    Memory plays this 'transfer' trick on us quite a lot.