Wigged Much? What's the Sitch?: Linguistics in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"

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Background

Fans of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", or fans of Joss Whedon in general, are well versed in "Whedon-isms", terms or phrases coined by Whedon or associated with Whedon do to linguistic structure reminiscent of his writing. Buffy is responsible for introducing more of these into the public consciousness than any of his other works. As a result, Buffy has become known for it's unique lexicon and impact on popular slang. An analysis of Buffy scripts reveals how slang is incorporated into the lexicon of the Buffy universe.

For those unfamiliar, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is an American television show that ran from 1997 to 2003, created by writer and director Joss Whedon. IMDB synopsizes the show as "A young girl, destined to slay vampires, demons and other infernal creatures, deals with her life fighting evil, with the help of her friends." The notability surrounds the characterization of Buffy as a badass vampire slayer as well as an average teenage girl, a combination that produces dialogue that involves the projection of a 90s teenage dialect onto a lexicon of supernatural evil. We also follow the central characters through a period of heavy life change, beginning with a band of high-schoolers and ending with a group of post-graduate adults.

Slayer Slanguage

Some interesting conclusions can be drawn from the lexical analysis of Buffy scripts. Buffy is credited with popularizing the term "sitch" as shorthand for situation (The Hollywood Reporter). The show is also known for popularizing the use of the word "much" as a criticism for the degree or presence of certain behaviors (jealous much? etc.) and various iterations of "wig" (i.e. wigged, wigging, etc.) to describe weird behavior or anxious responses (Oxford English Dictionaries). Other slang terms closely linked to the show are "scooby/scoobies" to refer to the show's main characters, a reference to the Scooby-Doo cast (which is funny considering the fact the Sarah Michelle-Gellar, who played Buffy, also played Daphne in the live action Scooby-Doo movies), and "dust" to refer to killing vampires, a term that refers to the way vampires seem to dissolve into dust when they are slain.

"Sitch"

Considering the cultural impact of the terms, the actual representation in the scripts isn't quite what one would expect. The term "sitch" is uttered a total of 7 times throughout the series. As you can see, it is said twice in the first episode, and then not again until the fourth season. One possible explanation for this could be that it was introduced back into the lexicon of the show after becoming common in the lexicon outside of the show

frequency graph of 'sitch' in Buffy scripts
"Much"

"Much" appears much more often; however this is because the traditional use of the term is so common. The use of it for our purposes only seems to occur once twice in the first twenty episodes. Unlike "sitch" though, the frequency is more constant throughout.

frequency graph of 'much' in Buffy scripts
"Wig"

The various iterations of "wig" (excluding "wig" on it's own, because that iteration is used mostly to describe an actual hair wig) appear more frequently, but not by much. It appears in some form or another 21 times in the first 100 episodes, clearly with a higher frequency towards the beginning of the series.

frequency graph of 'wig' in Buffy scripts
blue=wiggins, orange=wiggy, green=wigged, red=wigging, yellow=wiggin
"Scooby/Scoobies"

The terms "scooby" and "scoobies" have very interesting frequency graphs, because although they aren't used in that many episodes, the episodes they are used in usually repeat them several times throughout. The season 4 episode "This Year's Girl" alone utilizes "scoobies" a total of 12 times. This pattern seems to be a result of certain characters (like Faith, whose vernacular tends to be on the snarkier side) using the term(s) more than others, but the repetition encouraged fans to adopt the term to use to refer to the main cast.

frequency graph of 'scooby/scoobies' in Buffy scripts
blue=scooby, green=scoobies
"Dust"

Finally, the term "dust" has a usage pattern that doesn't seem to reflect that of the other terms discussed. It appears in it's Buffy-specific usage more than the rest. Granted, not all of it's utterances refer to the verb meaning "to kill a vampire", but even the ones that don't tend to be in reference to dusty books, therefore related to the supernatural, gothic elements of the show. Perhaps this is because it is so closely linked to the act of slaying vampires. There is irony in this though, because of all the slang terms mentioned, this is the one that hasn't really entered the popular lexicon outside the Buffy universe.

frequency graph of 'dust' in Buffy scripts

Conclusion

What we can see from this is that despite expectations, there is not a correlation between the frequency with which a term is used in the Buffy scripts and it's popularity as a culturally relevant slang term. This is not to say that claims that Buffy can be credited with popularizing these terms are unfounded. On the contrary, it is to say that while the show may have introduced the terms to a wide audience, it is repetition in the vocabularies of fans rather than repetition in the vocabularies of characters that spread the terms. This is supported by Michael Adams' argument in his book "Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon", that it is the use of the slang terms in other types of fan or analytical media that circulated them into the public societal lexicon. "Dust" stands out as being the exception to this rule, perhaps because it is too specific. It would be hard for a term used to describe vampires crumbling into dust as they die into the popular consciousness, and the frequency with which it used in the show makes it all the more difficult to combat that specific definition and relationship to the show.

Bibliography

Adams, Michael. "Chapter 1." Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. N. pag. Print.

Jang, Meena. "Buffyisms: 10 Phrases Popularized By 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'" The Hollywood Reporter. Everett Collection, 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Kneen, Bonnie. "The Language of Buffy Speak." OxfordWords Blog. Oxford English Dictionaries, 17 Aug. 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Scripts courtesy of buffyworld.com