I hate the word ‘what’.

Well, hate’s a bit strong: loathe, detest, despise … am a bit miffed by … something like that.

Although even that’s not true – two words into a new post and I’m lying to you already. I obviously use the word ‘what’ all the time:

“What do you want?”

“What the hell is that?”

“You what me to put what where?”

All well and good. Then of course there’s John Cleese’s ‘what?’ which is practically an art form in itself. No, the specific example of the word ‘what’ I don’t like much, is the one I keep having to delete from my scripts. Practically every scene in fact;

“Oh my God!”


“My nipples have just been eaten by an Andalusian space mollusc!”


You may not immediately see the problem there, people do actually talk like that … apart from the bit about Andalusian space molluscs – everyone knows they live in the Catalonia; but that’s a fairly normal speech pattern: exclamation, question, explanation.

As an aside, I get a lot of pleasure out of not giving people the question:


Phill keeps on reading.

“Ooh, that hurts.”

Phill casually turns the page.

“Ow, ow, ow …”

The ginger bastard flicks the page back … did he miss something?

“Ooh, ya bugger!”

“Sorry, did you say something?”

“Yeah, I’ve cut my finger.”

It’s great, people will not move on until you’ve given them the proper response. I can go days like that when I’m in the right mood. The thing is, whereas it’s a perfectly valid speech pattern, in a script it’s always the first thing to go:

“Oh my God! I’ve been bitten by the love of the Lord!”

You just don’t need the ‘what’ – all it does is add extra lines and when you’re over-running they’re the first to go. It’s kind of a shame because I love those kind of naturalistic patterns and really, what’s one word over the course of a script?

Well, quite a lot I guess. When you’ve got to cut ten to twenty pages out of a draft, every word counts. And it’s not just one word, it’s two extra lines. At the end of the day it doesn’t add or detract anything from the script – there may be a rhythm change, but it’s not really an issue.

Then again … some of my favourite dialogue in the Italian Job is all repetition. I sometimes wonder how long the script was or how much of it was improvised … I could Google it, but then again, I’m sure someone will tell me if I hang around long enough.

Hmm … no, fuck it. I hate the word ‘what’ and it’s coming out of the script.

There isn’t really a lot of point to this post except a bit of interrogative abuse – I’ve just murdered a character in a particularly gruesome manner and it’s upset me a bit. I guess I just fancied a bit of whimsy.

Carry on, nothing to see here.

Categories: Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “What?

  1. Bingethink

    Surely you cannot deny the beauty of David Tennant’s “What? What? What?” when Catherine Tate first materialised in the TARDIS? (Even if they overdid it later…)

  2. Got cut out of the last one.


  3. What did you murder him with?

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😉

  4. Steven Moffat did this a lot of the “What?” stuff in Coupling, so much so it became irritating. It usually had to do with a bizarre Jeff comment.

    He also specialised in variations such as “I’m Sorry?” and merely repeating Jeff’s line with and question mark at the end.

    Someone will contradict the last one as I can’t think of an example but I tell you it happened enough for me to spot it.

    Still love the show though – Richard Coyle as Jeff Murdock is sadly missed.

  5. All good exceptions which prove the rule … and in a different sense prove I generally talk a fair bit of shit.

    Eleanor: a wheel brace, that’s what.

    Jorbell: Jeff was definitely the high point of that show … although, Sarah Alexander was a close second.

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