The Words of ‘Mad Men’: brunch, the four Ps, Mary Wells


There’s only half a season left of Mad Men! We couldn’t mess around and lose our second to last chance to share our favorite words from the show.


Margaret: “I’d like to have brunch Sunday morning.”
Roger: “Sure, that’d be nice. I’ll bring vodka.”

“Time Zones,” April 13, 2014

While brunch, a combo of breakfast and lunch, may seem like a fad of the 1980s, the word actually originated around 1896 as “British student slang.” According to Google Ngrams, brunch gained a bit of popularity in the 1960s (this episode takes place in 1969) but didn’t really start to take off until the late 1970s.

four Ps

Wayne Barnes: “They pay me to think about the four Ps. Price, product, place, and promotion.”

“Time Zones,” April 13, 2014

The four Ps, or McCarthy’s four Ps, were proposed by marketing professor E. Jerome McCarthy in 1960. The four Ps are part of the marketing mix, a business tool. Also part of the marketing mix are the four Cs, which Robert F. Lauterborn developed in the 1990s: consumer, cost, communication, and convenience.

Hooterville telephone operator

Don: “I didn’t know I was going to get interrogated by the Hooterville telephone operator.”

“A Day’s Work,” April 20, 2014

Hooterville is the fictional town of TV shows Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. The telephone operator was Sarah, says the AMC blog, “the elderly switchboard ‘oppa-ray-TOR’ who tended to turn calls through the town’s antiquated party-line system into a variation on the telephone game.”


Lou: “Why don’t you take us through the legs.”
Peggy: “Let’s start with radio.”

“The Strategy,” May 18, 2014

To be honest, we’re really not sure about the definition of leg here. We’re assuming it’s a broadcasting term, as per the Oxford English Dictionary, “a branch or supplementary network attached to the main network and providing coverage for a particular region,” where each leg is a different form of media (e.g., radio, print, and television).

An idea that “has legs” has staying power.

Longfellow Deeds

Lou: “What am I supposed to do? Just hide while he sits down there cooling his heels like Longfellow Deeds?”

“Field Trip,” April  27, 2014

Longfellow Deeds is the main character of the film, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Deeds is “the co-owner of a tallow works, part-time greeting card poet,” and a tuba-player who “inherits 20 million dollars from his late uncle.” He’s considered by some to be a “heartless” and “ultra-rich man, who will not lift a finger to help the multitudes of desperate poor.”

Marriage Encounter

Brooks: “She hasn’t been herself lately, and we went to this Marriage Encounter group.”
Roger: “You’re kidding.”

“The Monolith,” May 4, 2014

Marriage Encounter is a religiously-based program developed in the early 1950s to “help married couples by reason of discovering or re-discovering the need for God in their lives.”

Marriage Encounter was started by Gabriel Calvo, a priest in Spain, while the New York City chapter was held under the guidance of Jesuit priest Charles (Chuck) Gallagher.

Mary Wells

Roger: “You want to walk down some hotel hallway and see Mary Wells sitting on Don’s lap the next time you go in to present?”

“Field Trip,” April 27, 2014

Mary Wells refers to Mary Wells Lawrence, the founding president of ad agency Wells Rich Greene and the first female CEO of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In a previous episode, Don had lunch with an executive from Wells Rich Greene to discuss job prospects.

mess around

Peggy (to Don): “No. Stop messing around. It’s not funny.”

“Waterloo,” May 25, 2014

Here by messing around Peggy means joking or kidding around. This is probably the oldest meaning of the term, originating around 1853, according to the OED. Around 1896, mess around gained the meaning of “to handle roughly” as well as to have sex or an affair with someone.

In the mid-1920s, mess around also came to mean to improvise, especially in jazz music or dance. The Mess Around was “an improvised jazz dance” from the 1920s and 1930s.


Ed: “What if you replaced [the Burger Chef mascot] with a fresh recruit? A saucy little retard named Scout.”

“The Runaways,” May 11, 2014

Retard is an offensive slang term for someone who is mentally handicapped, and by extension, a person thought to be “foolish or socially inept.”

In the early 1900s, says the OED, retard was a clinical term used in education and psychology meaning “a person displaying or characterized by developmental delay or learning difficulties”:

Then there are the backwards, or the retards for their years, and those subnormally endowed in respect to mental gifts, afflicted with physical defects of various kinds and degrees.

It was around 1968 that the term started to be used as derogatory slang for someone mentally or physically deficient.


Peggy: “I want to get started right away. I think, 25 tags should get the ball rolling.”

“The Monolith,” May 4, 2014

Tag is short for tag line, “an often repeated phrase associated with an individual, organization, or commercial product; a slogan.” The Online Etymology Dictionary says tag line originated in 1916 as the “last line in an actor’s speech,” and then as the “punchline of a joke” in 1926. When it gained the meaning of “slogan” in advertising we’re not sure. If anyone has any insight, let us know in the comments!


Mad Men Soup: 15 Groovy Words From Season 6

Another season of Mad Men is wrapping up, and we’ve been collecting our favorite groovy words along the way. We have 15 here, including slang of the times, a bit of sales lingo, and some catsup (or is it ketchup?).


Arnold: “It doesn’t matter if he goes back to school. He’s 1-A. His induction could be tomorrow. He’s on a damned list for the rest of his life.”

“Favors,” June 9, 2013

1-A, or Class 1-A, is a classification of the Selective Service System, “an independent agency of the United States government that maintains information on those potentially subject to military conscription.”

Someone who is classified as 1-A is “available for unrestricted military service.” Class 1-S is someone who has deferred by statute, either high school or college. In 1969, President Nixon established “conscription based on random selection,” otherwise known as the draft.


Stan [upon seeing Peggy and her rival agency]: “It’s a bake-off? Since when?”

“To Have and to Hold,” April 21

The first bake-off was held by the Pillsbury Company in 1949. At the time the contest was called the Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest, and was first referred to as a bake-off by Sheboygan Press, according to the Oxford English Dictionary: “In a grand final bake-off at the Waldorf-Astoria, Pillsbury Mills will award $150,000 in prizes.”

The word bake-off comes from playoff, which was coined around 1895, and cook-off, coined in 1936. It’s unclear when the figurative use of bake-off began. The earliest citation the OED has is from 2003.

blow (someone’s) mind

Ted [to Peggy]: “Your friend’s mistake was underestimating you. I hope ketchup makes the same mistake so you can blow their minds.”

“Collaborators,” April 14, 2013

The phrase, blow (someone’s) mind, originated in the mid-1960s to mean “to induce hallucinatory experiences (in a person) by means of drugs,” says the OED. It gained its figurative meaning, to astonish or shock, around 1967.

In 1965, a band called The Gas Company released a song called “Blow Your Mind,” while in 1966, the Barry Goldberg Blues Band had an LP called Blowing My Mind.


Rollo: “Should I roll another? Your friend bogarted the last one.”

“The Quality of Mercy,” June 16, 2013

Bogart has a few different meanings. The OED says the word originated around 1965 as African American slang meaning “to force, coerce; to bully, intimidate,” named for the actor Humphrey Bogart’s tough guy characters.

The meaning, “to appropriate (a marijuana cigarette) greedily or selfishly,” is from 1968, also named for Humphrey Bogart, in this sense referencing his “frequent on-screen smoking, especially to the long drags he took on cigarettes.”

Bogart also refers to “the first cup of brewed coffee collected from under the coffee filter.” We couldn’t find how this meaning came about. If you know, please fill us in.


Peggy: “So, what’s the difference between ketchup and catsup? Well, catsup has more tomatoes, comes in a bigger bottle, is cheaper, but tastes just like ketchup. Now we know that’s not true, but that’s what your competitors are saying.”

“To Have and to Hold,” April 21

As Slate tells us, there’s no difference between catsup and ketchup (and catchup for that matter) except the spelling. Catchup seems to have come first with a 1699 citation in the OED. Ketchup is next in 1711 and catsup brings up the rear in 1735.

These catsup varations may come from Amoy, also known as Xiamenese, a Chinese dialect. Kôechiap or kê-tsiap is Xiamenese for “brine of pickled fish or shell-fish.”

Ketchup caught on when Heinz, again according to Slate, changed “Heinz Tomato Catsup,” to “Heinz Tomato Ketchup” to distinguish it from competitors.


Roger: “I have this check for $10,000 because I close, Pete. I close things.”

“For Immediate Release.” May 5, 2013

Close here means to close a deal or bargain. The earliest citation, according to the OED, is in Charles Dickens’s 1839 novel, Nicholas Nickleby: “He closed the bargain directly it reached his ears.” The word closer, someone good “at bringing business transactions to a satisfactory conclusion,” is from around 1906, says the OED.

Always be closing (ABC) is “a sales strategy in which a salesperson should constantly look for new prospects, pitch products or services to those prospects and complete the sale.” According to Investopedia, “the phrase was popularized in the 1992 film ‘Glengarry Glen Ross.’”

get it on

Wendy [to Don]: “Do you want to get it on?”

“The Crash,” May 19, 2013

Anachronism alert! While this episode takes place in 1967, the term get it on, or to have sex, didn’t come about until 1971, according to the OED, appearing in B.B. Johnson’s Blues for a Black Sister: “She gripped him with her legs and they got it on.” But if anyone can antedate this term, please let us know in the comments.


Squatter [to Betty]: “What you can’t grok is that we are your garbage.”

“The Doorway,” April 7, 2013

To grok means “to understand profoundly through intuition or empathy.” The word was coined by science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein in his 1961 novel, Stranger in a Strange Land: “Now that he knew himself to be self he was free to grok ever closer to his brothers.”

In Heinlein’s invented language, grok “is described as being from the word for ‘to drink’ and, figuratively, ‘to drink in all available aspects of reality.’” Grog is an alcoholic drink named for Old Grog, the nickname of a British admiral who always wore a grogram cloak.


Ted: “Fleischmann’s. Groovy. We’ll get right on that.”

“Man with a Plan,” May 12, 2013

Groovy originated in the late 1930s as jazz slang, says the OED, meaning “playing, or capable of playing, jazz or similar music brilliantly or easily.” Groovy comes from in the groove, which has the same meaning. Groove refers to the groove of a record, perhaps from the idea of a record playing smoothly and easily in a groove, as opposed to skipping.


Peggy: “[Margarine] was invented for Napoleon III because armies need to move and it never spoiled.”

“Man with a Plan,” May 12, 2013

Peggy’s right: in the 19th century, Napoleon III “offered a prize to anyone who could make a satisfactory alternative for butter, suitable for use by the armed forces and the lower classes.” In response, a French chemist “invented a substance he called oleomargarine, the name of which became shortened to the trade name ‘margarine’.”

Margarin, which comes from the Greek margarites, “pearl,” was the French term given to “a peculiar pearl-like substance extracted from” animal fat, a main ingredient in the original formulation of margarine.

out of sight

Party-goer: “I heard the bread is out of sight.”

“A Tale of Two Cities,” June 2, 2013

While out of sight might seem like typical slang from the ‘50s or ‘60s, it’s actually much older than that. The OED has it originating as U.S. slang for “excellent” or “wonderful” in 1891. We particularly like this citation from 1902: “‘How do you feel old chap?’ ‘Out of sight,’ replied the American.”

Bread as slang for money is from the 1940s, and comes from breadwinner, which originated in the 19th century with the idea of winning or earning bread or other food.

rap session

Ted: “I want to have a little rap session about margarine in general.”

“Man with a Plan,” May 12, 2013

The term rap session, “an informal discussion held especially by a group of people with similar concerns,” was very new at the time of this episode. The OED’s earliest citation is from 1968. To rap meaning to talk is from the 1920s.

Second Avenue subway

Realtor [to Peggy]: “Believe me, when they finish the Second Avenue subway, this apartment will quadruple in value.”

“The Flood,” April 28, 2013

While a few subway lines run up and down the west side of Manhattan, only one runs the entire length of the east, the Lexington Avenue Line. Plans for constructing a second east side subway, the Second Avenue subway, began in 1929. As of today, it is nowhere near completion.


Michael: “You’re a truncheon, Cutler!”

“A Tale of Two Cities,” June 2, 2013

A truncheon is “a staff carried as a symbol of office or authority,” and ultimately comes from the Latin truncus, “trunk.” It may also be used figuratively to refer to an authority figure.

Yankee wrinkle

Pete: “How come you didn’t get yourself a job?”
Duck Phillips: “That’s a Yankee wrinkle. You interested in my business?”

“The Better Half,” May 26, 2013

A wrinkle is a “clever trick, method, or device, especially one that is new and different.” This meaning originated around 1817. Yankee, in addition to referring a native of New England or the U.S., has the 19th century meaning of “to deal cunningly with like a Yankee, to cheat,” says the OED. Thus, a Yankee wrinkle is an especially cunning trick or scheme.

From a 1912 article: “I have discovered the latest Yankee wrinkle. You couldn’t guess what this new scheme is if you tried a hundred times.”

Best of Word Soup 2012: TV Word Love

bob's television dream

bob's television dream, by Robert Couse-Baker

Welcome to the first annual Wordnik Word Soup Awards!

All year we’ve been collecting interesting, hilarious, ridiculous, and sometimes NSFW words from TV, and now it’s time to award the best of the best.

Best Use of a Grammar Term on the Comedy Channel

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, anaphor

“You didn’t build that,” proclaimed President Obama during a campaign speech this July, but that wasn’t all he said. Unfortunately, as Stewart stated, by saying “you didn’t build that,” Obama created confusion by “using the demonstrative singular pronoun, ‘that’ instead of the plural anaphor, ‘those,’ which of course would be referring to the antecedent, ‘roads and bridges’,” all of which promptly gave Stewart a grammar wedgie.

Best Use of a Controversial Word on a Comedy

30 Rock, transvaginal

Some states have tried to make transvaginal ultrasounds required for women having abortions. “You’re being so transvaginal right now,” Liz told Jack regarding his invasiveness about her decision to adopt or remain childless.

Best Made-Up German Word

Perfektenschlage, The Office

Fans of The Office know that Dwight Schrute is of German ancestry, and according to Dunder Mifflin’s top salesman, Perfektenschlage is “when everything in a man’s life comes together perfectly.” The second meaning is “perfect pork anus.”

Runner-up: Bildenkinder, for landlords, the feeling that building residents are like biological children.

Best Use of a French Swear Word

Mad Men, calice

Megan uttered this Québécois French swear word when her surprise birthday party for Don was spoiled. According to Slate, calice “has its origins in Roman Catholic ritual—it’s the communion chalice.”

Best Eponym

Ferris Buellerian, Community

This was a tough decision. There was 30 Rock’s normal-Al, the opposite of Weird Al, and their equally hilarious reverse-Urkel, to de-nerdify a black nerd. In the end we went with Community’s Ferris Buellerian – “Winger’s critics suggest he merely improvised hot-button patriotic dogma in a Ferris Buellerian attempt to delay school work” – a unique usage of the hooky-playing character.

Best Name for a Made-Up Rebel Movement

Sanguinista, True Blood

We found Sanguinista to be a clever and appropriate name for a faction of rebel vampires. The word is a blend of sanguine, “bloodthirsty; bloody,” and Sandinista of the Sandinista National Liberation Front.

Runner-up: Lauffeuer, Grimm. Lauffeuer translates from the German as “wildfire.”

Best Made-Up Psychological Disorder

accusational opposition disorder, Community

Leave it to psych major Britta to come up a pseudo-psych term for disagreeing or arguing with someone. The runner-up is also from Community: hypernarcissosis, excessive narcissism or love and admiration for oneself, which apparently plagues the vain Jeff Winger.

Most Ridiculous Portmanteau

unwindulax, 30 Rock

“We’re just camping out and unwindulaxing,” says one of Jenna’s fans. In October, we noted that the word is a blend of unwind and relax, but where does that ‘u’ come from? Who knows and who cares? Just unwindulax and enjoy the word.

Best Use of Portmanteaus – TIE

The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The Stewart and Colbert “puninator” was hard at work this year what with generating a proliferation of puns, portmeanteaus, and blends.

There was sanitipsy, a blend of sanitizer and tipsy, based on a report that teens drink hand sanitizer to get drunk; assassitunity, using the assassination of Osama bin Laden as a PR opportunity; gaffestronomist, those who measure political gaffes “using the exact science of gaffestronomy,” according to Stewart; and many more.

Best Show for Eggcorns

Raising Hope

An eggcorn is a malapropism that makes sense to the speaker, and Virginia of Raising Hope is the Queen of the Eggcorn. “I was immediately inquizzical of this mystery,” she has said. What’s the doctor who examines ladyparts? A vaginacologist of course. And that thing that repeats itself by one’s own doing? “A self-refilling prophecy,” says Virginia.

Most Educational Show About Current Events That Wasn’t The Daily Show or The Colbert Report

The Newsroom

Sure, The Newsroom was maddening in a lot of ways (all that yelling, for instance), but we did learn a thing or two. We learned that EKIA stands for “Enemy Killed in Action,” and that RINO isn’t an ungulate but a “Republican in Name Only.” We learned about the Glass-Steagall Act and the story behind the greater fool. Now if only Aaron Sorkin would learn to stop calling women girls.

Best Made-Up Sex Slang

30 Rock

This is the semi-NSFW part. While a nooner for some means sex at lunchtime, for Liz Lemon it means “having pancakes for lunch.” Normalling is a fetish for kinky Jenna and Paul: behaving like a “normal” couple. A sexual walkabout is like a walkabout only while, um, “doing every depraved thing [one] can think of with as many people as [one] can,” according to Jenna.

Bang brothers are men who have slept with the same woman (see also Eskimo brothers). Pokemoning means having a wide variety of lovers, as in the video game in which one must collect “all of the available Pokémon species.” A synonym is Great Escaping. Finally, a sex-idiot is is an intellectually challenged yet attractive person used for the sole purpose of having sex.

What are some of your choices for noteworthy words from TV?

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Robert Couse-Baker]