I’ve been hearing joke phrases like “We put the fun back in dysfunctional!” most of my life, but somehow I’ve apparently never written about them here, nor tried to put together a list of such phrases.
Fortunately for me, Morgan Friedman has put together such a list, at their Words in Words page.
(Interestingly, that list uses the “in” phrasing instead of the “back in” phrasing. I’ve heard both phrasings, but I think I’ve most often heard “back in.” I feel like this joke template may have come from some specific advertising slogan, but if so, I don’t recall what.)
Here are some that I’ve come up with that aren’t on that page:
- Putting the pro-life back in proliferation.
- Putting the corpora back in incorporation.
- Putting the twerk back in netwerking. (Or: Putting the twerk back in Kraftwerk.)
- Putting the put back in computing.
A 2011 Language Log post suggests that this kind of joke is only funny if the contained word is semantically/etymologically unrelated to the containing word. I’m inclined to agree, but if you do a Google search for ["putting the * back in *"], you get a bunch of pages that take the opposite tack, as in “Putting the hedge back in hedge fund” or “Putting the social back in nonprofit social media,” apparently suggesting that the contained concepts are no longer as strong a part of the containing concepts as one might assume. (“Putting the Christ back in Christmas” is another common phrase along those lines.)
Comments on that Language Log post make clear that a lot of these jokes depend on regional pronunciations; for example, “putting the ape back in apricot” doesn’t work for people who pronounce apricot with an app sound.
Commenters there also suggest “Who put the trophy in astrophysics?” and “I put the usage in sausage.” The earliest citation of the format that the commenters came up with is from 1912: “I would give a whole lot to see the man who put the ‘fun’ in fundamentals.”
Do you have any suggestions for other words-to-put-in-words?