I remember learning such a word in my studies of drama and poetry.

I am referring to the following example, I want to deconstruct the IBM commercial directed by Jim Henson. http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2014/03/tech-time-warp-henson-ibm/

The phrase "do the paperwork" is used again and again.

I leapt to "mantra" but that suggests a repetition for the purpose of summarising a belief and training one to believe it.

I also thought of "slogan" but that usually has an overt sometimes political message.

This is a word that would describe the fact that this phrase has been repeated frequently without suggesting much at all about the purpose of the phrase or its repetition.

Perhaps a technical or domain word from textual analysis or literary criticism. Something highly specific I believe is what may describe the word I am trying to find. Thank you.

  • Throwing a few things out there -- how about "echo"? Seems to be fairly connotation-free, IMO. Also, "iterate" seems fairly neutral to me as well.
    – potpie
    Mar 14 '14 at 16:05
  • Do any of the words outlined at this link work?
    – JLG
    Mar 14 '14 at 16:23
  • Great link! Thank you. Anaphora works, though it may be a tad too technical. I have bookmarked that site, thanks!
    – user68880
    Mar 14 '14 at 17:19
  • These are good as well. Unconventional and can use as verbs too. I like that, thanks.
    – user68880
    Mar 14 '14 at 17:19
  • an old chestnut a joke, story, or subject that has become tedious and uninteresting through constant repetition. "the subject under discussion is that old chestnut, public or private financing of the arts" Aug 12 '17 at 9:26

Was it 'motif', 'theme', or perhaps 'refrain'?


... 2. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) an often repeated word, phrase, image, or theme in a literary work


  • Leitwort might be a better fit than leitmotif in this particular case, although I'm not sure that we'd find it in any mainstream English dictionary.
    – LukeH
    Mar 14 '14 at 16:26
  • Therefore it can't be, as we're being asked (rules of the site) a question about English. Mar 14 '14 at 16:29
  • I have to second Edwin on the leitmotif besting leitwort which I am sure is German (even though English is also "German" in a sense of the word). Of course, if it was possible to use German here, that would be a great word, almost as good as the rest in this answer!
    – user68880
    Mar 14 '14 at 17:23
  • I think you really nailed it with motif, refrain and leitmotif. These are perfect and I'm sure one of them (likely motif) was what I was originally intending to reach for. Thank you very much! Accepted. :)xx;P
    – user68880
    Mar 14 '14 at 17:24

Usually "catch phrase" refers to a phrase that has become suddenly common in a broader segment of speakers or writers than you're talking about here. But it also refers to phrases that become associated with a particular person or character, such as Rodney Dangerfield's "I get no respect!" or Maxwell Smart's "Sorry about that, chief!" (You can tell how long I've been away from television by my examples.)

Something similar can happen with a phrase repeated in a commercial. Thus, for example, in a remarkably popular 30-second Wendy's Hamburgers commercial, an actress demands three times "Where's the beef?"; and in a similarly popular (but far more annoying) 30-second Alka-Seltzer spot, an actor groans three times, "I can't believe I ate that whole thing!" (widely misremembered as "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!") Both of those phrases subsequently (albeit temporarily) became popular sayings throughout the United States, but I don't think it would be wrong to call each one a "catch phrase" within the commercial itself.

  • Yep, right about catchphrases and haha about the television! Yes I think you're completely right about catchphrases in those commercials and how they knocked into the culture. Amazing how the mass brain will find the most "ergonomic" choice of words, like replacing "that" for "the" -- probably symptomatic of one of the ways languages evolve. +1 for the intellectual trip it took me one! :) (or not since I don't have the rep. Soz.)
    – user68880
    Mar 14 '14 at 17:22

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