Americanisms in the TV Series Gilmore Girls
Terhi Heino, Fall 2009
FAST-US-1 (TRENPK2) Introduction to American English (Hopkins)
The FAST Area Studies Program
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
Gilmore Girls is an American TV series created by Amy
Sherman-Palladino, who worked as a writer, director and producer in the
series. The Pilot episode was first aired on October 5, 2000. Gilmore
Girls has an extremely fast-paced dialogue that uses colloquial
expressions, slang, and a lot of cultural references and other imaginative
phrases and exclamations which have often been referred to as
This paper discusses these different aspects of language in Gilmore
Girls. Since Gilmore Girls was on for a total of seven
there is a wealth of phrases and expressions to choose from. The
linguistic material used in this paper has been taken mainly from the
episodes of the first four seasons, but some examples from the later
seasons are also provided.
The Story of the Two Gilmore Girls
While being intriguing for its linguistic playfulness, Gilmore
Girls is also a heartwarming story of a single mother, Lorelai
Gilmore, and her daughter, Rory2 Gilmore, who are each other's
best friends. They have their ups and downs, but they always seem to manage
and enjoy life with the help of each other and their fellow townspeople.
Lorelai and Rory live in the small town of Stars Hollow, which is located
in Connecticut, near Hartford. The people in Stars Hollow are friendly,
although a bit eccentric.
In the first three seasons Lorelai runs the Independence Inn in Stars
Hollow, but in the end of the third season the inn is closed. In the
fourth season Lorelai starts a new inn, the Dragonfly Inn, with her friend
Sookie St. James. While being fairly successful in her career, Lorelai
doesn't have very good luck in her love life. In the series she ends up
being married once, engaged twice3 and dates many other men.
However, there appear to be mainly two men – Christopher Hayden, who is
Rory's father, and Luke Danes, who is the owner of Luke's Diner and also
Lorelai's main provider of coffee – who are particularly dear to her;
perhaps her problem is that she just can't choose between those two.
The younger Gilmore is a real bookworm and loves to go to school.
Rory's best friend (besides her mother) is a Korean girl named Lane Kim,
who hides her addiction to popular music from her strict and religious
mother. Rory isn't exactly much more fortunate in her relationships than
her mother. She has a wonderful first boyfriend, Dean Forester, who is
perhaps more in love with her than she is with him, and their relationship
doesn't last. Unfortunately the man that Rory probably loves the most,
Jess Mariano, isn't the most reliable person on Earth; he leaves her with
a broken heart more than once. One of Rory's boyfriends, Logan
Huntzberger, proposes to her in the seventh season, but she decides to go
abroad instead and fulfill her dream of becoming a journalist.
Two very important characters are still to be presented. They are
Richard and Emily Gilmore, Lorelai's parents and Rory's grandparents.
Lorelai left her parents' house when she was 16 years old and having Rory.
As it becomes clear during the third season, Lorelai just left a note
saying: ”Dear Mom and Dad, I’m in labor. See you later, Lorelai"
(Dear). She left because she didn't want the life Richard and
Emily had planned for her. In the series Lorelai battles with the fact
that her parents were disappointed with her. Rory, however, always feels
welcome to the elder Gilmores' house and on some occasions she seeks
comfort there when she is fighting with Lorelai.
Rory's Education and School-Related Terms in Gilmore
School is very important to Rory and she is more than a bit of an
intellectual so during the series the viewer becomes very familiar with
many school-related terms. Here are some examples of the particuarly
American words used with an explanation, and where existing the Standard
British English equivalent is also provided:
- finals (Those) – the exams at the end of a school year
- to flunk (But) – fail in a test, or a course; in the series the
term was used e.g. in an expression ”I think I'm going to retroactively
flunk high school.” (But)
- freshman (Affair) – a first-year student
- grade point average (GPA) (Application) – ”an indication of a
student's academic achievement at a school or college” (Oxford)
- a guidance counselor (Lorelai's) – (SBE: school counsellor) a
person who helps the student to decide which courses to take
- high school (Lorelai's) – SBE: a secondary school
- (the Chilton) Honor Code (Lorelai's) – the rules of acceptable
behaviour e.g. in an academic institution
- Ivy-League (Application) – the universities with the highest
educational prestige in the eastern US; includes Harvard, Yale, Princeton
- junior college (Application) – a college offering courses for
two years after high school (Oxford)
- junior high (Hammers) – the grades between elementary school
and high school (Oxford)
- math (Road) – (SBE: maths) mathematics
- midterm (Deer-Hunters) – [BE?] ”an exam in the middle of an
academic year” (Oxford); [in the U.S. normally an exam halfway
through an individual term-long course courses often have two
major exams, a 'mid-term' and then a 'final']
- SAT's (Big) – originally "Scholastic Aptitude Test"; SAT's test
a student's verbal and mathematical skills
- semester (Pilot) – SBE: academic term, usually ca. 15 weeks
- senior (Those) – a student who is in his/her last year of
study before graduating
- sophomore (Ted) – a second-year student
- valedictorian (Those) – a student at the top of his/her class,
who gives the farewell speech at the
The Gilmore Girls are almost obsessed with food and have made eating an
art. They can eat enormous quantities of food and yet miraculously stay in
shape. In addition Lorelai's dear friend and business associate, Sookie,
is an excellent chef and likes to think herself as the best, and she is
very sensitive to remarks that may queston her abilities (It). Just
to add a little more food (and lots of coffee) to the story, Luke Danes,
who is more than just a dear friend of Lorelai's4, also owns a diner. Naturally,
the series also has a wide vocabulary of food terms. Here are examples of
the food-related terms with their SBE equivalents. Where there was no SBE
equivalent to be found, a short definition is provided.
- candy (Ballroom) – SBE: sweets
- cookies (Pilot) – SBE: biscuits
- diner (Pilot) – a small roadside restaurant
- egg cream (Application) – a drink consisting of chocolate
syrup, milk and soda water
- egg rolls (Ted) – a Chinese-style snack similar to a spring
- fries (Pilot) – SBE: chips
- a skillet (Those) – SBE: a frying pan
- soda (Kiss) – sweet carbonated drink [e.g. Coca-cola, 7-Up,
- soda crackers (Ballroom) – SBE: cream crackers
- stove (Pilot) – SBE: cooker
- root beer (Application) – a drink made from an extract of the
roots and bark of certain plants (Oxford)
- muffins (Pilot) – ”a small domed spongy cake made with eggs and
baking powder” (Oxford)
Colloquial Language and Slang in Gilmore Girls
The dialogue in Gilmore Girls has many examples of colloquial
expressions and also slang words. Here are
some examples with definitions:
- blab (Incredible) – to reveal secrets by speaking in a high
- 'cause(Pilot) – because
- cops (I)– the police
- 'em (Big) – them
- to flip (Big) – to get really angry or really excited about
- frat boy (Big) - fraternity member; in the series the term
refers to a private school boy
- go postal (Deer-Hunters) – become crazy and potentially
dangerous to one's surroundings due to violent
- to josh (Incredible) – to make a joke
- junkie (Pilot) – a drug addict
- kinda (Affair) – kind of
- on the john (Incredible) – on the toilet
- to make whoopee (That's)– to have sex
- sappy (Hammers) – sentimental
- sec (Hammers) – second
- shoot up (Incredible) – ”inject oneself (or someone else) with
a narcotic drug” (Oxford)
- wanna (Big) – want to
Cultural References and Gilmorisms
One of the things that makes Gilmore Girls interesting enough to
stick with through all the seven seasons are the constant cultural
references. These witty phrases are also called "Gilmorisms." At times the
viewer can feel immense satisfaction if they happen to recognize the
source of a reference. But to be able to recognize all of them, one would
have to be a real 'culture vulture' since the range of people, songs,
movies, books and cultural phenomena referred to is incredibly wide.
Included in the references are, for example, some U.S. presidents,
renowned journalists, world famous writers and their books and characters,
musicians and their songs, and movies and actors, just to mention a few.
Among other things, Gilmore Girls gives some examples on how to
insult others by referring to cultural contexts:
When talking to each other, the characters in Gilmore Girls
often use the names of some cultural characters:
- ”You're a regular Jack Kerouac.” (Pilot) – Jack Kerouac was a
beat movement writer and had written about
his roadtrip in the US. (Season)
- ”Look, Officer Krupke.” (Pilot) – Officer Krupke is a character
in West Side Story. (Season)
- ”OK, Bob Barker.” (Kill) – ”Bob Barker is the host of CBS'
The Price Is Right, America's highest rated
daytime game show.” (Season)
- ”I mean it Timmy, no falling down the well.” (Hammers) - Timmy
is a character in the TV show Lassie from
which is taken the catchphrase: "What's that, girl? Timmy's in the well?"
Additional examples of cultural references in Gilmore Girls
- ”God, RuPaul doesn't need this much makeup.” (Pilot) - RuPaul
is a famous drag-queen. (Season)
- ”God! You're like Ruth Gordon just standing there with a tannis
root. Make a noise.” (Pilot) - Ruth Gordon played Minnie in a
horror movie called Rosemarie's Baby. Minnie gives a good luck
charm (a necklace) made of tannis root to Rosemary (played by Mia Farrow)
and not long after that Rosemary becomes pregnant with Satan's
- ”Livin' on a prayer, baby.” (Incredible) - Livin' On a
Prayer is a famous song by Bon Jovi.
- ”Just remember, there’s
cute jealous and there’s Othello.”
(Face-Off) - Othello is a play written by William
Shakespeare. Othello becomes jealous of his mistress and ends up killing
Gilmore Girls is more than just an entertaining series. While
viewers laugh and cry with the Gilmore Girls, they also become familiar
with many aspects of American culture and learn to use some witty remarks,
thus sounding very smart.
- The series showed in the United States between the years 2000 and
2007. Gilmore Girls consists of seven seasons and 153 episodes.
- Like her mother name, Rory's real name is also Lorelai, but everybody
calls her Rory.
- Lorelai gets first engaged to Max Medina in the last episode of season
one but during season two they break up.
Lorelai's second engagement is with Luke Danes during season six, but that
doesn't last either. Lorelai marries
Rory's father, Christopher Hayden, in the seventh season, but not long
after that they get divorced.
- During the series Lorelai has sort of an on/off relationship with
Luke. Once they also get engaged, but at the
last minute Lorelai calls the wedding off.
- An Affair to Remember. Gilmore Girls. Season 4, Episode
6. Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dir. Matthew Diamond. 28 October
- Application Anxiety. Gilmore Girls. Season 3, Episode 3.
Written by Daniel Palladino. Dir. Gail Mancuso. 8 October 2002. DVD.
Warner Bros, 2006.
- Ballroom & Biscotti. Gilmore Girls. Season 4, Episode 1.
Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dir. Amy Sherman-Palladino. 23 September
- The Big One. Gilmore Girls. Season 3, Episode 16.
Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dir. Jamie Babbit. 25 February 2003.
DVD. Warner Bros, 2006.
- But Not As Cute Aa Pushkin. Gilmore Girls. Season 5,
Episode 10. Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dir. Michael Zinberg. 30
November 2004. Transcript.
- Dear Emily and Richard. Gilmore Girls. Season 3, Episode
13. Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dir. Gail Mancuso. 4 February 2003.
DVD. Warner Bros, 2006.
- The Deer-Hunters.Gilmore Girls. Season 1, Episode 4.
Written by Jed Seidel. Dir. Alan Myerson. 26 October 2000. Transcript.
- Face-Off. Gilmore Girls. Season 3, Episode 15. Written
by John Stephens. Dir. Kenny Ortega. 18 February 2003. Transcript.
- Hammers and Veils. Gilmore Girls. Season 2, Episode 2.
Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dir. Michael Katleman. 9 October 2001.
- The Incredible Shrinking Lorelais. Gilmore Girls. Season
4, Episode 14. Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino. Dir.
Stephen Clancy. 17 February 2004. Transcript.
- I Solemnly Swear. Gilmore Girls. Season 3, Episode 11.
Written by John Stephens. Dir. Carla McCloskey. 21 January 2003.
- It Should have been Lorelai. Gilmore Girls. Season 2,
Episode 14. Written by Daniel Palladino. Dir. Lesli Linka Glatter. 12
February 2002. DVD. Warner Bros, 2006.
- Kill Me Now. Gilmore Girls. Season 1, Episode 3. Written
by Joanne Waters. Dir. Adam Nimoy. 19 October 2000. Transcript.
- Kiss and Tell. Gilmore Girls. Season 1, Episode 7.
Written by Jenji Kohan. Dir. Rodman Flender. 16 November 2000. Transcript.
- Lorelai Out of Water. Gilmore Girls. Season 3, Episode
12. Written by Janet Leahy. Dir. Jamie Babbit. 28 January 2003.
- The Lorelai's First Day at Chilton. Gilmore Girls.
Season 1, Episode 2. Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dir. Arlene
Sanford. 12 October 2000. Transcript.
- Oxford Dictionary of English. Second edition. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2003.
- Pilot. Gilmore Girls. Season 1, Episode 1. Written by
Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dir. Lesli Linka Glatter. 5 October 2000.
- The Prodigal Daughter Returns. Gilmore Girls. Season 6,
Episode 9. Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dir. Amy Sherman-Palladino.
15 November 2005. Transcript.
- The Road Trip to Harvard. Gilmore Girls. Season 2,
Episode 4. Written by Daniel Palladino. Dir. Jamie Babitt. 23 October
2001. DVD. Warner Bros, 2006.
Baby (1968). Casaforte. Updated 1 November 2009.
1. Obsessed with Gilmore Girls. For those of you obsessed with
Gilmore Girls! Webs.com. Viewed 3 December 2009.
- Ted Koppel's Big Night Out. Gilmore Girls. Season 4,
Episode 9. Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dir. Jamie Babbit. 18
November 2003. Transcript.
- That's What You Get, Folks, for Makin' Whoopee. Gilmore
Girls. Season 7, Episode 2. Written by Rebecca Rand-Kirshner. Dir.
Bethany Rooney. 3 October 2006. Transcript.
- Those are Strings, Pinocchio. Gilmore Girls. Season 3,
Episode 22. Written by Daniel Palladino. Dir. Jamie Babbit. 20 May 2003.
DVD. Warner Bros, 2006.
Timmy's in the Well: The Jon Provost Story (100s Visual)
(Hardcover). Amazon.com. Viewed 3 December 2009.
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