Proleptic toast

Musing on the line “You’re toast!” — a usage that turns out to be only about 30 years old.

The OED (draft additions December 2002) takes things back to Ghostbusters:

colloq. (orig. U.S.). A person or thing that is defunct, dead, finished, in serious trouble, etc. Freq. in proleptic use, esp. in you’re (also I’m, we’re, etc.) toast : you (I, we, etc.) will soon be dead, in trouble, etc. Cf. history n.

The lines in quot. 1983   do not in fact appear in the U.S. film Ghostbusters as released in 1985, since a considerable amount of the dialogue is ad-libbed. The actual words spoken by Venkman (played by Bill Murray) as he prepares to fire a laser-type weapon, are, ‘This chick is toast’; this is prob. the origin of the proleptic construction which has gained particular currency.

1983   D. Aykroyd & H. Ramis Ghostbusters (film script, third draft) 123   Venkman..: Okay. That’s it! I’m gonna turn this guy into toast.

Note history as a parallel usage, as in the 1989 song “You’re History” by British-based pop act Shakespears Sister:

You’re history
– like a beat up car –
No good for me
– like an old film star –
You’re history
– that’s what you are

So: the figure of speech prolepsis,

the representation of a thing as existing before it actually does or did so, as in he was a dead man when he entered. (NOAD2)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: