At the movies · Home life · Word of the week

Word of the week: spoiler

We are half-way through the latest series of “Strictly Come Dancing”. As noted before on this Blog, this BBC1 show is the most-watched TV programme here in the UK, and constitutes a large part of our family viewing. Most Saturday evenings the four of us are gathered in the living-room for the live show, and on Sundays we watch again at 7.15pm to see which couple have been voted off. Sunday night’s events are filmed on Saturday, as you may know. I am currently the only member of the family who looks up the results of the show ahead of time, on a site that claims to be “The Home of the Strictly Spoiler”. Most weeks I know the results of the dance-off before I go to bed on Saturday night but no-one else in the family wants to know until it’s shown on Sunday. So far, through each of the four dance-offs, I have managed to keep this information to myself.

It feels like the phrase “Spoiler alert” has been around for a long time, but a quick look at pieces like this one on BuzzFeed suggests that it was hardly used before 2007. The idea was certainly familiar when I was a child. Most people of my age and background will remember a classic episode of “Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?” in which the main characters try to avoid hearing the score in an England football match before the highlights are screened that night. This is not something I have ever tried to do. With sports highlights I like to know the results in advance. When “Match of the Day” was the main way of watching top flight football, before we had constant access to the web, I always found it frustrating if I hadn’t heard the scores beforehand. When the Saturday evening news advised us to “Look away now if you don’t want to know what happened in today’s matches” I never did.

Early uses of the words “Spoiler alert”, on Usenet forums in the 1980s, referred to popular movies. A 1982 posting about “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan” is believed to be the first time the phrase appeared. 1982 was also the year that my brother was the victim of the biggest spoiler alert experienced by anyone in my family. He and his future wife were at an all-day screening of the first three films in the “Star Wars” franchise, at the Hammersmith Odeon. “Return of the Jedi” had just been released. By then film screenings at the venue were rare. They made far more money from live shows. (The last film I saw at the Hammersmith Odeon was “Alien” in 1980.) My brother’s wife is Spanish and her English was not good enough to follow all the dialogue in English, but she had seen the first two films (dubbed) back in Spain. My brother provided live translation services throughout the first film (“Star Wars”, as it was simply called at the time) and at the start of the second one (“The Empire Strikes Back”). “Ah, yes,” his future wife said (in Spanish, a few minutes into the action), “I remember. This is the one where Luke finds out that Darth Vader is his father.” My brother was speechless, in both English and Spanish.



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