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What was the last great line you heard in a movie?

Was it “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars” from The Social Network in 2010?

Or “Put some Windex on it,” from My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002?

Or “With great power comes great responsibility,” from Spider-Man, also in 2002?

Or “What good Is a phone call if you’re unable to speak?” The Matrix, 1999?

Or “I’m also just a girl standing in front of a boy. Asking him to love her,” from Notting Hill, also in 1999?

Or “Shut up—you had me at ‘hello’” and “Show me the money!” from Jerry Maguire in 1996?

Or “My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get” and “Stupid is as stupid does,” from Forrest Gump in 1994?

Or “You can’t handle the truth!” from A Few Good Men in 1992?

None of these come close to resembling Hollywood’s most iconic quotes:

“Go ahead, make my day,” Sudden Impact (1983).

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” Apocalypse Now (1979).

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” The Godfather (1972).

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” Cool Hand Luke (1967).

Or “You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am,” from On the Waterfront (1954).

Or “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night,” from All About Eve (1950).

Or “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” from Casablanca (1942)

Or “The stuff that dreams are made of,” from The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Or “It was beauty killed the beast,” from King Kong (1933).

It’s not an accident that among the best recent lines, from 2011’s Midnight in Paris, is an attempt to mimic Hemingway’s iconic prose: “I believe that love that is true and real, creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving or not loving well, which is the same thing.”

Movie dialogue used to be quoteworthy: witty, epigrammatic and expressive. No longer. The art of the memorable movie line has largely disappeared, as have witty repartee, playful banter and sophisticated dialogue.

Why don’t the movies feature the catchy lines and witty banter that, in the past, were etched in our collective imagination?

Several reasons stand out. Moviegoers prefer more naturalistic dialogue that reflects everyday speech rather than highly stylized language. Today’s action-oriented plots and visual storytelling prioritize spectacle over dialogue. Comedy styles rely on situational humor rather than sparkling witticisms. With the globalization of movie markets, dialogue is simplified to make it more accessible to international audiences who aren’t interested in intricate wordplay or culture-specific references.

The drift away from verbal artistry is not confined to the movies. While hip-hop culture continues to thrive as a notable example of linguistic creativity and verbal expressiveness, other forms of verbal eloquence have also declined.

Take, for example, political discourse, which has grown coarser and less lofty and, in all too many cases, “has devolved into recycled propaganda, schoolyard trash talk and unhinged lunacy.” The reasons are obvious. The media prefers sound bites; informal language sounds more authentic; emotional appeals are prioritized over reasoned arguments. There’s also the demonization of political opponents and algorithms that promote controversial content.

Or take slang, which, I think it’s fair to say, has become less evocative, nuanced and expressive and more standardized and homogeneous. I find it striking that much of today’s slang—including terms like “based,” “bougie,” “cringe,” “dope,” “glam,” “glazed,” “mid,” “no cap” or “sus,” not to mention “cool”—was widely used 15, 25 and even 50 years ago.

In the past, every generation had its own distinctive argot. There was “bee’s knees,” “bull session,” “cat’s pajamas,” “heebie-jeebies,” “hooch,” “live wire,” “razz,” “scram,” “spiffy,” “spoon,” “wet blanket” and “whoopee” in the 1920s. The 1930s gave us “boondoggle,” “gobsmacked,” “low down,” “shake a leg,” “squat” and “wacky,” while the ’40s added “bobby soxer,” “broad” (for a woman), “chicken” (for a coward), “cold fish,” “dream boat,” “drip,” “eager beaver,” “queer,” “sugar daddy” and “teenager.” The 1950s beat scene introduced “daddio,” “drag,” “hip” and “square,” while the 1960s drug scene brought us “bogart,” “bummer,” “far out” and “fuzz.”

Every in-group, too, had its own slang. A distinct lingo offered insular groups, often at society’s margins, a distinct language and shared sense of meaning, differentiating them from others and offering a unique way to describe their distinct social reality.

Much American slang came from:

  • The jazz scene (including “baby,” “bad,” “blow,” “bread,” “cat,” “chick” and “chill”).
  • The criminal underworld (e.g., “bump off,” “dough,” “fall guy,” “moll,” “on the lam,” “pinch,” “rube” and “shiv”).
  • The drug scene (“dope,” “ganja,” “grass”).
  • The entertainment world (e.g. “cowabunga,” “hardy har har,” “hoofer,” “nimrod,” “red pill and blue pill,” “ribbit”).
  • The boxing world (including “backpedal,” “below the belt,” “bout,” “dive,” “glass jaw,” “haymaker,” “kisser,” “on the ropes” and “palooka”).

And especially from African American Vernacular English.

Slang requires a degree of insularity that no longer exists in today’s media culture that constantly searches for the next new thing. Terms like “memes” or “vibes” are stripped from their original context and brought into the mainstream, making it much more difficult for subcultures to develop a distinct vocabulary.

Also, in today’s digital environment, we rely heavily on emojis, emoticons and text-based acronyms to communicate:

  • FOMO: fear of missing out.
  • IDK: I don’t know.
  • IRL: in real life.
  • IMAO: in my arrogant opinion.
  • LOL: laughing out loud.
  • TBH: to be honest.
  • TIL: today I learned.
  • TL;DR: too long; didn’t read.
  • TMI: too much information.
  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯: whatever or doesn’t matter.

The most consequential recent example—“LMAO” for “laughing my ass off,” is the acronym that Columbia University’s dean of the undergraduate college used in an exchange of texts during a Columbia alumni discussion of Jewish life on campus.

To anyone who cares about rhetoric, oratory, discourse, vocabulary and style, what we have witnessed represents a genuine loss.

But there is an exception. Hip-hop is the one realm that does emphasize verbal expressiveness, wit, linguistic creativity, lyrical skills, rhyme, metaphor, wordplay, improvisation, clever comebacks and storytelling.

That’s not an accident. Hip-hop, which originated in marginalized urban communities during the 1970s, is a product of a long tradition of verbal jousting and insult humor within Black culture. Known as “the dozens,” wordplay, banter and repartee served as a form of entertainment, social bonding and a way to assert verbal dominance and resilience in the face of adversity. Storytelling through the spoken word and verbal battles served as a form of self-expression and empowerment and as a platform to express social commentary, critique societal issues and assert cultural identity.

In other words, interest in linguistic virtuosity and creativity has not disappeared, and that means that educators can potentially exploit that fascination. In a 2011 book, Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education, Sam Seidel, who taught in K-12 schools, community colleges and youth programs for former offenders, called on K-12 teachers to incorporate rap into the classroom.

Similar pleas are made in Teaching With Hip Hop in the 7-12 Grade Classroom by Lauren Kelly, Wesley Carter’s Teachin’ Niggas: The Challenges of the Multi-ethnic Hip Hop Phenomenon in the Classroom and Christopher Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood … and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education.

It’s noteworthy that these books are directed at K-12 teachers, not college instructors. Our classes, too, could benefit by integrating hip-hop culture into liberal arts courses. We, too, could create more inclusive learning environments that celebrate diversity and promote verbal expressiveness while better preparing our students to critically analyze contemporary cultural discourse.

I see nothing wrong with incorporating hip-hop music, lyrics and culture into discussions related to history, literature and sociology. By analyzing hip-hop lyrics as cultural texts and by examining their themes, metaphors and social commentary, we might be able to make education more culturally relevant to today’s students. Through discussions of linguistic techniques, wordplay and storytelling methods, we can also enhance students’ understanding of how language can be used creatively and persuasively. Hip-hop can also be used as a catalyst for discussions about portrayals of gender, politics, social inequalities and violence.

I’m well aware of the objections to bringing hip-hop into the classroom, particularly the dangers of pandering to students and the lyrics’ perceived crudeness, sexism and violence. The answer is the same for other forms of highly charged material.

  • Provide historical and cultural context. Examine the origins and evolution of hip-hop culture, drawing upon such texts as Tricia Rose’s Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America and The Hip Hop Wars and Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. Discuss how hip hop emerged as a form of artistic expression rooted in specific social and political realities.
  • Encourage critical analysis. Discuss how artists use provocative language and imagery to address social injustices, challenge stereotypes and express complex emotions. Highlight the diversity within hip-hop culture, including artists and songs that defy stereotypes and address social issues such as empowerment, community activism and resilience.
  • Encourage open dialogue and debate. Embolden students to voice objections while exploring differing viewpoints. Emphasize how studying hip-hop can empower students by validating their cultural identities and experiences and serve as a catalyst for self-reflection, empathy and understanding of diverse perspectives. Explore how mainstream media often sensationalizes negative aspects of hip-hop while overlooking its cultural and artistic contributions.

Eight years ago, my Inside Higher Ed colleague John Warner called Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood the most important work on pedagogy he had read in the preceding decade. That book called for “reality pedagogy” and “cogenerative dialogues” that connect academic content with students’ lived experiences and cultural backgrounds. By meeting students on their own cultural and emotional turf and making their everyday experiences visible in the classroom, “the students become ambassadors that help translate instructor goals into the culture of the classroom.”

Hip-hop can provide a bridge between the arts, history, literature, sociology and popular culture. It offers a way to break the barrier between the classroom and the hip-hop culture that many of our students inhabit in their everyday lives.

More than that, at a time when verbal and written eloquence and elegance are declining and when oral and written expression are increasingly dominated by brevity and informality, hip-hop offers a way not only to expose students to diverse cultural narratives but to cultivate their skills in word craft, metaphorical thinking and stylistic innovation and instill an appreciation for linguistic creativity, rhetorical flair and the power of words.

If we want to nurture artistry and style in writing and speaking, harness hip-hop.

Steven Mintz is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and the author, most recently, of The Learning-Centered University: Making College a More Developmental, Transformational and Equitable Experience.