Language

Biopics and wannabes

Biopic and wannabe are two words I came across many times in newspapers and magazines without knowing what they meant, and without any immediate way of looking them up. These days online dictionaries and other resources make it easy to look up any word but it was different in the 1980s. Back then you’d come across the word “biopic” in the film sections of London magazines like Time Out and City Limits. If you were on a bus or a train there was no way of checking any word, and our 60 year old Funk & Wagnall’s dictionary at home wouldn’t have included the word “biopic”. (I remember checking the word “plastic” one time. It was only included as an adjective and not as a noun.) At first I read biopic as “bi-opic”, thinking maybe it referred to a movie in two parts, before working out from the context that it was “bio-pic”, short for “biographical picture”. It became clear when reading about “Raging Bull”, a biopic about the life of Jake LaMotta, and the word came to mind again this week when watching “Love and Mercy”, the story of Beach Boy Brian Wilson. It’s good; I’ll write about it separately. If the word had been hyphenated (“bio-pic”) I might have worked out its meaning sooner.

Wannabe was another word that I first encountered in print rather than speech and assumed it rhymed with babe – wonn-abe. If it had come up in conversation I’d have known that it’s a slang pronunciation for “want to be”, as in “wannabe pop-star”, but I wouldn’t have known how it was spelt. At some point it leapt out at me – wannabe, of course. 20 years ago “Wannabe” was the title of the first Spice Girls single, containing this advice in its chorus: “If you wannabe my lover / you gotta get with my friends”. One of my family had misheard it and, ten years later, was still singing “If you wannabe my lover / you gotta get rid of my friends”. Well, that would work too I suppose.

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