Regina (played by Rachel McAdams): “Gretchen, stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen! It's not going to happen!”—Mean Girls (2004), screenplay by Tina Fey, based on the nonfiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence by Rosalind Wiseman, directed by Mark Waters
Ten years ago this past week, Mean Girls premiered. While some of the movie’s gains were ephemeral (notably, Lindsay Lohan’s status as an “It Girl”), it did confirm that Tina Fey’s writing talents extended further than Saturday Night Live skits. (Indeed, I have a hard time thinking of this as a “Mark Waters Film,” though proponents of the auteur theory of the director’s primacy would assuredly think of the movie in this way.)
Lindsay Lohan’s Cady comes from Africa, but that background prepares her in no way for the tribal customs of American teenagers. One of these mores depicted in this scene is the teen propensity to create slang. In this group, slang terms arise spontaneously, and in such plentitude as to make one wonder if each teen tries to create his or her own. That was certainly the case for the not-so-mean guys I hung around with nearly 40 years ago. Words like “run” and “chooch” became our own private language—fiercely used for a while, and now, I suspect, last employed so long ago by any of us that the usage might as well have been in another lifetime.
“Fetch” is Gretchen’s ill-starred attempt to replace “Cool.” My friends and our older siblings used an offshoot of this, “Cool it,” in urging someone to calm down. That phrase, such an example of hip slang in Plaza Suite, sounded utterly dated by 2000, when playwright Neil Simon wanted to fuse his 1968 comedy with successors California Suite and London Suite. By the millennium, he realized not only that the plays’ architecture needed to be reconfigured, but also their interior decoration—the one-liners that had set audiences roaring with laughter in the Sixties and early Seventies. And so, for his 2000 play Hotel Suite, “cool it” was dropped in favor of another term more contemporary, but, in tone, not unrelated: “Chill out.”
A retrospective on Mean Girls last week in The New York Times indicated that, despite the dictate of Queen Bee Regina, “fetch” has indeed “happened,” largely because of the film’s success. Let’s see where the usage stands in another 10 years.