Monday, October 24, 2011

Psych's Last Night Gus

On the latest episode of Psych, the main characters (Shawn and Gus) have the misfortune of finding themselves in a Hangover situation--they wake up one morning and can't remember anything that happened the night before.

As the episode unfolds (and as they figure out what happened the previous night), Shawn and Gus start doing something that is quite linguistically interesting. They talk about themselves in the third person and differentiate between "last night X" and "today X", like in the following examples:

  • Last night Gus had some serious game.
  • I just want to know what line last night Gus laid on her. I need last night Gus, Shawn.
  • Last night Shawn was all evolved and mature and not a commitment phobe. Today Shawn is very much a commitment phobe.
  • Last night Gus had it right.

Normally, when English speakers refer to something specific about last night or yesterday or last week, we use the possessive, as in last night’s game or last week’s show. In the examples above, though, the speakers do not use the typical X’s construction; instead, they use the bare NPs last night and today to modify their names and to differentiate between the person they were last night (i.e., the person they became while drugged) and the person they are normally (i.e., the person they are back to being today). In all of the examples above, the speaker is referring to himself; therefore, Gus is speaking about himself when he uses the phrase last night Gus and Shawn is speaking about himself when he uses the phrases last night Shawn and today Shawn.

It is more typical to find utterances like these with a first-person pronoun, like in the future me will be happier or the old me was uptight. But it somehow makes it funnier that they use the third person to refer to themselves instead of using last night me or today me in these utterances. Even not considering the pronoun versus third person referent, it’s interesting that they use a specific date for the construction, since this construction is normally found with a more general time frame like the future you or the young me. We normally don’t attach specifics like last night and today. Then again, in this situation, it’s appropriate to attach specifics since last night Gus is not another way of saying the old Gus--Gus recognizes that he doesn’t typically “have game.” The only version of himself that has game is the one who was drugged the night before.

Juliet, another character, does use a first person pronoun when referring to another version of herself and Shawn in the future:

I don't want the future us to be dictated by something that last night Shawn said.

She is the only person to use the phrases last night Shawn and today Shawn other than Shawn himself. There is a difference in meaning by what she says here than what she would have been saying had she said, “by something you said last night.” She is recognizing that last night Shawn is not who Shawn normally is; if she had used “you said last night” instead, she would have been implying that who Shawn was last night is the same person he is today. In most cases, that would be a perfectly normal assumption; in very few cases do we change personalities overnight. It’s all very metalinguistic.

In another instance, Shawn uses you in another interesting way when he tells Lassiter (another character) to:

take a swim in lake you.

This example differs from the ones above because it draws a parallel between names like Lake Erie or Lake Watonga and replaces the end with a pronoun to refer to the metaphorical "lake of Lassiter-ness." I can't think of many more examples like this--if you can, please let me know.

And the following is a fun, yet unrelated, example:

...only younger and cuter and less murderer-y.

Shawn uses the above phrase to describe how a girl who grows up to be a murderer looks in an old picture.

Along with Modern Family, Psych is one of my favorite shows for language play--many episodes have Shawn making new words like murderery and shenanigan for the viewers’ entertainment.

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