Stop Teasing Me!

I read something online recently about the Star Wars UK Twitter account teasing an announcement about the next Star Wars film.

Using the verb to tease in this way is fairly new, and always interesting to me.

It’s not very different from how the verb to release has evolved. In specific grammatical terms though, to tease isn’t changing as much, because it’s still a transitive verb (i.e. it has to have an object – you always have to tease something). What’s changed though, is what that object is.

Previously, the object of the verb to tease was always in an unenviable position. If you teased somebody, it meant that you made fun of them. We still use it in that way of course, but we’ve also now begun to use it in this new way, to refer to an entertainment megacorporation hinting that they’re going to show us something nice.

There’s still teasing involved of course, so it’s a somewhat logical use of the word. It’s just that when we say Disney are teasing the new film, we mean that they’re teasing us about the new film.

I don’t really mind this shift in the use of the verb, though it still sounds off when I hear or see it, as my brain still expects the word tease to be followed by a word like us, or audiences. It’s a bit jarring, but because there’s at least still an object after the verb, it doesn’t sound as off as when to release is used without an object.

It’s an interesting case of how cultural changes affect language. One of the main reasons we’ve started using the verb in this way is simply that studios (and record companies, publishers etc.) have started teasing us about their upcoming releases to a much greater extent than before.

Before widespread access to the internet in the west, we had posters and trailers (which could only be seen in the cinema), and ads on TV shortly before a film’s release. And that was all the teasing we got.

But now it’s easier for entertainment producers to drip-feed us snippets of information, with trailers for trailers and cryptic tweets. And with the great increase in discussion and analysis of entertainment (and its associated media like trailers and posters), there’s a lot more demand for this kind of teasing.

So we now talk and write much more about these corporations teasing us. And maybe because saying something like Marvel Teases Us about New Villain in Upcoming Avengers Film is a bit too long, we write Marvel Teases New Villain in Upcoming Avengers Film. Or maybe, like with the verb to release, we use to tease in this way because we’d never really used the word much before. And how that we have cause to use it, we use it in a way that perhaps feels natural.

I wonder also if it’s an adoption of industry jargon, as we’re now much more knowledgeable about the inner workings of the entertainment industry. I’ve noticed this in how people now commonly use reveal (verb) as a noun, instead of revelation, e.g. Big Reveal of Episode IX Title Tomorrow!?

Of course part of this is simply the fact that reveal is shorter, but I think it also comes from screenplays. When a screenplay refers to a section of a film in which a shot changes to reveal something, it’s usually introduced like this:

Horrified teens look to camera right.

Cut to reveal:

Freddy Krueger, laughing maniacally. 

Now of course here what it really means is Horrified teens look towards the right of the screen, at something we can’t see. Then the camera cuts to reveal Freddy Krueger. But of course writing an entire screenplay like that would be basically writing a novel, when effectively a screenplay is a blueprint for the filmmakers, so abbreviation in this context makes sense.

But of course this specific style isolates the verb to reveal from its object (Freddy Krueger, in this case), making it less obvious that it’s a verb. So people then interpret cut to reveal as cut to the reveal, which is then, uh, revealed in the next line. And this is much more common, because we have access to so much more behind-the-scenes information, like the formatting of screenplays. For example, I follow a former Simpsons producer who regularly tweets photos of old scripts of deleted scenes. I follow him on Twitter I mean, not just… around.

Of course I’d prefer if people always said revelation, but again, I get why they use reveal instead.

These words are intriguing insights into the complex forces behind the shifts in language. It’s easy to complain about language evolving, and people not using words “properly” (oh it’s very easy!), but people never really decide to deliberately use words differently from how they’d been used previously. No-one ever say, Hey I’m going to start using this word as an intransitive verb, just to annoy some guy who writes about language online!

No. What happens is that culture changes, the world changes, the way we look at the world changes. And then language follows suit. You’re free to think that’s good or bad, but for me it’s just a natural, indifferent force that’s bigger than us all (that could be the title of the next Star Wars film), and that’s kind of comforting.

2 thoughts on “Stop Teasing Me!

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