Stinkin' Up The Place

In Eldest (young adult Star Wars/Lord of the Rings knockoff written by a dude who's, like, twelve), a character presents the possibilty of using barges to facilitate an escape, and someone says:

Barges? We don't need no stinking barges!

Man. The Sierra Madre (or, more likely, Blazing Saddles) reference is completely out of place in this elf/dwarf/dragon/magic fantasy epic. If the book were built upon quirky pop-culture references (Xanth, anyone?), OK. But it's not. This is not a funny tale.

"We don't need no stinkin'" this and that has been a popular phraseology for years, and this is not the first time I've thought about it. It's just the first time I've had a blog in which to think it through.

Google gives 174,000 hits for the phrase "We don't need no stinkin'". 142,000 for "We don't need no stinking". It gives only 14,800 hits for "We don't need no steenkin'", but that still seems impressive for a phonetically-spelled word. There are even over a thousand hits for "We don't need no steeenkin'".
People like this phrase.

Here's a look at Google's first ten hits for places that say they don't need no stinkin' something:

1. We don't need no stinkin' login!
2. Singelton? We don't need no stinkin' Singleton!
3. 401K? We don't need no stinkin' 401K!
4. Books? We don't nee no stinkin' books!
5. Training? We don't need no stinkin' training!"
6. Keyframes? We don't need no stinkin' keyframes!
7. Rules? I don't need no stinkin' rules!
8. We don't need no stinkin' stats!
9. We don't need no stinkin' love songs!
10. We don't need no stinkin' cookies!

The Stinking Badges Home Page is a pretty nifty catalog of references, a look at how this quote has permeated our culture. It also has as its first entry the actual quote, from the book and movie, which has been misquoted ever since.

While some use the structure "We don't need no stinkin' X" (X being whatever it is we need no stinkin' of), most retain the structure "X? We don't need no stinkin' X!", using X as a question before commenting on our need for X.

People who have time to make up names for this sort of thing call them "snowclones". The term refers to any adaptable cliché, where a word is replaced with a different word appropriate to the conversation at hand. For example:

To see, or not to see?

The name comes from the oft-repeated (and apparently erroneous) statement:
The Eskimos have __ words for for snow... (usually followed by something like "surely you can come up with __ words for ____.")

So. Why do we dig the "don't need no stinkin'" phrasing so much? Is it because it gives us an excuse to use poor grammar? Or the excuse to use an over-the-top accent typical of Mexican Bandits? We get to say "steenkin'", which is fun... shades of "friggin'", but with a touch of danger attached. But doesn't it get old? Probably not for deadline-pressed admen and headline writers.

I think there's a place to add this to a database of snowclones. I'll have to do that. Unless it's already there. In which case, I'm again late to the stinkin' party.


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Eric "Babe" Morse said...

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ACoolKid said...

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Eric "Babe" Morse said...

Holy cow.
That. Was. Awesome.

Erin said...

Hi Eric, I'm compiling a snowclones database. snowclones dot org, it's under construction, but since I saw you'd actually made reference to a db, I had to let you know. "we don't need no stinkin' X" has an entry now. [Most of the entries are hidden until I get some input from the Language Log guys.]