Quotes transcend generations and reach many multitudes of people. A person reading a quote associates it with his/her circumstances and makes sense out of it. The circumstances could be based on their culture, race, their age, etc.
For example, in the Tamil movie industry, there is an actor named Rajnikanth. His fans have given him the accolade of being called the ‘Superstar’ of cinema. He is particularly known for his quotes in his movies for which the slang term is called ‘punch dialogue’.
One of his famous quotes from the movie Baasha is ‘naan oru thadava sonna nooru thadava sonna madhiri ‘ which translates to ‘If I say it one time, it is equivalent of saying it 100 times‘. This does not necessarily makes sense in itself, but the scenario behind this quote is where he is trying to stress that his word is final when it came to his decisions against the antagonist in the movie.
This movie was released in 1995 and it is still relevant at the time of writing this article, which is 2021. A near 16-year journey for this quote and has been used by humans of all caste and religions including kids, teenagers, middle-aged people, and even old people (my grandfather used it to be strict with me).
There are multiple factors that make this quote memorable and the same factors also apply to other quotes when you think about it. Few quotes have some of these factors and some others have all of them.
Factors behind how do quotes become memorable:
They evoke an emotion, a great person, or a film:
In avengers: end game movie, there is a cute exchange between Tony Stark (Iron Man) and his daughter. He says ‘I love you’ to his daughter after tucking her in, she responds by saying ‘I Love You 3000’. It is really cute as she is really young and 3000 is the biggest number she can think of. It evokes many emotions in me and at one point after the movie was released I saw it being used by couples all around me, in-person and virtual.
On the other hand, every time someone uses the quote ‘I’m gonna make him an offer he cannot refuse’ is an ode to the amazing movie, The Godfather.
And the list keeps going on and on. The point to remember here is that great quotes always evoke some sort of emotion or memory within us and that makes it stick.
They are portable:
Can a quote be used out of context? Can it be used in multiple different situations than the one that was being portrayed in the movie, or what the writer implied? If the answers to these questions are yes then it is on the path to becoming memorable (there are other factors as well, but this one is also important).
The famous quotes can be used in a multitude of similar situations. For example, the famous dialogue in ‘Top Gun’ involves the exchange between Goose and Maverick which goes ‘I feel the need for speed’ and they do the amazing hi5 thing.
That scene has a cult following and people all over the world have been addressing their friends in that way. They need not be getting ready for a race, it is just an ode to imply, ‘you, my friend. You are like Goose to me’.
This sort of portability has been portrayed by Tamil comedy legend Vadivelu. His dialogues and his voice modulations are so amazing that they can be used in numerous situations.
His evergreen quotes like ‘Kadupethrar-u my Lord’, ‘Aaniya pudinga venam’, ‘Why blood? Aaahn same blood, ‘Ippove kanna katudhey’, this list goes on and on.
All of these can be used in many everyday situations and almost the entire online Tamil meme community would not survive without Vadivelu and his content.
Here is a video compilation of his best quotes. It is completely in Tamil, if you do not understand the language then do watch it for his body language, even those are funny.
Not one day passes when a person speaking Tamil has not used a Vadivelu quote at least once.
They become proverbial as they age:
Before we get into this section, we must first get a clear understanding of what a proverb is.
A proverb is something that is told from someone to someone without the hope of getting anything back. There are no I’s or We’s in proverbs. It’s always a You or an implied You.Tamsen Webster
Our brain condenses most things into minimal form to help us remember them better. Along with time, our collective consciousness somehow reduces most dialogues or quotes to what sounds like a proverb.
For example, One of the most iconic lines in all of cinema is from Casablanca: “Play it again, Sam.” Except that that line isn’t actually in Casablanca. No, instead, Humphrey Bogart says, “Play it, Sam. For old time’s sake, play ‘As Time Goes By.’”
Another example is, the memorable quote from Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life you’ve imagined,” actually reads like this: he wrote, “I learned this, at least, by my experiment that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with the success unexpected in common hours.”
Having that proverb-like version gives the audience that mental hook onto which they can hang everything else. It’s really important for their memorability of your message.
Any quote that has a tendency to be made proverbial has a good chance of becoming memorable. While writing, do keep in mind this aspect if you wish to create a memorable quote. Along with time, people will naturally make a good quote like a proverb. So while writing, think of your best lines and think how it could become proverbial, this different point of view could help you.
This is indeed a factor in figuring out how do quotes become memorable.
They have a social glue effect:
What do I mean by social glue?
Social glue could be anything that binds a community together. It could be a concept, like how bitcoin has brought together millions of people, it could an issue, how ‘Black Lives Matter’ brought the world together against racism. In this sense, the social glue could even be a quote.
I have seen people become friends over reciting a quote together. Once, my friend saw a guy wearing a T-shirt with a graphic relating to the hit Showtime series, Billions.
My friend just points to it and says ‘What’s the point of having F*** you money, if you never say F*** you‘
They both started laughing and ended up having a few beers. Even when my friend asked if he needed a beer, the other guy goes ‘I am not uncertain’ and they both could relate to it.
This is probably not in the writer’s hands, it involves the director and the editor, and the characters more. But having the social glue effect on the back of your mind can help you in formulating scenes where the chances of a cult following could increase.
There are multiple factors that determine how do quotes become memorable or not. You cannot aim for your words to become memorable, there are too many outside factors in play as well. But keeping the above four scenarios/ factors in mind you could possibly increase your chances of making it have a cult following.
I have a podcast where I explore many amazing quotes that I enjoy and try to convey the actual meaning, the person who said it, intended behind those quotes. The podcast is in Tamil, but you can read the posts which are in English if you are interested. You can check out the Merkol Podcast.