"We're all doomed!"
It's the classic catchphrase uttered by Private Frazer in Dad's Army. We've all repeated it, (admittedly with varying degrees of accent authenticity), and many of us can still hear the original echoing inside our heads, thanks to the genius of actor John Laurie and the continuous BBC repeats.
Actually, according to Wikipedia, the original phrase was simply:
Maybe he said it both ways, in different episodes. Who knows? Someone knows I'm sure.
And they have no doubt dedicated a whole website and chat forum to it.
Correctly or not, on the grapevine of playground chatter - social small talk and pub banter - over the last 40 years or so, some of us have introduced an "all".
Maybe not all of us do the "all". I'm sure there are plenty of serious Dad's Army fans and comedy boffins out there who will claim proudly that they have never made such a ridiculous error - but I'll have to confess - I've done it myself.
I've used the "all". I don't mind admitting it. It's not as bad as the horrendous pop culture slip-up a friend once made. Back in the 1980's, she thought Fun Boy Three's Our Lips Are Sealed was called Island of Seals - and she even sang it out loud - in public. Oh the shame of it.
My point is - correctly repeated or not - "We're all doomed!" has become something far more than just a repeated moment of British sitcom glory. It has become a social tool, and a significant one at that, particularly in moments of conversational awkwardness and day to day feelings of depression.
I would guess that it is being well used right now, in the current climate of economic gloom and global catastrophe.
If you happen, as I often do, to start one of those unfortunate conversations about the news headlines and then get a bit bogged down in the grimness of it all - the impending global economic meltdown, World War III and the BBC's cancelling of Shooting Stars - then Frazer's catchphrase is the stock get-out.
At some point in the conversation, (preferably before you've reached the point where one of you decides to jump out of the nearest window, or climb into the bath holding the toaster), it has thankfully become accepted that one of you will open your eyes wide, arch your eyebrows and say in a high pitched, cod Scottish accent "We're all doomed!".
Polite laughter follows. Mood lifted. Job done. End of topical news conversation. Now you can get back to talking about proper stuff, like shoes and haircuts.
It's no big revelation I know. Every day we use repeated social codes, behaviour patterns and old clichés to avoid acknowledging the fragile and futile nature of our own existence. Frazer's catchphrase, though, is one of my favourites and I don't think I'll ever tire of it. The fact that it has become a repeated cliché kind of makes it all the more fun.
We all know it's coming in a conversation. Sometimes we even say it together in crazy comedy harmony. It's a cosy mutual friend and an emotional shield to protect us from the scary, hooded figure in the corner of the room, pointing a bony figure at us and waiving a scythe.
Some days, the final day of our doomed-nation feels like it's already upon us. You watch the news on TV and it feels like the world is spinning out of control, faster and faster. If you're from my generation, the over repeated words of another Scottish TV character might come to mind.
"Cap'n! The engines cannae' take it any longer".
Scotty from Star Trek warning Captain Kirk from the engine room of the Starship Enterprise that the ship is about to explode.
Or maybe you just get a bit grumpy at the pointless stupidly of it all, and merely mutter, again in a Scottish accent like Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave:
"I don't believe it"
(Begin Media Studies essay on The Use of Dour Scottish Stereotypes in British Comedy.)
In that simple, darkly comic phrase, Frazer was telling those around him that they were heading for an untimely and unhappy end. Inevitable destruction and ruin. Judgement Day. And we laughed.
When we repeat the same phrase we use it to mask our fear of the unthinkable. Our sense of helplessness in the face of calamity. And we laugh.
Thank Frazer for that.
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