The Chronicle's pop culture writer, Peter Hartlaub, did an amusing piece the other day about memorable movie taglines. Perhaps the most enduring -- and irritating -- tagline Hartlaub wrote about is from the 1986 sequel to Poltergeist. You all know it: "They're back." (The static written phrase doesn't adequately capture the high-pitched, sing-song voice of the little girl in the movie. It's more like, "They're baaaack.")
While few people can remember the plot of Poltergeist II, few can forget the friggin' tagline. That's because for the past twodecades newspaper hacks have been recycling the stale catch phrase when describing the return to the spotlight of a celebrity, politician, pet or genital wart. Go to Google News right now and type in the phrase "baaaack" and see for yourself -- babies still got baaaack in their copy to this day. (Sometimes writers use more vowels, but I'd say four or five A's is the industry standard when appropriating the Poltergeist II tagline. Chron columnist Jon Carroll once used 10 A's!)
Hartlaub gave the Poltergeist II slogan its due - you can't argue with its staying power - but he also wisely suggested a new journalism rule: "Every time a lazy columnist, blogger or editor in the American media uses a variation of 'They're ba-aaack,' he or she gets a week's suspension without pay."
Somebody better go tell Chronicle political gossips Phil Matier and Andy Ross about this new rule because they've been flogging that stupid tagline forever.
Here, for instance, is a garden-variety usage of "baaaack" in a 2004 Matier & Ross item about Carole Migden.
But M&R don't just go for the typical 4-A baaaack constructions. More often than not, they slightly tweak this well-worn cliché to really make it their own. How do they achieve this writing magnificence? By stressing the vowels in the pronoun instead of in the word "back."
To prove they're not sexists, M&R employ a bastardized version of the feminine pronoun in this 1996 piece about former Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver.
This appeared in a March 2006 story about FBI agents interviewing members of the Oakland City Council in connection with an ongoing corruption probe.
That last one was the most recent infraction I could find, although this July 2008 item about Tony Hall comes close. Thing is, it just says, "He's back," without any gratuitous vowels added. The gratuitous vowels make all the difference. Maybe the boys have seen the light -- although if they've seen the original Poltergeist movie, they should know to stay away from the light.