Sharks are usually viewed as dangerous and cunning, but in honor of Shark Week, we explore some of the more silly phrases about sharks.
Some of you might know that this is Shark Week, brainchild of the very clever marketing folks at the Discovery Channel.
This is Discovery’s 30th year of hosting Shark Week, and in honor of that milestone, we decided to talk about some funky phrases about sharks, and bonus: All of these have their origin in television.
Put on your wetsuit, and here we go.
Jumping the Shark
Let’s start with a classic: “jumping the shark.” This phrase was first used to describe the moment a TV show had clearly run out of ideas and resorted to cheap stunts to get viewers. You might assume the phrase is metaphorical, but it refers to an actual episode of the sitcom “Happy Days,” which ran from 1974 to 1984.
In one infamous episode, the entire cast takes a trip to California. In a drawn-out beach scene, the character “Fonzie” is water-skiing—wearing a leather jacket, of course—and jumps over a shark.
The expression has become ubiquitous over the years. Its meaning has broadened to refer to just about anything—from a politician to a restaurant franchise—that has reached its peak and fails miserably in its efforts to remain relevant.
For example, a recent article discussed how the breakfast chain IHOP (International House of Pancakes) changed its name to IHOB—then revealed that it was just a stunt to promote its burgers. Get it? Because burgers start with “b”? The author of the article asked, “have branded PR stunts jumped the shark?”
In other words, are they resorting to gimmicks in a desperate attempt to sell product? I don’t know the answer to that, but it sounds likely.
"Voodoo shark" is a lesser-known term that also has roots in pop culture. It refers to a failed attempt to fill a plot hole in a narrative. Its origins lie in “Jaws: The Revenge”—a movie so bad it killed the popular “Jaws” franchise and earned a zero percent rating on the movie-review website Rotten Tomatoes.
In the film, a shark is somehow able to locate and seek revenge on the family of its nemesis, Sheriff Martin Brody. No explanation is offered as to how, exactly, the shark acquired these superpowers.
A follow-up novelization of the movie tried to fill this gaping plot hole. It explained that the shark was under a voodoo curse. However, the author never bothered to mention by whom, how, or even why this curse was made.
Henceforth, the term “voodoo shark” has referred to a weak explanation that creates more questions than it answers.
A good example is “midi-chlorians” in the Star Wars franchise. These tiny organisms were introduced into the world in “The Phantom Menace,” the often reviled fourth movie in the series. The movie tried to explain how the Force works by pointing to midi-chlorians, tiny organisms that supposedly live in the cells of all life forms. Apparently, they are what enable Jedi warriors to channel the Force.
But this explanation introduced more questions than it answered. How exactly do midi-chlorians interact with the Force? Why do some people have more than others? And are there special midi-chlorians that connect to the Dark Side?
And so forth and so on. Midi-chlorians are a voodoo shark.