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What’s All the Mumble About? An Exploration of Hollywood’s New Favorite Word

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If you’ve tuned into entertainment news lately, a curious word may have caught your ear: mumblecore. It’s surfaced recently surrounding the release of Drinking Buddies, a romantic comedy starring Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson. The term was rumored to have been coined in jest by a sound editor in 2005, but the construct has demonstrated considerable lasting power, canonized in New York Times articles such as “A Generation Finds Its Mumble” from 2007 and more recently in reference to Drinking Buddies, “Mumblecore Masters, Enunciating Clearly.” Today, we’re going to explore the components and evolution of this buzzword.

The term refers to a genre of film or television characterized by naturalistic dialogue, small budgets, relatively unknown actors, and seemingly low-stakes plots focused on slight shifts in interpersonal relationships. The first part of the compound, mumble, means to speak in a low indistinct manner, almost to an unintelligible extent. The mumble in mumblecore might be a reference to low production values that sometimes resulted in poorer sound quality of these films—especially considering the term was coined by a sound editor—but paired with the –core suffix, the mumble hints at more.

The suffix -core, is extracted from the phrase hard core, which emerged in the 1930s meaning “an irreducible nucleus or residuum; also a stubborn or unyielding minority.” In the late 1970s, hardcore came to describe a subgenre of punk music that was heavier and faster than the first wave of punk. Since then,–core seems to have gobbled up a “stubborn or unyielding minority” sense and claimed it all its own as it has branched out and now forms words that name a rebellious, anti-mainstream lifestyle, social movement, type of music, or in this case, genre of film. Grindcore, emocore, queercore, and nerdcore are just of a few -core words that have emerged since punk popularized this power-packed suffix.

The rebellious, anti-mainstream element embedded in the -core suffix is particularly fascinating, and reveals mumblecore, and all -core words, as a reactionary term. The rebellious thread shared among films and TV shows that fall into the mumblecore category seems to be against the glossy, inflated, and formulaic form of storytelling that has dominated big-budget filmmaking. Contrasted against this narrative style, the meandering mumble of mumblecore gains new significance, signaling a form of storytelling that elevates those seemingly mundane, unintelligible moments that make up life.

What new –core coinages have you heard recently?

19 Comments

  1. NathanBlack -  October 16, 2013 - 8:12 am

    Are bands that imitate the style of The Beatles called Applecore?

    Reply
  2. ChadDISC -  October 11, 2013 - 7:59 am

    @pippi – I think you started a good debate, but in the end I agree with the author. Reactionary can have the connotation of conservative, but it still means rebellious. Such as the person working against current trends to liberal views, who wants to revert to earlier standards. In this article, the directors could be seen as reacting against hi-gloss Hollywood films, and wanting to return to simpler, conservative cinema.

    So the word may not have carried all of that weight, but I think it was an apt adjective for this use.

    Cheers-

    Reply
  3. pippi Longgstocking -  October 11, 2013 - 6:16 am

    If I am not mistaken you misused the word “reactionary”–

    “The rebellious, anti-mainstream element embedded in the -core suffix is particularly fascinating, and reveals mumblecore, and all -core words, as a reactionary term”

    the word reactionary means just the opposite of rebellious, and anti-mainstream–in fact means conservative and staid…you might
    have meant to use the word “reactive”?

    shame on you –words are your business, n’est ce pas?

    Reply
  4. sitflyr -  October 9, 2013 - 6:17 am

    “Sons of Anarchy” employs mumblecore to a degree that incites an urge to throw one’s shoe at the television.

    Reply
  5. Nidnat Mystedin -  October 8, 2013 - 6:29 am

    Imagocore: (noun, [C]) the central character, figure, image of something.

    *new*

    Reply
  6. Sara -  September 26, 2013 - 2:22 pm

    Would Derek (on Netflix) be considered mumblecore?

    Reply
  7. Ryan -  September 25, 2013 - 2:20 pm

    Medio-core.

    Reply
  8. Fred Malan -  September 25, 2013 - 5:03 am

    What about the iPod / iPad / iPhone fanatics’ idolization of the manufacturer?

    Reply
  9. en jay -  September 23, 2013 - 10:03 pm

    core- “the soul within”

    Reply
  10. lolpunx -  September 23, 2013 - 5:16 pm

    ‘Crabcore”. Please don’t listen to it. It’s objectively awful.

    Reply
  11. portia -  September 23, 2013 - 2:14 am

    Have you taken into account that the fact that it rhymes with Dumbledore, a Harry Potter character, may also have something to do with the creation of this blend word?.

    Reply
  12. Robert Rowland -  September 22, 2013 - 9:01 pm

    “Mumblecore” is nothing new: Bogart. James Dean. 1988 Granada Productions version for t.v., of Len Deighton’s “Game, Set, Match” miniseries in the UK and later on PBS– that latter is the standard-setter for Mumblecore complete with “espionage-groupies/spy soap-opera” and POOR sound quality over English, German, and Russian dialog. (Critically acclaimed but a ratings-disaster, it was one of Ian Holm’s finest performances).

    Reply
  13. sefa -  September 21, 2013 - 4:28 am

    thanks

    Reply
  14. rheik -  September 21, 2013 - 3:09 am

    So what TV shows are mumblecore? give some examples, guy !

    Reply
  15. seema -  September 20, 2013 - 9:48 pm

    I want a dictionary

    Reply

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