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Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Posted by ESC on June 04, 2000

In Reply to: Meanwhile, back at the ranch posted by ESC on June 04, 2000

: : I've been trying to find out where the phrase 'Meanwhile back at the ranch' originated. I posted this on a discussion group forum and I've received several theories, ranging from western novels to silent movie captions, but no-one really seems to know the answer. Any suggestions?

: : Love

: : Valda Lance

: The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on Files, New York, 1997) says: "meanwhile, back at the ranch. An expression that originated as a movie caption in the silent film era at the beginning of the century, these words are used humorously today when someone wants to get back to a story after going off on a tangent."

From Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982): "Subtitles. Silent films required some dialogue or explanatory words, which beginning around 1907, appeared on separate frames at appropriate places in the story. These were called captions until around 1913, then were called 'screen titles' or 'subtitles.'.Before 1913 they were not even written for individual movies but were often taken from a limited supply of stock rolls, so that certain subtitles were used over and over as, 'That night,' 'A year has passed,' and 'Wedding bells.' At least two of these stock subtitles from silent films entered the general language as cliches and are still in use: 'Comes the dawn' (originally written to be used literally) and 'Meanwhile, back at the ranch'.The nickelodeon could also use such stock frames to make announcements to the audience, the best-remembered such line, thrown upon the screen before the movie started, being: 'Ladies, we like your hats, but please remove them, with the men being advised: 'You would not spit on the floor at home. Do not do it here.' "

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