12 Grammar and Writing Tips from Archer

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If I were having a dinner party, and I could invite anyone I wanted, I would totally invite Adam Reed, the creator and writer of the made-for-adults cartoon show, Archer.

The show is a spy spoof starring the spoiled and over-sexed Bond-esque Sterling Archer; his hard drinking mother/boss of the spy operation where he works, Malory Archer; his sometime girlfriend and co-spy, Lana; his crazy coworkers—Pam (drug-addicted, utterly inappropriate HR Manager), Cheryl (rich but completely insane secretary/country music pop star), Ray (gay former spy-cum-cyborg), Krieger (insane doctor/mad scientist/murderer), and Cyril (pathetic accountant in love with Lana). If you want more details, go read this, and then come back.

While I fed Adam a feast of hot dogs with mac & cheese (‘cause that’s what we call dinner in the Houston house), I’d ask him how he comes up with the many, many literary-minded lines he write for his characters.

The show is funny, sexy, and violent, of course, but, I am most turned on by the—youguessedit, grammar! Adam Reed is a Word Nerd’s wet dream. (*Sploosh.) Line after line after line of witty repartee around words, grammar, syntax, parts of speech, literary devices, allusions, vocabulary, metaphors…hold on…[fanning self]...Okay, I’m back. There is so much writing and grammar content jammed into the script that watching a season of Archer should count for college credit. Watch all 7 seasons, and you should earn a Major.  

For your pleasure (and mine), I’ve collected 12 Grammar and Writing Tips from the scripts of Archer. Enjoy. 

1. Who vs. Whom

Riley: "Archer! What a coincidence, I was just talkin' about ya."
Archer: "Yeah, with who? Because that buck-toothed little shit doesn't even speak English!"
Bucky: "I do little bit."
Archer: "No, you don't."
Bucky: "And correct syntax is 'with whom.'"

This is like O. Henry and Alanis Morissette had a baby, and named it this exact situation!

- Season 3, Episode 2: “Heart of Archness: Part II”, 9/22/11

2. Creating Verbs 

Lana: What the hell are you doing?
Archer: I’m Archerizing this plan!
Lana: What? No, no, uh-uh, you cannot make yourself a verb. I will not allow it.
Archer: I’m a verb now, Lana, deal with it. And then also cover me, please.

-Season 6, Episode 2: “Three to Tango”, 1/15/15

3. Italics

Krieger: I’m not a serial killer.
Archer: Wait, why’d you emphasize “serial”?

-Season 3, Episode 11: “Skin Game”, 3/8/12

4. Portmanteaus

Archer: I’m not saying I invented the turtleneck, but I was the first person to realize its potential as a tactical garment. The tactical turtleneck! The… tactleneck.

-Season 1, Episode 8: “The Rock”, 3/4/10

5. Puns

Slater: So I saw you coming on to Archer. I was just gonna tell you he’s had the clap so many times, it’s more like applause.

-Season 6, Episode 13: “Drastic Voyage: Part II”, 4/2/15

6. Metaphors (mixed and straight-up)

Malory: Kick it right through the basket for a home run.

-Season 6, Episode 2: “Three to Tango”, 1/15/15

 

[Archer and Cyborg-Katya are in bed. Cyborg-Katya's eyes are glowing red]

Archer: Can you close your eyes? It feels like I'm banging tail-lights on a country road.

-Season 3, Episode 11: “Skin Game”, 3/8/12

 

[Pam and Cheryl are looking at pictures of Burt Reynolds online]

Pam: I swear to god, you could drown a toddler in my panties right now! … Not that you would.

- Season 3, Episode 4: “The Man from Jupiter”, 1/19/12

7. Etymology

Lana: "I just traveled eight thousand miles and got shanghaied by Malaysian pirates trying to rescue a person who is now responsible for my getting crabs twice!
Archer: "Oh, come on! These crabs, this time, were not my fault. This whole dungeon is, um...."
Ray: "Were you gonna say 'lousy with them?'"
Archer: "I was, but then I realized that's, uh..."
Riley: "Where that phrase comes from? Yeah."

- Season 3, Episode 3: “Heart of Archness: Part III”, 9/29/11

8. Expanding Your Vocabulary

Noah: Can I just run up to my hovel real quick and get the only extant copy of my dissertation?
Archer: Noah, I've still got four bullets.
Noah: Oh God! Do you know what 'extant' means?!
Archer: Do you know what 'License to kill' means?
Noah:… I'll write another one.
Archer: The world holds its breath.

- Season 3, Episode 3: “Heart of Archness: Part III”, 9/29/11

 

Randy: Do you want to have sex with my wife?
Archer: No! I... I swear, this was just an extremely unlikely mishap with the barbed wire.
Randy: Because we would be amenable to that. Well? Why do you look so nonplussed?
Archer: Because I wasn't sure if you knew what "amenable" actually meant, until you followed it up with "nonplussed."

- Season 3, Episode 9: “Bloody Ferlin”, 2/23/12

9. The many uses of Literally

Malory: I am literally going to kill him.
Ray: Well, figurative —
Malory: Literally! I’ll lure him to my condo in Miami, drug his steak au poivre, drive him out to the Everglades, slather him with rancid chicken fat, and then toss him to the gators!
Ray: Pretty specific for a hypothetical…
Malory: Oh, he is going to pay for this. Literally.

-Season 4, Episode 9 “The Honeymooners”, 3/14/13

Archer: He literally stabbed me in the back!
Slater: Because you jeopardized his mission.
Lana: What mission? To sell classified military technology to the Chinese?
Slater: Phony technology we wanted China to have. They've been chasing their tails on the whisper drive for years.
Lana: Oh.
Archer: "Oh"?
Malory: I knew it. In my heart of hearts, I knew he was one of good guys.
Archer: Literally! The back! Stabbed it!
Slater: Well, but then you people ripped off his hands, so...
Archer: After he literally stabbed me! In the back!
Malory: Oh, give it a rest, Sterling. I'm sure you did something to deserve it.
Archer: What-?
Malory: But now you have a chance to right that wrong, which is a rare thing.
Slater: About as rare as getting called up to the majors from single-A ball, which is...
Lana: Hey!
Malory: Lana! I'm sure that was a sports analogy meant to be cutting, but we will take the mission, won't we, Sterling?
Archer: Huh? Yeah. Oh, sorry. I- It's just, I-I'm worried my entire life I've been misusing the word "literally"!
[intercom beeps]
Cheryl: [distorted] And certainly over using.

-Season 6, Episode 2: “Three to Tango”, 1/15/15

 

Malory: What is this? Christmas? And is Krieger... Hard at work?
Archer: He literally might be, yes.
Lana: Ew.

-Season 3, Episode 8: “Lo Scandalo”, 2/16/12

 

10. Identifying Literary Devices

Archer: I've always wanted to fight on top of a moving train.
Bilko: Well, if I know my boys, you might get your chance, big guy.
Archer: Thanks, Freddy Foreshadowing.

-Season 3, Episode 6: “The Limited”, 2/2/12

 

Malory: It was a NATO stay-behind set up to counter a possible Soviet invasion of Western Europe.
Lana: But then it sort of turned into this whole weird crypto-fascist CIA shitshow, starring Allen Dulles and a bunch of former Nazis.
Malory: Thanks, Holly Hindsight.

-Season 3, Episode 8: “Lo Scandalo”, 2/16/12

 

Cyril: I'm not sure that's technically irony.
Archer: This is like O. Henry and Alanis Morissette had a baby, and named it this exact situation!

-Season 1, Episode 2: “Training Day”, 1/14/10

 

11. Literary Allusions

Major Jackov: Et tu, Brute?!
Barry: Et me, buddy.

-Season 3, Episode 10: “Crossing Over”, 3/1/12

 

Malory: Sterling, no! You're not well. What are you going to do?
Archer: Cry havoc and let slip the hogs of war!
Lana: Dogs of war...
Archer: Whatever farm animal of war, Lana! Shut up!

-Season 2, Episode 9: “Placebo Effect”, 2/24/11

 

Lana: If you want to know why Archer is Archer, you need to go back in time and have a threesome with Oedipus and Sigmund Freud!

-Season 3, Episode 11: “Skin Game”, 3/8/12

12. Double Entendre & Innuendo (a.k.a. “phrasing”)

Lana: Are you coming?
Archer: No, but I’m breathing fast.

-Season 4, Episode 10: “Un Chien Tangerine”, 3/21/13

 

Malory: (arguing over the phone) You wanna play me hard? 
Archer: Phrasing. 
Malory: Well, then, you better nut up! 
Archer: Phrasing! 
Malory: Because I've swallowed just about all I'm going to take from you! 
Archer: Hey! Phrasing!

-Season 1, Episode 8: “The Rock”, 3/4/10

 

Cheryl: Goddamn it! Who the hell drilled my box?!
Archer: So, we’re just done with phrasing, right? That’s not a thing anymore?

-Season 5, Episode 10: “Palace Intrigue, Part I”, 3/31/14


Ok, word nerds, go clean yourself off.

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Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, Judy Greer
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
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Taylor Houston

Column by Taylor Houston

Taylor Houston is a genuine Word Nerd living in Portland, OR where she works as a technical writer and volunteers on the marketing committee for Wordstock, a local organization dedicated to writing education. She has a BA in Creative Writing and Spanish from Hamilton College and attended Penn State's MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. She has taught writing at all levels from middle school to college to adult, and she is the creator of Writer’s Cramp, a class for adults who just want to write!

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Comments

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel July 15, 2016 - 7:28am

Brilliant!

You too, Taylor.

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'Alexander Hamilton' by Ron Chernow July 15, 2016 - 7:41am

Immago take a shower...

Bret Fowler's picture
Bret Fowler July 15, 2016 - 10:29am

*boop*

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson July 15, 2016 - 11:20am

Archer rules.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words July 15, 2016 - 12:11pm

"For god's sake, read a book!"

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 15, 2016 - 12:42pm

Phrasing!

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 15, 2016 - 1:59pm

May I add connotation and nuance:

Archer: "Oh my god! You killed a hooker!"

Cyrill: "Call girl! She was a--"

Archer: "No, Cyrill! When they're dead, they're just hookers!"

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'Alexander Hamilton' by Ron Chernow July 15, 2016 - 2:30pm

Yes, Josh! That, too. I could have made this article really long--there are so many awesome examples--but I had to stop somewhere!

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words July 15, 2016 - 3:11pm

"Do you even know what an idiom is?"
"Colloquial metaphor?"

"Wh- yes, but..."

Bret Fowler's picture
Bret Fowler July 15, 2016 - 6:00pm

Skorpio: Not as much as I love chocolate. So you, Malaka, bring plenty of it, yes?

Archer: I would prefer not to? 

*guns cock*

Archer: Bartleby the Scrivener? Anybody? Not a big Melville crowd here, huh? Ah, yeah, it's not an easy read. 

Bret Fowler's picture
Bret Fowler July 15, 2016 - 6:18pm

Damn, so many from just that episode. Plus, a new one!

Eroticized Grammar:

Cheryl/Carol: Just ask his slutty Mexican cook. 

Pam: Oh my God, yes! We should call her! Because I would literally murder somebody for some migas right now. 

Krieger:Every single noun and verb in that sentence totally arouses me. 

Pam: And I'm so open to that. 

Basil R. Lee's picture
Basil R. Lee July 16, 2016 - 2:12pm

Really expecting to see this exchange here, my favourite esoteric literary reference from the show.

Sterling Archer: Oh, my god! You killed a hooker!
Cyril Figgis: Call girl!
Sterling Archer: No, Cyril!
Cyril Figgis: She was a call...
Sterling Archer: When they're dead, they're just hookers. God, I said the cap on the poison pen slips off for no reason, didn't I?
Cyril Figgis: But i just assumed that if anything bad happened...
Sterling Archer: No, do not say the Chekhov gun, Cyril. That, sir, is a facile argument.
Woodhouse: And also woefully esoteric.

I love that there was literally a "Chekhov gun", AND that there was a Chekhov's Gun foreshadowing, but it wasn't the gun. The needle fit the bill though. :)

Bill Fernhill's picture
Bill Fernhill July 16, 2016 - 8:15pm

Sploosh.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 19, 2016 - 6:00pm

^how'd i forget about that one?

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 22, 2016 - 2:52pm

Make this a column! 

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'Alexander Hamilton' by Ron Chernow July 23, 2016 - 7:23pm

Dwayne! That would be awesome. I'd love doing the research for that. :)

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 25, 2016 - 12:25pm

I think it could work. You could expand each of these out and have your first year's material right there. Work in a month on world building (Archer seems to be an alternative history right) if that is your thing. 

Irene Fenswick's picture
Irene Fenswick August 21, 2016 - 11:50am

Unbelievable! Cool job, Taylor! I really liked it. Such an excellent example of creating a nice mixture of TV show and the great script. Who knew that grammar and writing tricks could be a perfect adding to adventures of the agent.