Columns > Published on July 15th, 2016

12 Grammar and Writing Tips from Archer

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

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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.

About the author

Taylor Houston is a genuine Word Nerd living in Portland, OR where she works as a technical writer for an engineering firm and volunteers on the planning committee for Wordstock, a local organization dedicated to writing education.

She holds a degree in Creative Writing and Spanish from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. In the English graduate program at Penn State, she taught college composition courses and hosted a poetry club for a group of high school writers.

While living in Seattle, Taylor started and taught a free writing class called Writer’s Cramp (see the website). She has also taught middle school Language Arts & Spanish, tutored college students, and mentored at several Seattle writing establishments such as Richard Hugo House. She’s presented on panels at Associated Writing Programs Conference and the Pennsylvania College English Conference and led writing groups in New York, Pennsylvania, and Colorado for writers of all ages & abilities. She loves to read, write, teach & debate the Oxford Comma with anyone who will stand still long enough.

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