May 20, 2012

What does the crowd say? Watermelon, cantaloupe, watermelon, cantaloupe...?

Or is it walla walla walla?
I saw a movie once, probably twenty years ago, in which one character is a Hollywood old-timer who's known in the biz as the World's Greatest Extra. Another character says, awestruck, "He invented the 'Courtroom Walla'!" It's explained that in courtroom dramas, when the verdict is announced, everyone in the courtroom softly says, "walla walla walla," creating a nice, low-level hum of excitement without anything really discernible in it.
Or are they just saying murmur....



Is the word "murmur" onomonopia? OED says:
Etymology: Partly < Middle French, French murmure indistinct expression of feeling by a number of people (c1170 in Old French), subdued expression of discontent (c1200), muted noise (c1230), sound of a light breeze (1555), respiratory murmur (1819 in passage translated in quot. 1821 at sense 5) < murmurer murmur v.; and partly < its ultimate etymon classical Latin murmur a low, continuous sound, a subdued or indistinct utterance, such an utterance indicative of anger or resentment, a reduplicated imitative formation....
The answer seems to be partly.

19 comments:

Scott said...

One crowd noise mantra that was used in the old days of radio was "and rhubarb". It rotates three very different phonemes and makes a nice babbly sound.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

'Murmer' might be a case of onomotopoeia, but there's a much better one from the ancient Greeks. It's the word 'barbarian', rooted in the meaningless ba-ba-ba that supposedly reflected their non-Greek languages.

And for crowd noises, nothing beats repeating 'huzzabuzza rutabaga'.

Saludos!

MayBee said...

Crowd noise is usually added and/or edited in post-production.
The extras are usually mouthing words.
When they do make noise that is meant to be picked up and used, it is heavily edited and often augmented.

Mitchell said...

Murmur was a pretty big deal when it came out.

Some people, less impressed than others, thought it a low-budget, art-school-pretentious ripoff of The Byrds.

Those people tended to be older.

Paddy O said...

I thought it was a courtroom burble?

edutcher said...

Not unlike faffling, that sound made by British character actors of a certain age and period (Charles Laughton, Sebastian Cabot) to denote an unwillingness to confront an unpleasant truth.

PS Nice looking little guy you have there, Paddy

chickelit said...

My trusty Duden Vol. 7 fills in blanks on the etymology of murmur. It recites (in part, my translation):

Murmeln: Attested since old High German times, the verb (middle High German murmeln, old High German murmulon) is onomatopoeic in origin and is elementally related for example with Lat. murmurare, murmeln; murren; rauschen, cf. Eng. murmur, and Greek. mormyrein.
___________________

No mention of the French. Odd those Germans, but they did invent modern etymology.

Mark O said...

Peas and carrots. Peas and carrots.

lewsar said...

i was taught that background human conversational noises on stage were created by "natter" and "grommish".

PatCA said...

You're right, MayBee. When they are recording dialogue of the principals, extras just mime.

Phil 3:14 said...

Attested since old High German times

Ahhh, those were the days, when those Prussian elders no longer worried about conquering nations, but instead, relaxed and smoked a blunt.

Indigo Red said...

Muskmelon.

rcommal said...

MarkO: That's what my high school's theatre advisor told us to do during crowd scenes in school plays. For some reason I can't recall, we sometimes thought it funny to say "wheeze and ferrets" and other weird variations.

Kids!

Unknown said...

"Walla" actually does have a few meanings in actual human languages. In Hindi it means "man" as in "rickshawalla" (pedicab man).

In Arabic and in Hebrew slang, it means like "there you go!" or "and see!" --- presumably an Arabic corruption of the French "voil`a!" ("behold!")

Larry J said...

I recall reading may years ago that during the days of radio dramas, when they wanted to simulate the sound of an angry crowd, they had the background speakers say "rhubard" repeatedly, out of synch. Here's a link discussing the idea.

cassandra lite said...

I spent one summer in the early 70s as a frequent extra. Every time I was in a crowd that was supposed to be expressing disappointment or unhappiness, we were told to repeat rhubarb. One time I said "shit" instead. The sound recorder picked it up so we had to retake the shot.

Michael said...

I was taught "rhubarb" and "peas and carrots" (which is probably where "wheeze and ferrets" came from.)

EMD said...

I would always lip-sync "watermelon" at concerts when I didn't know the words. Fooled all of the people all of the time.

Methadras said...

I have a very good friend who is a stage actress and my wife and I would go to see her plays from time to time. In a production of My Fair Lady, she was in the background and part of the chattering extras and after the play I asked her, so what are you guys really saying? She tells me that the are basically saying, Cantaloupe, Watermelon, Watermelon, Cantaloupe based on the scene. In other scenes she says they all agree on other singular words convey a general murmur to give off a crowd like sound.