Can We Talk About Avatar's Weirdly Dated Slang for a Minute?

Several months ago, well before I'd seen Avatar, I argued that James Cameron was underrated as a dialogue writer. Sure, there were a few corny lines in Titanic, but there were plenty of justly famous ones, too -- in fact, Cameron's whole writing career is studded with now-iconic bits of dialogue, from "Hasta la vista, baby," to "Get away from her, you bitch!"

One thing I was surprised to find when I saw Avatar, then, is a lack of big money lines (and what few could have been are garbled by lead Sam Worthington). Worse, though, is the preponderance of truly dated slang that rings such a discordant note in the otherwise persuasively imagined future. I can believe James Cameron when he says this film took so many years to make, because I'm pretty sure he hasn't touched the screenplay since he wrote it while listening to Spin Doctors in the mall in 1995.

I know that things that were once cool can be cool once again, but I have trouble swallowing that in the year 2154, Jake Sully would taunt a toothy Pandoran beast by yelling, "Who's bad?" Still, perhaps it's a character clue that would explain why Sully gives Dr. Grace Augustine her due by asking the passe rhetorical question, "Who's the man, Doc?" or why he utters "Crap!" when things get rough. The worst slur someone hurls in this film? Calling another character "numbnuts." I'm pretty sure that in the sequel to Avatar, the Na'vi will have invented jams and slap bracelets and find the U.S. military "truly bogus."

On the one hand, the fact that this jarringly dated slang made it to the screen is revealing. It just goes to show you that you do not question James Cameron, even if you're Sigourney Weaver, you have a 20-year-old daughter, and you're pretty sure the kids stopped talking like this after Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was canceled. Avatar may be a benchmark of cinema for years to come, but if I'm already cringing at this decidedly un-timeless slang, how will it sound 30 years from now?

On the other hand, I suppose it's quaint and therefore just a little bit refreshing, if only because it's rare to see a megabudget movie that clearly wasn't rewritten on the fly -- or rewritten at all, for that matter. Cameron's vision of Pandora is uniquely his, for better or for worse: blue, beautiful, and totally bodacious.


  • Majean says:

    “Get away from her, you bitch!”
    I never heard anyone quote this, not in everyday interaction, nor on t.v, or in other movies. Is it really that iconic? I prefer "I'll be back", did Cameron write that line?
    "...I suppose it’s quaint and therefore just a little bit refreshing, if only because it’s rare to see a megabudget movie that clearly wasn’t rewritten on the fly — or rewritten at all..."
    And this is a good thing? So in other words the dialogue was bad but hey at least he stuck to his guns and didn't try to make it better?

  • Alarmed1 says:

    The only thing this blogger mentioned that seems painfully outdated is "you the man doc". Crap and numbnuts? Really? That's been around for so long it's never really been in OR out to say. Give the movie a break.
    Looks like someone is out of things to blog about. Blogging started as something interesting, but recently this newly created 'job' stretches to come up with something anymore.

  • Samantha says:

    I stopped caring about whether or not certain slang was still relevant back in high school... I honestly did not see it as a distraction in the movie.
    The movie was well written. I'd rather have a movie with good writing all around than one with a few memorable catch phrases here and there.

  • dyrkness says:

    How will it sound 30 years from now?In 30 years, will anyone even know the slang is 13 or 14 years out of date? I doubt it.Then again, people still say "cool",and that's been around for over 50 years.

  • Matt says:

    It's funny, I didn't notice some of these dated references during the film. I believe the reason is that I would've cringed and probably lost some respect for Cameron if some of the awful 2000s lingo like "that's hot," "shawty," "you got owned" or any reference to "bling" made an uncredited cameo in Avatar.
    I thought "Numbnuts" was funny and my theater laughed at it. As for "crap," I would much rather hear that than how 90% of Hollywood's writers would write a reaction to a troubling situation. It seems most would use some variant of "#@&%."

  • NobleSavage says:

    One thing about being iconic is that it is a reason for everyone to paint a target on your back and start taking shots. Of all that was put into making this movie the only thing you can critizie negatively is dated slang? Of course it would take more imagination to come up with appropriate slang for the year 2154 since there really is no point of reference. So with that said, just about anything is going to be acceptable. I think the dialogue was the "bees knees"! But like you thats only my opinion.

  • Jack Frost says:

    I don't know about you, but I've been hearing "outstanding" a lot more these days.
    Not every movie has to have a catchphrase...

  • I did not notice the phrase "crap" in the version shown at Galaxy Theater, Riverbank, CA. I heard the phrase "Oh, S*!t", however, several times. Notably in the scene where they fly on reptiles in the "Hallelujah Mountains".
    Also, as a Marine, I wanted to see the transformation moment(s) of the main character. To convert to aid the enemy is HUGE. The Marines have, amongst their many phrases of order, "Never let a woman come between two Marines."
    I have seen two Marines just reject a girl entirely when both liked her.
    This should have been addressed.

  • Scott says:

    What a ridiculous article.

  • Dave Michaels says:

    Technically speaking, the rival for Neytiri's love was not a Marine. A warrior, sure, but not a Marine, so the phrase is less applicable. Still, I do agree: acknowledging this timeless bit of Marine culture by way of a phrase from Jake or a comment in his video-blog would have been sweet.
    As a Marine, how did you feel Jake's "conversion" was portrayed? Think it was realistic? Dramatic enough? I felt he danced the fence quite deftly before he had to make a decision. I gotta imagine that anyone serving as an infiltrator has got to be good at that dance. I wonder how many actually turn...

  • Old No.7 says:

    That's what I like about James Cameron movies, man... I keep getting older, but they stay the same age.

  • Furious D says:

    All I have to say is: "numbnuts" is eternal.
    It goes all the way back to the first cuneiform copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh, when Gilgamesh called Enkidu "numbnuts."
    And I actually don't doubt that the slang is dated. Cameron probably wrote it in the 1990s, sat on it, and figured that since he made Titanic, his first draft was solid gold.

  • Dimo says:

    Cameron is the George Bush of screenwriting.

  • Dimo says:

    I'm just glad that "Dude!" is still a popular word used by frustrated, overweight, tech nerds in 2154...And Jujubes are still a candy favorite!

  • SunnydaZe says:

    Does anyone ever send a text message during the film? Or update their twitter, facebook, or blog?
    If the fictional future is more dated than actual present technology then Cameron has completely dropped the ball...

  • Ha...Ha...Ha... this is quite funny actually. Let's face it, Cameron is getting on in years. Most older people typically get stuck using the rhetoric of days gone by. Think about it, with all the money he has, he probably doesn't get out much anymore by choice. Why would he? He is comfortable enough and works when he wants to. Why bother with keeping up with what's cool to say?!

  • What is she really talking about in article? Aritotle words of wisdom suggests that we as humans must always accept what is the reality of the situation and appreciate life.

  • Joe Kenney says:

    Sorry to re-hash an old discussion. But hearing "numbnuts" used in Avatar was distracting. I remember NO ONE laughed at the theater I was at. This goes on the "Top 10" list of script blunders definitely.

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