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The Big Bang Theory Season One: Sheldon Speak

on Mon, 02/08/2010 - 00:00

The Big Bang Theory has the simplified plotline of an attractive girl-of-the-world living next door to two highly intelligent, yet socially awkward, male geeks. While the comic fodder is self-evident and ripe for parody, the series has the added benefit in the character of Sheldon Cooper, who takes the phrases “highly intelligent” and “socially awkward” to new heights. With an ego that matches his IQ, Sheldon often drives much of the show’s humor, not only through his actions but through his words as well. Call it “Sheldon Speak,” a combination of personal opinion and scientific observation, coupled with wit and geekness.

“If influenza was only contagious after symptoms appear it would have died out thousands of years ago. Somewhere between tool-using and cave-painting, homo habilis would have figured out to kill the guy with the runny nose.”

“This sandwich is an unmitigated disaster. I asked for turkey and roast beef with lettuce and Swiss on whole wheat. (They gave me) turkey and roast beef with Swiss and lettuce on whole wheat. It’s the right ingredients but in the wrong order. In a proper sandwich, the cheese is adjacent to the bread to create a moisture barrier against the lettuce. They might as well drag this through a car wash.”

Sheldon’s use of wordplay is exceptional. He once got ill, for instance, when he was a visiting professor at the Heidelberg Institute in Germany. As he explains to next-door-neighbor Penny, “The local cuisine was a little more sausage-based than I’m used to and the result was an internal Blitzkrieg, with my lower intestine playing the part of Czechoslovakia.”

Other examples include:

“The wheel was a great idea. Relativity was a great idea. This is a notion, and a rather sucky one at that.”

“A little misunderstanding? Galileo and the Pope had a little misunderstanding.”

“You want me to use my intelligence in a tawdry competition? Would you ask Picasso to play Pictionary? Would you ask Noah Webster to play Boggle? Would you ask Jacques Cousteau to play Go Fish?”

“Leonard, please don’t take this the wrong way, but the day you win a Nobel Prize is the day I begin my research on the drag flow effect of tassels on flying carpets.”

Even the old riposte “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you” comes out differently in Sheldon Speak: “I’m polymerized tree sap and you’re an inorganic adhesive, so whatever verbal projectile you launch in my direction is reflected off of me, returns on its original trajectory and adheres to you.”

One highlight of The Big Bang Theory is Sheldon’s tendency to apply “real world” reasoning to various sci-fi related situations. For example, when Penny states that her favorite Superman movie scene is when Christopher Reeves catches a falling Lois Lane, Sheldon points out that the “scene was rife with scientific inaccuracy,” and not simply because of the obvious “men can’t fly.”

“Lois Lane is falling, accelerating at an initial rate of 32 feet per second per second. Superman swoops down to save her by reaching out two arms of steel. Miss Lane, who is now traveling at approximately 120 miles an hour, hits them and is immediately sliced into three equal pieces.”

In another episode, he questions the casting of actress Summer Glau in the television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. “Assuming all the good Terminators were originally evil Terminators created by Sky Net but then reprogrammed by the future John Connor, why would Sky Net, an artificial computer intelligence, bother to create a petite, hot seventeen-year-old killer robot? Artificial intelligences do not have teen fetishes.”

Other sci-fi observations include:

“Here’s the problem with teleportation. Assuming a device could be invented which would identify the quantum state of matter of an individual in one location and transport that pattern to a distant location for reassembly, you would not have transported the individual. You would have destroyed him in one location and recreated him in another. Personally I would never use a transporter, because the original Sheldon would have to be disintegrated in order to create a new Sheldon.”

“I’ve been thinking about time travel again. It occurs to me that if I ever did perfect a time machine, I would just go into the past and give it to myself, thus eliminating the need for me to invent it in the first place.”

Conventional sayings and situations are also lost on Sheldon. His response to the adage “when one door closes another one opens,” for example, is quite literal: “No it doesn’t. Not unless the two doors are connected by relays or there are motion sensors involved. Or that the first door closing creates a change of air pressure that acts upon the second door.”

When a fourth player is need for Halo night, roommate Leonard Hofstadter asks if Sheldon really intends to make friend Howard Wolowitz choose between sex and a video game. “No, I’m going to ask him to choose between sex and Halo 3. As far as I know, sex has not been upgraded to include hi-def graphics and enhanced weapon systems.”

At a Halloween party at Penny’s apartment, the gang is intimidated by not knowing any of the guests. “Like Jane Goodall observing the apes, I initially saw their interactions as confusing and unstructured,” Sheldon offers. “But patterns emerged. They have their own language, if you will. It seems that the newcomer approaches the existing group with the greeting, ‘How wasted am I?’ which is met with an approving chorus of, ‘Dude.’”

Sheldon’s response when an upset Penny doesn’t want to talk about an awkward situation is also taken literally. “Not surprising. Penny’s emotional responses originate in the primitive portion of the brain known as the amygdala, while speech is centered in the much more recently developed neocortex. The former can easily overpower the latter, giving scientific credence to the notion of being rendered speechless.”

Then there’s Leonard’s birthday. “The entire institution of gift giving makes no sense. Let’s say that I go out and I spend $50 on you. It’s a laborious activity because I have to imagine what you need whereas you know what you need. And I could simplify things, just give you the $50 directly and then you could give me $50 on my birthday and so on until one of us dies leaving the other one old and $50 richer. And I ask you, is it worth it?”

Despite his intelligence, geek heritage and non-social behavior, Sheldon still possesses a keen sense of wit that enables him to fire off some great one-liners.

When Penny interrupts Halo night because her sexually-active friend from Nebraska is in town, Sheldon responds, “Who needs Halo when we can be regaled with the delightfully folksy tale of the Whore of Omaha?”

Penny’s exclamation of “holy smokes” in regards to Leonard’s formula board is met with, “If by ‘holy smokes’ you mean a derivative restatement of the kind of stuff you could find scribbled on the wall of any men’s room at MIT, sure.”

Leonard asks Sheldon why a letter was in the trash and is told, “Well, there’s always the possibility the trash can spontaneously formed around the letter, but Achman’s Razor would suggest that someone threw it out.”

When Leonard doesn’t know how to tell Penny she has no vocal talent, Sheldon suggests, “Singing is neither an appropriate vocation nor avocation for you, and if you disagree I recommend you have a cat scan to look for a tumor pressing on the cognitive processing centers of your brain.”

Upon hearing that he has been thrown off the Physics Bowl team, Sheldon responds, “At this point I should inform you that I intend to form my own team and destroy the molecular bonds that bind your very matter together and reduce the resulting particulate chaos to tears.”

Leonard’s crush on next-door neighbor Penny is also often subject to Sheldon’s wit.

“Well, at least now you can retrieve the black box from the twisted smoldering wreckage that was once your fantasy of dating her and analyze the data so you don’t crash into Geek Mountain again.”

“I think that you have as much of a chance of having a sexual relationship with Penny as the Hubble telescope does of discovering at the center of every black hole is a little man with a flashlight searching for a circuit breaker.”

When Leonard finally does get a date with Penny and wonders what will happen if he “blows” what may be his only chance with her, Sheldon offers, “Well, if we accept your premise and also accept the highly improbable assumption that Penny is the only woman in the world for you, then we can logically conclude that the result of ‘blowing it’ would be that you end up a lonely bitter old man with no progeny. The image of any number of evil lighthouse keepers from Scooby Doo cartoons come to mind.”

Still, despite all of Sheldon’s annoying qualities, he does often manage to say the right thing at the right time. The best example is in the season finale, when Penny questions whether she should actually go on her date with Leonard. Sheldon’s advice is both simple and longwinded, but accurate nonetheless.

“In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger, in an attempt to explain the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics, proposed an experiment where a cat is placed in a box with a sealed vial of poison that will break open at a random time. Now, since no one knows when or if the poison has been released, until the box is opened, the cat can be thought of as both alive and dead. Just like Schrödinger’s cat, your potential relationship with Leonard right now can be thought of as both good and bad. It is only by opening the box that you’ll find out which it is.”

The box that is season one of The Big Bang Theory has indeed been opened, and thanks to Sheldon Speak, it can be considered “good.”

Anthony Letizia (February 8, 2010)

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