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Changing culture: Phrases brought to us by The Beatles


It’s a scary world — there are people out there, everyday folks who walk among us, who confidently espouse a dislike for The Beatles. While this is a stance that has been taken by the likes of Lou Reed, Julian Casablancas, Frank Zappa and various other contrarian iconoclasts back in the day, it is somewhat more alarming when it comes from the general public outside of the art world. Not because the Fab Four have to be everyone’s favourite band, but because what they have given to music and also society, in general, should be self-evident.

This contribution is typified by how truly transcendent their songs prove to be. The melodies and the words that the four humble lads from Liverpool crafted are inexorably interwoven into our yesterdays, todays and likely our tomorrows too. Rather than being some sort of inescapable Groundhog Day dystopia, this influence connects generations, extolls beauty and keeps the prelapsarian dream of the 1960s alive in some small but inviolable sense.

In this regard, there’s a parallel between them and William Shakespeare. From famed phrases like ‘to be or not to be’ to simple words like ‘lonely’, the original Bard cast an illuminating quill over modern language. In their music, The Beatles did much the same.

Below, we’ve compiled a long list of Beatles coinages and the way they have reverberated in culture forevermore.

Phrases coined by The Beatles:

A Hard Day’s Night – Once uttered by an exhausted Ringo Starr after a gruelling film shoot, the phrase is now ubiquitous in any working environment where the hours edge towards the evening. 

All Things Must Pass – Although George Harrison himself plucked the title of his debut album from the Bible, the message of hope is now usually expressed in comforting tones with the ‘Quiet One’ in mind.

All You Need is Love – Their stand-alone single from 1967 became such a counterculture anthem that the phrase is now plastered everywhere from greeting cards to mugs and those posters that irate the hell out of you when you’re had a tough day. 

Day Tripper – Originally coined by John Lennon in a track “about drugs”. The hit became a radio hit and obtained the family-friendly meaning of a brief excursion, now sometimes used to described day-return tickets in the UK. 

Eight Days a Week – ‘We’re open eight days a week’ is a sign you often find on high streets that send pedants into a tizzy, and a worker might utter ‘I’ve been grafting eight days a bloody week!’ all tying back to The Beatles hit. 

Eleanor Rigby – ‘She’s a bit of an Eleanor Rigby’ character is a phrase that underpins the transcendent influence of that the band had. Youngsters might never have even heard the song, but the name of the lonely character depicts is now a blanket term for the poor lonely folks on the demimonde of society. 

Happiness is a Warm Gun – The phrase comes from an article in The American Rifleman. John Lennon read the story about a father taking his son out for a shooting trip and was so struck by the insanity of it that he turned it into a song. It has since echoed throughout culture being quoted by Liam Gallagher, plenty of other musicians and endless films. 

Not half the man I used to be – Usually used to describe an ageing sports star or a fading artist, this sorry phrase of decline was brought to the fore in ‘Yesterday’ and has hung around ever since. 

Instant Karma – The John Lennon solo classic about getting your comeuppance is now scattered everywhere—usually on YouTube when a prank backfires on some hapless twerp. 

Stupid Get – On the 1968 White Album track ‘I’m So Tired’, Lennon wrote: “Although I’m so tired / I’ll have another cigarette / And curse Sir Walter Raleigh / He was such a stupid get,” and the mispronunciation of git continued from there. 

Whatever Gets You Through the Night – Another John Lennon solo effort that has entered the English language pertains to doing what you have to do. May Pang once explained that Lennon picked up on it when channelling surfing and he was watching “Reverend Ike, saying ‘Let me tell you guys, it doesn’t matter, it’s whatever gets you through the night.” And Lennon hurriedly scribbled it down.