Why certain phrases are memorable

You had me at hello: How phrasing affects memorability, a clever study of "memorable phrases" from movies and advertisements from Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Justin Cheng, Jon Kleinberg, Lillian Lee at Cornell attempts to uncover why certain phrases become part of our collective history.

The results are interesting. The phrases themselves turn out to be significantly distinctive, meaning they're made up of combinations of words that are unlikely to appear in the corpus. By contrast, memorable phrases tend to use very ordinary grammatical structures that are highly likely to turn up in the corpus.

They also found that memorable phrases tend to use pronouns (other than you), the indefinite article a rather than the definite article the, and verbs in the past rather than present tense. These are all features that tend to make phrases general rather than specific.

So memorable phrases contain generic pearls of wisdom expressed with unusual combinations of words in ordinary sentences.

The Secret Science of Memorable Quotes

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