You had me at hello: How phrasing affects memorability

Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Justin Cheng, Jon Kleinberg and Lillian Lee

Proceedings of ACL, 2012.


Data: Cornell Movie-Quotes Corpus (includes this readme)

Take our movie quotes memorability test  [Beta just-for-fun version: your input will not affect any experiments.]

Factoids:   memorable advertising slogans

               blog post by Nicklas Noterar, giving an informal analysis of some of the American Film Institute's top 100 film quotes

               We do other things besides look for droids. But that’s all anyone ever remembers.

               [xkcd] If other star systems are listening in on our pop culture ...


Media coverage:           

                                     New Scientist: Software reveals what makes a catchy movie line

                                     CBC’s The Afternoon Edition: Memorable Lines

                                     MIT’s Technology Review blog: The Secret Science of Memorable Quotes

                                     NPR’s All things considered: What Makes A Movie Quote Memorable?

                                     The New York Times: Dickens, Austen and Twain, Through a Digital Lens

                                     The Independent: Screen science: The secret of the lines we never forget

                                     NBC’s The Today Show: Revealed: Why some movie quotes have us at 'hello'

                                     Science News: Here’s looking at how the usual suspect film quotes go ahead and make your day

                                     The Huffington Post: 'You Had Me At Hello' Study Reveals Secrets Of Memorable Movie Lines

                                     The Economist’s Johnson blog: Hooray for Hollywood?

                                     Washington Post’s Wonkblog: The science of memorable movie quotes

                                     Boing Boing: Why certain phrases are memorable

                                     BuzzFeed: The 6 steps to a perfect catchphrase

                                     Cornell Chronicle: You're gonna need a bigger quote!

                            La formula per una frase indimenticabile

                                     Österreichischer Rundfunk (Austrian national broadcaster): Der Stoff, aus dem Legenden sind

                            Filmcitaten: waarom onthouden wij ze?

                                     O Globo: Frases inesquecíveis do cinema: cientistas descobrem o segredo



Understanding the ways in which information achieves widespread public awareness is a research question of significant interest. We consider whether, and how, the way in which the information is phrased --- the choice of words and sentence structure --- can affect this process.  To this end, we develop an analysis framework and build a corpus of movie quotes, annotated with memorability information, in which we are able to control for both the speaker and the setting of the quotes.

We find that there are significant differences between memorable and non-memorable quotes in several key dimensions, even after controlling for situational and contextual factors.  One is lexical distinctiveness: in aggregate, memorable quotes use less common word choices, but at the same time are built upon a scaffolding of common syntactic patterns.  Another is that memorable quotes tend to be more general in ways that make them easy to apply in new contexts --- that is, more portable.  We also show how the concept of "memorable language" can be extended across domains.




  author={Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil and Justin Cheng and Jon Kleinberg and

  Lillian Lee},

  title={You had me at hello: {How} phrasing affects memorability},

  booktitle={Proceedings of ACL},