The Language of Lost


Others, smoke monsters, frozen donkey wheels and other prime-time words.Lost is a show that piles WTF upon WTF. Absorbing to many, maddening to some, and entertaining to plenty, there’s no doubt the show is unique. After all, it’s the first character-driven fantasy-sci-fi show with a smoke monster and time travel since Three’s Company.

Lost has also coined or inspired a lot of new lingo, and its fans have responded with even more of their own. Every TV show with a cultish fan base tends to come up with new words, but on a show where so much is unexplained or unexplainable, the tendency is multiplied. Fans struggling with the island’s uncertainties make words to soothe the pain, and as the show hurtles toward its conclusion on May 23, those words are worth a looksie.

Before we get to new words, Lost deserves credit for pumping new meaning into some commonplace terms, such as “Others”—the name for the Jacob followers who menaced, confused, and occasionally assisted the Oceanic 815ers. Since the end of season five, the word “candidate” has had a creepy, Lost-centric meaning, as in: a potential replacement for Jacob. Episodes “The Incident” and “The Constant” (which featured an electromagnetic/bomb explosion and true love as a solution to time-travel sickness, respectively) put a new spin on “incident” and “constant” for fans. While the characters call the smoke monster “the monster,” fans overwhelmingly prefer the nickname “Smokey,” changing the identity of that name from helpful bear to someone or thing with far less noble forest-related intentions.

The show’s ever-changing structure has also required an evolving vocabulary. First, there were flashbacks—a term that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, had a science-y meaning since 1903 and its most common current sense since 1916: “In other words the whole thing is a flash-back of the episodes leading up to her marriage.” When Lost mixed things up by introducing flashforwards at the end of season three, they popularized the word “flashforward,” though that one dates back to at least 1999 and the novel of the same name, whose adaption ended up a Lost-wannabe on ABC that lasted only a season.

This final season introduced “flash-sideways” for the story in the alternate universe/timeline/whatever-it-is (avid watchers are as much in the dark as non-fans, at least until the finale, we hope). On messages boards such as Television Without Pity, the new narrative structure inspired other words such as “flashbackandforth,” “flash-diagonal,” “sidewaysverse,” and “sidewaysville.” Fans also enjoy referring to episodes by the character they feature, such as a “Jack-back” (a Jack Shephard flashback) or “Benisode” (an ep featuring bug-eyed villain/semi-redeemed hero Benjamin Linus). This kind of wordplay is fully on display here: “Any Benisode is a goodisode and this one was no different.”

The most creative category might be fan-coined nicknames for various characters. Besides names for groups such as the Lostaways/Losties (the original crash survivors), Tailies (the folks from the tail end of the plane who didn’t turn up till season two), Freighties (suspicious folks from a freighter sent by Charles Widmore), and Other Others (a new set of island nutballs), individual characters get a bevy of names. Like any other show, couples get name-blend nicknames, but individual characters sometimes get their own blend—like “Benry,” a combo of Ben and Henry, for Benjamin Linus, who impersonated Henry Gale in his first appearances. Fans of “Blocke” enjoy episodes spotlighting Ben and John Locke, which is understandable since Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn are the show’s greatest actors playing the richest characters. Fans thirsty for more answers are quick to curse “Darlton” or “Cuselof”—the showrunners/writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse taken as a pairing.

But the most prolific nicknaming has accompanied a character with no name at all: Jacob’s brother. When he was introduced via flashback in the season five finale, two fan-given names stuck: “Esau” (from the name of the biblical Jacob’s brother) and “Man in Black” (or "M.I.B."), for his Johnny Cash-like attire. When it was revealed that this unnamed, dastardly-looking dude was also impersonating John Locke—and, oh, by the way, he’s the smoke monster too—the fan coinages flew, on TWoP and elsewhere: “Flocke,” “EvilLocke,” “Smockey,” “WTFlocke,” “MIBLocke,” “MIBSmokey,” “DreadLocke,” “Faucke,” “Anti-Locke,” “UnLocke,” “NotLocke,” and “The Locke-ness Monster,” among others. With the persistent mystery/debate over who/what this character is, it’s no wonder the showrunners haven’t been able (or willing) to give him a name. “Dennis” or “Bill” just wouldn’t sound right at this point.

Most of these terms—plus the dozens (hundreds?) I’ve neglected, such as “frozen donkey wheel,” “squirrel baby,” and “Craphole Island”—will dry up and blow away soon after the show is over, though words like “Others” and “candidate” will probably retain traces of Lost for awhile. I suspect the show’s most enduring invention, character-wise and language-wise, will be the smoke monster. In a world of vampires, zombies, werewolves, and jerks, that beast is unique. I find the words “smoke monster” extremely fun to say, and I only wish this Onion story were true: “Smoke Monster From 'Lost' Given Own Primetime Spin-Off Series.”

From the Onion’s jokes to your ears, ABC. We’ve seen series after series about dysfunctional families, tough-guy cops, bleeding-heart doctors, and DNA-hugging forensic units. Give the smoke monster a chance—or, at the very least, a recurring role on Modern Family.
via Alan Levine / Flickr

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