Sunday, June 3, 2012

Decoding the Pick-Up Line

If my web research is any indication, the pick-up line has been around for eons. Primitive man with his protruding brow and lantern jaw was probably the first to utter: "Hey, Baby! Wanna take a ride my woolly mammoth!" My husband (52 and still cute) swears that pick-up lines are a Hollywood fabrication, but his perspective is skewed. In his single days, he didn't need a pick-up line, he needed a bat to keep the women at bay.
Not everyman is so lucky, hence the development of mate attracting strategies like brawny muscles, dimpled chins, dancing skills, muscle Tees and, yes, pick-up lines. It’s obvious to me that crafting and employing pick-up lines—however lame—are part of the male brain’s hardware, as inseparable as football and beer.  Let me share two examples that prove my point.

Example #1. On Friday, following eleven hours without food or coffee and some unpleasant lab work, I hightailed it over to Starbucks looking like hell and feeling as grumpy as Hades with hemorrhoids. While waiting to order, I tried to distract myself by watching a cherubic toddler with a mop of ringlets drive his mom nuts. Seeing where my attention was focused, the elderly gent behind me, sidled up, winked and quipped, "Hard to believe, but I had curly hair too." 
The man is bald. With liver spots. Eeuw! That was bad, but this was worse: his wife was standing with him and she immediately began to chant: "I see you flirting." It was an awkward moment and I wondered briefly if she was going to smack me with her cane and call me a harlot. Happily, I survived that experience, but it helped me understand how deeply ingrained that need to connect with a potential mate can be--even if one's mating days are over and even with a woman as dangerously grumpy and rumpled as myself (OK, so I looked a little fresher than his octogenarian wife). 

Example #2. Our family doesn't watch TV. We're woefully out of sync with popular culture. We're word nerds reading massive quantities of books each year. I write this to demonstrate that nature, not environment plays a key role in Example #2. My son turned eleven in February and with the passing of the year came signs heralding puberty: sudden modesty, feet the size of canoes, and, scariest of all, an interest in hygiene. This is a child who has never willingly brushed his teeth or combed his hair, now he is grooming. He is also practicing a move and pick-up line that has shaken me to my core. Seems he's channeling Nick the Lounge Lizard, a character created by Bill Murray that is hysterically funny when it's not your kid. The move goes like this: he cocks one hip out, gives two thumbs up, winks, makes a clicky sound with his tongue, and wraps the whole thing up with, "Hey Baby! Wha'tzup?"
Where did this come from? Other kids you suggest. Yeah, maybe, but I gotta tell you it looks pretty natural on him. I think it's his inner caveman swimming to the surface in a torrent of newly released testosterone. Let's face it: guys want to get their hands on all our girly goodies and pick-up lines are part of their tool kit.

Biological anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher would say it differently. "The sex drive evolved to motivate our ancestors to seek coitus with a range of appropriate partners. Attraction (and its developed human form, romantic love) evolved to motivate individuals to select among potential mates, prefer a particular individual, and focus courtship attention on this favored mating partner."

I like this Dr. Fisher gal. During my research, one of the most illuminating articles I read was Dating & Mating Rituals Decoded (click here) where a journalist and Dr. F. go out on the town and observe these rituals first hand. It sort of reminds me of a conversation Marlin Perkins and Jim Folwer might have held on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

"Lookee there Jim, the woman in pink has twisted in her seat and is using the classic broken wing tactic."

"Yes Marlin, you’re right. She’s sending the protect me message to the guy in the Prada sneakers. It’s guaranteed to catch a man’s attention every time. And, yep, look, he’s taking his cafĂ© latte and moving to her table."

Dr. Fisher’s research breaks down the why of how we humans go about finding our perfect mate and for anyone writing romance, she seems like a pretty juicy resource. For instance, Fisher tells us that a very successful tactic to attract attention is the "tried-and-true five-part flirt." You catch someone’s eye, cock your head to the side, raise your eyebrows, look down, then away. Yeah, I seem to remember doing that a time or two.

The five-part-flirt is a technique commonly used by women. So what techniques do guys use? Secure, confident, kinda-man-you-take-home-to-Mom-n-Dad, guys might say, "Hey that’s a nice computer case. What brand is it?" But not all men are created equal, so here are some of the pick-uplines I gathered from friends, colleagues, and web research. My extremely scientific analysis suggests that as a tool, the pick-up line comes in seven flavors—like schnapps. I think we can decode these attempts to secure potentials mates thusly:

1. Complimentary - Mother said to allways compliment my date on her appearance.
  • Does heaven know it's missing an angel?
  • If I told you you have a beautiful body would you hold it against me? (Country music song by the Bellamy Brothers) 
2.  Sexy - Yeah, I’m hot, I’m sexy, you want me, and my head is so big I can barely get through the door. OR, I’m hot and sweaty looking at you and my inner wolf is howling at the moon.
  • "Wanna play a game? You can be Little Red Riding Hood and I’ll be the Big Bad Wolf." Jacob from Twilight 
  • You look like a princess from outer space. (Ellen Byerrum)
3. Humorous - I feel like such an ass; I better make her laugh or else she’ll gag.
  • "I hate being pawed."  "Maybe you've never been pawed properly." (Loretta Young and Lyle Talbot in She Had to Say Yes)
  • "That’s a nice dress. Where’s the rest of it?" (Andy Garcia to Nancy Travis, Internal Affairs)
  • Hey baby, what's your sign? Caution, slippery when wet, dangerous curves ahead, or yield?

4. Romantic - My inner wolf is howling at the moon and you've just swept me off my feet.
  • "I used to live like Robinson and Crusoe, shipwrecked among eight million people. But one day I saw a footprint in the sand and there you were."  (Jack Lemmon to Shirley Maclaine, The Apartment)
  • (Guy holding his phone.) "I just got a call from my future and it told me you are in it."(Robin Covington)
  • You're why cavemen chiseled on walls (Jack Nicholson, As Good As it Gets)
  • "Rhett, don't. I shall faint." "I want you to faint. This is what you were meant for. None of the fools you've ever known have kissed you like this, have they? (Clarke Gable to Vivian Leigh, Gone With The Wind)
5. Lame- I think I'm sexy but it's a mirage.
  • I may not be Fred Flintstone, but I bet I can make your Bed Rock.
  •  Guy: "Haven't I seen you someplace before?" Girl: "Yes, that's why I don't go there anymore"
  • "Do you wash your pants in Windex? Because I can see myself in them." (Austin Powers)
  • If you were a new hamburger at McDonald's, you would be McGorgeous.
 6. Revolting - This needs no decoding.
  • Do you want to dance? No? Well, I guess a screwing is out of the question?
  • Gee, I’d like to take a bite out of your eyebrow. (Keely Thrall)
  •  "Suck me, beautiful." (Chris Klein to Tara Subkoff, American Pie)
  7. Too-gross-to-print - Let's not go there.

Got a line to share? Click comment and hit me with your best shot!


  1. Shellie ~ LOL! I love this post. Wonderful, wonderful information. I'll sit down and dissect it better later tonight and look into the book(s) you've recommended.

    "I think it's his inner caveman swimming to the surface in a torrent of newly released testosterone." Cracked me up! Wonderful. And so apt for pre-teen and teenaged boys.

    Great post. Excellent information. I'll comment more later.

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  3. The Lauren Bacall pic reminds me of the time I seduced a guy - no words needed. I just let my hair down, shook it over my shoulders and Bam! He was mine. I watched him watching me - quite the turn on! So maybe this was an abbreviated form of the 5 part flirt. Whatever. All I can say is it feels pretty cool when you set out to seduce...and it works!

  4. Candy --

    Glad to crack you up on a Monday morning. With 3 boys I'm sure you've seen more than on torrent of testosterone!

    Here's another good article too:
    How women perceive pick up lines


  5. Keely--

    Yes! I remember those days. The "look" and the "don't look." All so effective. Where did it all go? Oh yes, time, marriage, family...

    here's another ritual that didn't get into the blog, but I like it lots:

    All the Nordic countries have courtship customs involving knives. For example, in Norway when a girl came of age, her father let it be known that she was available for marriage. The girl would wear an empty sheath on her belt. If a suitor liked the girl, he would put a knife in the sheath, which the girl now wore as a sign that she was betrothed.

  6. Great post!!!! It is chock full excellent fodder for future books!

  7. Thanks Robin,

    Dr. Fisher says to watch people's feet. Swooning women have turned in toes, but in men this same experience causes the toes to point outward!!!

    So many wonderfully weird things to learn.

  8. Great lines and great info, Shellie! The knife ritual is very evocative. ;-)

  9. Just like schnapps! LOL! As with schnapps, a little of this kind of attention can go a long way. I recently had a guy ask, "Wanna rub my tummy?" I wonder what he would've done if I'd accepted? But that wasn't going to happen!

  10. Yvonne,

    If you like the knife motif you might also like the spoon motif:

    Dating back to 17th century Wales, ornately carved spoons, known as lovespoons, were traditionally made from a single piece of wood by a suitor to show his affection to his loved one. The decorative carvings have various meanings - from an anchor meaning "I desire to settle down" to an intricate vine meaning "love grows."

  11. Nichole,

    Let's put "rub my tummy" under either "revolting" or start a new category of "clueless" and send that guy to your nearest fat Buddha sculpture where you are encourage to rub its tummy for good luck.


  12. Great post, Shellie! LOL, this was both interesting *and* painful. I enjoyed the classics, especially Jack Lemmon's line to Shirley Maclaine! One of my favorites--and I don't remember where I heard it--is "Hey, I just realized you look a lot like my next girlfriend." I actually thought that was pretty clever. :-)

  13. Kathy,

    The old ones are pretty wonderful aren't they? Here's another good one:

    “Do we know each other?”

    “Why, do you think we're going to? Because I already know an awful lot of people and until one of them dies I couldn't possibly meet anyone else.”

    “Well, if anyone goes on the critical list, let me know.”

    (Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, Charade, 1963)

  14. Hi Shellie - When you asked me if I had any good pick up lines. I couldn't think of one at the time but I just remembered one. I was in a bar with a blonde friend on Mar 17. She had died her hair green for St. Patrick's Day. A guy asked her "Did you dye ALL your hair?" Of course, we were beyond grossed out. I said to him, "I'll bet you get a lot of women with lines like that."

    I'm not sure if he was trying to flirt or just being gross. He just sort of hung there awkwardly as if he'd thought saying that would really get him somewhere. There's a major difference between pick up lines and flirting. Some people don't know the difference between the two.

    It was a great post. I'll have to look for the book that you recommend. Sounds interesting!

  15. Hi Lisa,

    I see the pick up line as one kind of "bait" to use a fishing motif. You hope the fish likes red wigglers or whatever is dangling off the line. If you get a nibble then some major flirting occurs and, if you are really lucky, you score contact info.

    Back in the day, I never used a "line" but I sure used the 5-part-flirt (or some version of that) and I wasn't above bumping into someone to get their attention.

    Of course, I had other weapons in my arsenal: tight jeans, tight top, high heels, well you get the picture...