Terms and phrases coined by the Pet Shop Boys that have been adopted by writers

Several commentators have pointed out the way in which the Pet Shop Boys have sometimes appropriated common English phrases (such as "A Man Could Get Arrested," "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" and "Left to My Own Devices") or even the titles of other artists' works (including "Can You Forgive Her?" and "Up Against It") for their own artistic purposes. They're hardly unique in that respect. But the Pet Shop Boys have a number of original coinages to their credit as well: terms and phrases original with them that have since been adopted by other writers discussing something or someone other than the Pet Shop Boys themselves. (I'm not interested in "PSB terms" used when writing about PSB. That's just too easy. )

  1. "DJ culture"

    Author Ulf Poschardt acknowledged his debt to the Pet Shop Boys when borrowing the title of their song "DJ Culture" for the title of his 2000 book, the primary focus of which is the transition in recent years of disc jockeys from mere spinners of records to musicians and producers in their own right. This, of course, almost certainly isn't what Neil and Chris had in mind in their song, but the term isn't inappropriate for Poshardt's purposes, either.
  1. "imperial phase"

    In his 1999 book Blur: 3862 Days: The Official History, author Stuart Maconie uses this phrase in describing the career arc of Blur, in the process rightly crediting Neil Tennant with coining the term, which he had done earlier that same decade. Since then, many other writers in books, magazine articles, reviews, and online postings have used it in a similar fashion—so often, in fact, that by the mid- to late-2010s its seems safe to say that it has gained widespread entry into the rock/pop critical lexicon. In evidence of this fact, recent writers often don't even feel the need to cite its origin or source, using it as if it had always been part of the critical vocabulary. At any rate, "imperial phase," as coined by Neil and used by others, refers to that period of a major popular artist's career when they can seemingly do no wrong, when everything they release proves hugely successful and is widely accepted by the public, after which their career either collapses altogether or at least settles into a somewhat less popular phase. The Pet Shop Boys' own imperial phase is generally acknowledged (including by the Boys themselves) as roughly coinciding with their album Actually. Neil himself has said that the chart performance of "Domino Dancing," which was less successful than he and Chris had expected, signaled the end of their imperial era.

    It's well worth noting that, in a later interview, Neil offered an addendum that I find especially insightful: "What's interesting is what you do after."
  1. "down the dumper"

    "The dumper" was the name that the Smash Hits staff had for the box in their office where unwanted promotional records were unceremoniously deposited. In their documentary Pet Shop Boys: A Life in Pop, Neil and Chris note that, much to their delight, they often rescued Bobby O imports from the dumper. Journalist Andrew Harrison, in the April 2006 issue of the U.K. music magazine The Word, claims that Neil himself coined the phrase "down the dumper" during his tenure at Smash Hits (which used the phrase liberally in print) to refer to something that has apparently met its demise. For instance: "Smash Hits has gone down the dumper." Examples abound of the phrase having been picked up by other writers; just do a Google search for it.
  1. "pur-LEASE!"

    Another term allegedly coined by Neil during his Smash Hits days. Once more the April 2006 issue of The Word is our source: "Another Tennantism. Indicates campish horror." And again Google provides ample evidence of other writers using it.
  1. "pervy synth duo"

    Reportedly coined by Neil, once again during his time at Smash Hits, to describe the Eurythmics. It has since been used by various writers to refer to other bands as well, including Soft Cell (perhaps none more appropriately), Suicide, Erasure, and—not without a touch of possibly unintentional irony—the Pet Shop Boys themselves.

  2. "from revolution to revelation"

    Not so much a "term" as a phrase, but coined by the Boys nonetheless in their song "My October Symphony." It was appropriated by author and scholar Tara Brabazon for the title of her 2005 book From Revolution to Revelation: Generation X, Popular Memory, and Cultural Studies, a sociological examination of collective shared experience through popular culture. She acknowledges the source in her book's introduction, titled "Changing the Dedication"—itself paraphrased from the song—which opens with the chorus quoted in its entirety. Similarly, it was used in the title of an article, "Revolution to Revelation: Pet Shop Boys and Politics," by author and journalist Owen Hatherley, which appeared in July 2013 on the Electronic Beats website.

  3. "let's make lots of money"

    I would be reluctant to include such a relatively commonplace clause as "let's make lots of money" in this list if it weren't for the fact that its use in the title of former Pet Shop Boys manager Tom Watkins's 2016 autobiography Let's Make Lots of Money: Secrets of a Rich, Fat, Gay, Lucky Bastard (co-authored with Matthew Lindsay) was undoubtedly inspired by that famous line and subtitle from the PSB song "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)." So while the Boys obviously didn't coin the wording, their adoption of it for their own purposes transformed it into a byphrase ripe for adoption by Watkins. If it had been almost anyone else, I wouldn't have included it here unless the writer came right out and attributed its inspiration to PSB. Watkins didn't have to.
  1. "like punk never happened"

    There's been some debate as to who actually coined this phrase, but evidence points strongly to Neil Tennant. According to the Virgin Media website, publishers Faber & Faber, and various other sources, it was during Neil's days at Smash Hits that he became the first to say "It's like punk never happened" in reference to much of the music of the early 1980s. Neil himself has suggested that he first heard the phrase, or something quite like it, while interviewing U.K. musician Paul Weller, who was talking about pop stars of the time (again, the early 'eighties), which Neil then repeated in print. Whatever its precise origin, Neil was involved one way or the other and, as he put it, "It entered the Smash Hits lexicon." It was adopted by writer Dave Rimmer for the title of his 1985 book Like Punk Never Happened: Culture Club and the New Pop. Rimmer also credited Neil as his "agent, editor, and collaborator" on that particular book.

  2. "folkocracy"

    Rufus Wainwright titled his 2023 album Folkocracy, a term that he credits to his friend and occasional collaborator Neil Tennant. As Wainwright told interviewer Shaun Curran, Neil coined the word—which Rufus characterizes as "one of those amazing Neil Tennant gems that he regularly spews"—to describe "folk dynasties" such as the Wainwrights. (Rufus is the son of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, nephew of Sloan Wainwright and Anna McGarrigle, brother of Martha Wainwright, and half-brother of Lucy Wainwright Roche, all of them singer-songwriters with varying backgrounds and credentials in folk music.) Clearly Neil devised "folkocracy" as a portmanteau of the words "folk" and "aristocracy."

I should note here that, contrary to widespread belief, the word "miserablism" was definitely not coined by the Boys, despite their 1991 song of that title. I've found a number of occurrences of that term which pre-date the song, including some that date back well over one hundred years. (To take just two examples, The Recorder of Birmingham, written by Rosamond Desmond Hilll and published in 1878, uses it on page 408, as does the 1905 book Adolescence by Granville Stanley Hall, on page 335.)