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jump the couch

phrase

to behave in a very strange, energetic way which suggests that you are out of control

'Wales captain Gareth Thomas "jumped the couch" on the BBC, following his side's loss to England and of a coach. The only conclusion to be drawn from Alfie's hectic demeanour was that Mike Ruddock left because he had lost the support of his senior players – exactly the accusation that Thomas was trying to disprove …'

Planet Rugby 21st March 2006

On 23rd May 2005, actor Tom Cruise gave a completely unexpected display of frenetic behaviour on a US talk show, and in doing so, unwittingly gave birth to a new idiom in the English language, to jump the couch.

here was a new idiom describing suddenly behaving in such a frenetic way that you show signs of emotional instability

When asked about his relationship with actress Katie Holmes, during an interview on the Oprah Winfrey show, Cruise celebrated his new-found love for the actress by bouncing excitedly across the sofa. This bizarre physical display caused a predictable surge of media interest, and just a few weeks afterwards, the expression jump the couch began popping up in print all over the English-speaking world. Here was a new idiom describing the situation of suddenly behaving in such a frenetic way that you show signs of emotional instability. Editors of the four volume Historical Dictionary of American Slang chose jump the couch as the slang expression of the year for 2005. The phrase was also identified in the annual shortlist of 'Words of the Year' from the American Dialect Society, which laughingly referred to a category Cruiselex: the 'Best Tom-Cruise-Related Word' (also including the word Cruisazy, meaning 'crazy in the manner of Tom Cruise').

Predictably, to jump the couch is an expression most commonly used to describe the behaviour of people in the public eye, especially celebrities and politicians. Episodes of celebrity exhibitionism are now even being posthumously described as someone having jumped the couch, such as the late actor Oliver Reed appearing drunk on a UK chat show in 1986, and former Labour party leader Neil Kinnock behaving hysterically at the notorious Sheffield Rally in the week before the 1992 UK general election.

Background – jump the couch

The expression jump the couch, though in one sense an accurate description of Cruise's actions, is based on an earlier idiomatic expression, jump the shark. This expression has been used since the 1990s to denote the idea of a TV show passing its peak. Once a TV show has jumped the shark, fans notice a decline in quality, especially if the show has undergone so many changes that it does not retain its original appeal.

The phrase jump the shark is based on a scene in the TV series Happy Days, where the popular character Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water skis. After this, it was alleged that subsequent episodes were never as good, and the phrase jump the shark was associated with a desperate and rather futile attempt to rekindle the popularity of a show in the face of a decline in ratings. There's even a website devoted to this phenomenon!

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 12th June 2006.

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