Hurricane Harvey and the World Series have placed a spotlight on the city of Houston the likes of which we have never seen. As we have pointed out here before, this has revealed how little most of the rest of the world knows about us. But last week, the Wall Street Journal picked up on one of the greatest annoyances to Houstonians, which has only been exacerbated during recent events: the use of "Houston, we have a problem."
All of us are united in our frustration with the city's traffic problems and ability to survive the brutal humid summers, but natives and longtime residents add hatred of this overused phrase to our list of grievances. The Journal astutely explained the eye-roll-inducing quote used over and over and over again by publications (and Twitter users) across the globe. That won't stop people from using it, of course, but we appreciate the fact that they feel our pain.
But why do we hate it so much?
It's Not Even the Right Quote
As the story above points out, the original quote during the Apollo 13 mission was "Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here." The shortened, dramatized version was spoken by Tom Hanks's character in the film about the aborted space mission. It is clearly catchier and better for dramatic impact in a blockbuster movie, but had Hanks not looked right into the camera and uttered those misquoted words, none of us here would have to read "Houston, We Have a Problem with Jesus' Name" (yes, that's a real headline) and a million other idiotic news stories using those words. There's even a documentary and romance novel using this phrase as a title.
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It's Radically Overused
Speaking of a million headlines, few quotes in modern history have been repeated as often as this one, particularly something that is in relation to a specific location. It's understandable that popular phrases will find their way into the lexicon of our shared colloquialisms, but this is getting ridiculous. Tweets, headlines, pull quotes, speeches, memes...the damn thing is everywhere.
It Poorly Defines Houston
Before Apollo 13 — the movie, not the NASA mission — "Houston" was the first word spoken on the moon. It was inspiring and, quite frankly, indicative of the remarkably invented and innovative nature of the city itself. Since the movie came out, our city has become synonymous with complications, even suffering. We are now, through those words, the living embodiment of problems despite the fact that Houston is a city built on solutions. You can criticize us for a lot of things, but not for our lack of resilience. If Harvey did nothing else, it should have demonstrated that even when we have real problems, we don't act like it, and yet...
It Might Be the Only Quote Anyone Ever Uses About Houston
Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country, something plenty of Americans don't know. We are home to the artificial heart, the nation's second-largest port and NASA. We're pretty freaking awesome, but it is as if people sit around looking for a good reason to unearth that phrase, and the cumulative impact for Houston is mostly negative.
There is perhaps no greater sin when it comes to this quote than the fact that it is completely and utterly lazy. This might be excusable for the average person on Twitter or for someone making a silly meme, but the fact that it is used again and again and again in headlines and news stories says something both about the ability of editors and writers to turn a phrase and about how limited our vocabulary is when it comes to Houston. It's difficult to come up with clever, pithy titles and interesting dialogue, but you'd think by now we could try a little harder. Houstonians would be forever in your debt if you did.