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NB: "Notes" are driving me nuts
October 7, 2010 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Where did the terms "note" and "notes," meaning "critique" come from? When did this usage become widespread?

I can honestly not recall hearing these words used this way until the last, oh, three years. Now the judges on American Idol and Top Chef give "notes"; Brian on Family Guy tells another character that he's "not looking for notes" after he describes his book's plot... I can probably think of a lot of other examples but the thing is that I'd never heard the expression before fairly recently. Have I never noticed this before or is this really a recent phenomenon?
posted by ethnomethodologist to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I'm pretty sure it's an entertainment industry thing (network TV, hollywood, etc.). There was a simpson's episode where several network executives drone about "notes".
posted by phrontist at 1:55 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Echoing phrontist, I think it's TV jargon. In Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night in 1998 the network executives were always coming in to give notes to the show staff.
posted by enn at 1:58 PM on October 7, 2010


It's from producers in hollywood sending notes to writers asking for changes.
posted by empath at 2:01 PM on October 7, 2010


It must go back before that - "notes" are what a director or stage manager gives a theatrical performer, in rehearsal or performance, respectively. I've been coached by actors of generations prior to mine, and they all used that term as well. I don't know the derivation of it, but it certainly predates television.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 2:02 PM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


The term "notes" is in common use in theatre (post-rehearsal verbal or written critiques and adjustments). That *may* pre-date Hollywood use.
posted by skypieces at 2:03 PM on October 7, 2010


(OneMonkeysUncle types faster than I... by less than a minute, I see.)
posted by skypieces at 2:03 PM on October 7, 2010


Note (heh) that reviews are known by actors as "notices", too.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 2:12 PM on October 7, 2010


You say the word drives you nuts. I notice you don't suggest a viable alternative. (Not "critique," which sounds too critical.) Is there another word that means the same thing and sounds just as casual and non-negative?

I don't know what exact year "notes" started, but it results from a desire that goes back at least as far as 1936, when Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People was published -- that is, the desire to get people to do things the way you want them to, without coming off as negative or demanding.
posted by John Cohen at 2:14 PM on October 7, 2010


This is certainly not new in the last few years, and I'm not sure why it strikes you as a strange or idiosyncratic use of the word. A person takes notes during a performance, or lecture, or speech, and she can share those notes afterwards, potentially to the benefit of the performer.
posted by JohnMarston at 2:23 PM on October 7, 2010


I would have thought "note" here simply means something like "brief observation" (possibly of a critical nature).
posted by Dumsnill at 2:27 PM on October 7, 2010


I've encountered it in the context of live theatre for over 30 years.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:27 PM on October 7, 2010


I remember people using the phrase "sticking around for notes" in rehearsals for community theater in South Bumblefuck, Illinois over 20 years ago. So I'm assuming it's been around for a long while longer than that.

It's probably only entered your consciousness through negative sources (like those given above) which is why it drives you so crazy.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:54 PM on October 7, 2010


I took a look through Google book search:

Educational theatre management, 1972: "Give notes and criticisms..."

The technique of television production, 1979: "At the end of rehearsal, check timings, give notes to performers and crew..."

The professional actor, from audition to performance, 1979: "Most directors give notes..."
posted by Rhomboid at 3:36 PM on October 7, 2010


But I don't understand why people seem to think it's used differently in theater/television from how it's used in all other creative contexts: "short (maybe critical) remark/observation?"
posted by Dumsnill at 3:54 PM on October 7, 2010


Okay, so it's been used in theatre for a long time. That's not really my question and I'm sorry for phrasing it as I did. Maybe the fact that I've only become aware of recently is because of the recent explosion in judged reality TV?

I should add that in my 4 years of competition speech and debate in high school I never once, ever, heard a critique called a "note." this was 1978-1982. That would be my point of reference. I also acted in a few plays in high school and again never, ever heard the director give "notes" or an actor ask for "notes." I never heard the term used this way on TV until, I say again, the last couple of years. Now, what has prompted my attention and what motivated this post is that I now hear it practically every day.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:52 PM on October 7, 2010


I should add that in my 4 years of competition speech and debate in high school I never once, ever, heard a critique called a "note." this was 1978-1982.

Well, no, of course not. It's a show business term. Debate team does not qualify as show business.

Fact is, the word is new to you. It's not new, though.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:18 PM on October 7, 2010


(Also, hearing a word a million times right after you just learned it is one of those funny gags the universe never seems to get tired of. It's a thing.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:21 PM on October 7, 2010


@JohnMarston: Yes, a person takes notes during a lecture or speech. But I have spent the last 20 years as a grad student and then professor in the humanities, and I've never heard the word "notes" used to mean "critical responses." Notes are what you take to have a record of the lecture, or of interesting points in it, but what you offer is a comment, a critique, or a response.

@ethnomethodologist: I don't watch any of those shows, and your question is the first time I've seen that usage, or at least noted it.

It could be that you're noticing it everywhere now due to confirmation bias.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:27 PM on October 7, 2010


It could be that you're noticing it everywhere now due to confirmation bias.

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon
posted by John Cohen at 6:30 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, a person takes notes during a lecture or speech. But I have spent the last 20 years as a grad student and then professor in the humanities, and I've never heard the word "notes" used to mean "critical responses."

Notes in the sense being discussed here aren't necessarily critical. They're just someone's impressions or responses to something, positive, negative, or neutral. When a student takes notes on a lecture, there's no need to share them with the professor afterwards. When a director takes notes on a performance, she will often share them with the cast afterwards, and they might be positive or negative. The context is different but the meaning is similar.
posted by JohnMarston at 6:42 PM on October 7, 2010


JohnMarston, a student taking "notes" on a lecture is simply not the same meaning of "notes" that the OP is asking about.
posted by John Cohen at 6:46 PM on October 7, 2010


"Notes" was familiar to me in high school theatre in the mid-1980s. It's not the same as someone taking notes, and one way in which it was different was that "notes" was an event. After the rehearsal, we had "notes." Notes was a time set aside for the discussion of each individual's performance, and could contain recommendations, directives, questions, responses, praise, or criticism.
posted by Miko at 7:12 PM on October 7, 2010


[few comments removed, OP is talking about a specific context, thanks]
posted by jessamyn at 8:59 PM on October 7, 2010


JohnMarston, a student taking "notes" on a lecture is simply not the same meaning of "notes" that the OP is asking about.

Ah, but it is. Notes are part of the rehersal process of a play after most of the blocking has been worked out. At the point they are given is after the director has turned the acting over to the actors and is now sitting back and observing what goes on. Afterwards she tells the actors the things she observed (good or bad) and, perhaps, wrote down, the things she took note of during the performance. That time, after the run-through, as Miko and others have observed has come to have the name "Notes" regardles of if they were witten or simply noted.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:56 AM on October 8, 2010


I think of course it's related to the taking of notes during a performance, but it becomes a specific usage in theatre, where the notes taken are then "given" to performers in an event known as "notes." So the usage might be "be sure to stay through the end of Act II run-through - I have some notes to give you." The director often does take notes, often on a clipboard, but sometimes just gives notes verbally without reference to notes. And sometimes they'll interrupt a scene by just saying "note -- don't put your hand on his shoulder" or something like that.

So I'm sure it originates with "taking notes," but I'm still curious about when it originated, and it defintely has usage conventions in the theatre world that it doesn't have elsewhere.
posted by Miko at 6:15 AM on October 8, 2010


It's really not. The student takes notes during a lecture so that they can learn the material, and to remember questions to ask later. Notes in show business are more like suggestions or even commands -- when a studio executive reads a draft of a script or is pitched a show, their notes are things like "lose this scene", "make this character more relatable", or "add a talking dog." The student isn't going to go up to the professor after the lecture is over and tell them to stop saying "um" so much, shorten up the personal anecdotes, and make their powerpoint fonts larger. The power dynamic is opposite.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:16 AM on October 8, 2010


I must be explaining this poorly, so I'm going to try one last time to make it clear. The OP interpreted the word "note" to mean "critique" in the context of American Idol or Top Chef, but that isn't quite correct, hence the confusion. A note in those contexts is simply an observation or impression recorded for later recall.

Again, the dictionary definition: "a record or outline of a speech, statement, testimony, etc., or of one's impressions of something." Or: "a brief statement of a fact, experience, etc. written down for review, as an aid to memory, or to inform someone else; memorandum."

A memorandum is: "a. a short note written to help one remember something or remind one to do something

b: a record of events or observations, esp. one for future use"

A note can be written down, or one can make a mental note. A judge or director notes his impressions while experiencing a peformance. Those impressions might be "The chorus was pitchy" or "Actor X should enter from stage left instead of stage right" or "The beef was overcooked," etc. Afterwards, he can recall and share his impressions of the performance, i.e., he can give notes to the performer.

Meanwhile, a student records his observations during a lecture. He takes notes. He doesn't give notes, but the word "note" is the same in both cases -- it's an impression formed while experiencing someone else's performance and meant to be recalled at a later time. What's being done with the note is different -- anyone can take notes, but it's not always appropriate to give those notes. However, the meaning of the word "note" is similar enough that the dictionary puts them together under the same definition. Hence my point that what the OP is asking about is not a particularly esoteric usage of the word "note," but in fact very similar to other common usages of the word.
posted by JohnMarston at 6:54 AM on October 8, 2010


"Notes" are typically given by theatre directors to the performers after every rehearsal or performance. It's usually a short meeting in which the director reads his or her observations on the previous exhibition and typically "notes" flubbed lines, wrong blocking, technical errors, etc., and frequently contains praise for work well done. The expression is entirely orthodox. It's theatre talk.
posted by Wolof at 8:07 AM on October 9, 2010


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