While on the surface Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome may seem like yet another post-apocalyptic flick, it’s also an exploration of language. While the inhabitants of this particular sandy corner of the world all speak English, it’s English in very different forms. The residents of Bartertown, a center of commerce, speak in slogans and catchphrases, the powerful Master Blaster barks Hulk-like half sentences, and the children of the Lost Tribe favor whimsical future slang.
While only Max speaks “normal” English, he picks up bits of native language along the way. Here are 11 post-apocalyptic words Max learns from the Thunderdome and beyond.
“Two men enter, one man leaves."
To get his vehicle back from Aunty Entity, Max is forced into the caged arena known as Thunderdome to battle to the death Master Blaster, who is part little person, part really big person. In addition to being the nickname of several real-life arenas and stadiums, "Thunderdome" has also come to refer to any figurative arena where a harsh battle is fought.
2. THE MAN WITH NO NAME
In each “world,” Max is called a different name (although none of them are “Max”). To the Lost Tribe he’s Captain Walker, to Aunty Entity he’s “just a raggedy man,” and in the Thunderdome, he’s introduced as the Man with No Name.
The most famous unnamed drifter of all is likely Clint Eastwood’s character in the Sergio Leone's spaghetti western trilogy, the first of which, A Fistful of Dollars, was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which starred Toshiro Mifune as a ronin, a masterless samurai with no name.
This remote outpost has been described by writer co-producer Terry Hayes as a “heightened version of our world today” that totally relies “on commerce and trade”—so much so that even the laws are catchphrases. While “two men enter, one man leaves” is the code of Thunderdome, “bust a deal, face the wheel” is the mandate Max must confront when he refuses to kill the innocent Blaster.
4. MASTER BLASTER
Master Blaster runs the Underworld, an underground pig sty that powers Bartertown with manure-derived methane energy (a real thing by the way). He also claims to run Bartertown (“Me run Bartertown!”).
Master, the brains of the operation, is a dwarf who sits atop the brawny shoulders of Blaster, who's later revealed to have “the mind of a child.” Master engages in HulkSpeak for much of the movie. “Me Master!” he says. “Me Max,” says Max. Perhaps in speaking like Ol’ Green Skin, Master hopes to convey the brute strength of Blaster. After Blaster is taken down, Master reverts to full sentences. “It’s not his fault," he says. "Blaster, I’m sorry.”
An earlier "Master Blaster" is the 1980 song by Stevie Wonder (it's unclear if the song influenced Thunderdome). The master blaster Wonder refers to is Bob Marley.
5. PIG KILLER
The Pig Killer is serving life in the Underworld for killing a pig to feed his family. After the movie, "pig killer" became slang for an outcast, and since the early 1980s it has been drug lingo for PCP.
"Wordstuff" is Lost Tribe slang for talking or words. “He ain’t made wordstuff,” a kid says of the unconscious Max, meaning, “He hasn’t said anything.” Later Savannah says, “He’s got wordstuff out his ass!” In other words, pseudo-Captain Walker doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
7. JERKING TIME
“This is jerking time!” cries a Lost Tribe kid when Max says they need to find Master amid the chaos of Bartertown. What the kid means is what they're doing is a waste of time.
The term "jerking time" is a variation of jerking around. But could it also be a Bob Marley reference? In 1966, Marley and the Wailers released a song called Jerking Time, or possibly Jerk in Time, which is about dancing, sex, or both.
8. THE TELL
“And time after time I've done the Tell,” says Savannah. “But this ain't one body's Tell. It's the Tell of us all.”
"The Tell" is the tale of Captain Walker, his escape via 747, and the promise of his return. It’s also an example of oral history—“We got it mouth-to-mouth,” Savannah says—and call and response, which is often seen in music and religious services, especially appropriate here when a Jesus-like depiction of Captain Walker is revealed.
To the Lost Tribe, the apocalypse is the "Pox-Eclipse." “This Pox-Eclipse happened,” Max tells the children. “And it's finished.”
The word Pox-Eclipse is an eggcorn, a linguistic phenomenon in which a word is mistaken for another similar-sounding word that makes sense to the speaker. This is unlike a malapropism, in which the word replacement is nonsensical, for example “nuclear power pants” for “nuclear power plants.”
While it’s been implied that nuclear war caused the Mad Max apocalypse, disease—a pox—as a result of fallout contamination could have caused even further death, eclipsing or shadowing life on the planet.
10. MR. DEAD
“I’m not Captain Walker,” Max says. “I’m the guy who keeps Mr. Dead in his pocket.” Mr. Dead is the Lost Tribe’s personification of death, much like the Grim Reaper, the Angel of Death, and the pale rider of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
11. TOMORROW-MORROW LAND
Tomorrow-morrow Land is the Lost Tribe's idea of a long-lost home. The name comes from Tomorrowland, the futuristic section of Disney’s theme parks. "Tomorrow-morrow" Land is also an example of reduplication, the repeating a syllable or word to create a nursery rhyme effect.
While Tomorrow-morrow Land suggests a place the Lost Tribe will reach in the near future, it could also refer to somewhere they’ll never reach. It's always, as the song goes, a day away.