Negative Nancy, Bob Bummer and Debbie Downer are the people who show up to perfectly delightful gatherings and ruin everything. Whether with negative remarks, a sour disposition or sulking attitude, these people magically transform jovial guests into frowny-faced residents of Bummerville. But where did the clever phrase used to describe these glass-half-empty people come from?
Who is this Debbie, and why is she so down all the time?
The printed English lexicon first adopted “downer” in 1886. That year seemed to teem with other lively gems such as zoom, scrappily, ultrahazardous, pasteurization, milkshake, mascara and french fry.
The term downer typically refers to things that are not uplifting (makes sense). In modern usage, the personification of Debbie Downer was brought to TV glory by Rachel Dratch on Saturday Night Live in 2004.
“When I told someone that I was from New York, they asked, ‘Were you there for 9/11?’ The conversation froze. When I got back, the name [Debbie Downer] popped into my head,” Dratch explained in her book, Girl Walks Into A Bar.
Clearly this inspirational creature had Jedi Master skills at awkwardness and sucking the fun out of the room.
In the original 2004 sketch on SNL, a family is on a trip to Disney World, and everyone, except Debbie Downer, is trying to have a blast. Debbie constantly brings up depressing subjects and is a major buzz kill, along with the accompaniment of a wah-wah horn. The dialog eventually makes the cast crack up uncontrollably, and therein lies the beauty of Miss Downer: try as she might to overshadow the fun with brutal facts and anecdotes, she becomes the totality of the joke.
So the next time you’re face to face with a Debbie Downer, or a Lame-o Larry, try to beat them at their own game and force a smile or two.