The motto "Go you big red fire engine!"

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You might have come across the phrase "Go you big red fire engine!". It found its way onto signature files in emails and forum postings around the world, after all. If you don't know where it comes from though, you probably don't have a good handle on what it means.

The phrase was popularised by an Australian stand-up comedian called Adam Hills. It was coined in 1999 during his show "My Own Little World" in Melbourne, Australia, by a member of the audience whom Hills invited onstage. The "victim" was supposed to come out from the wings to the sort of reception a rock star might expect, and shout his name (let's call him Bob) and occupation (a fireman) to more cheers and applause.

Instead he strode on, punched the air and shouted "Go you big red fire engine!". Initially the audience didn't react but after "Bob" repeated it uncertainly they began to chant along. Within minutes the whole crowd were on their feet, shouting it out and clapping. Hills couldn't believe it.

He took the phrase around the world, coercing as many people to say it as possible. To him, he claimed, it was testament to the power of stupidity and optimism over reality. Naturally it spread like wildfire. Pilots on Quantas airlines were reported to say it in their post-landing announcement. Even politicians were heard saying it. Websites sprung up to promote awareness of the motto.

Hills toured a one hour stand-up comedy show built around this event in 2001 and named it after said motto, nearly winning a Perrier comedy award for it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The media attention on the phrase may haved diminished, but it can still be heard occasionally.

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