That Escalated Quickly scene from Anchorman


How did ‘well that escalated quickly’ become such a popular internet meme?

This meme feels like a permanent part of the internet's lexicon.


Rachel Kiley


Posted on Oct 15, 2023   Updated on Nov 12, 2023, 2:47 pm CST

If you spend time on the internet, there’s no doubt you’ve come across someone describing a chain of events—whether in video, photos, or a written story—by saying “well, that escalated quickly.” 

Maybe you didn’t even notice it at first. It is a common phrase, after all. But it’s become particularly common among the perpetually online, particularly as commentary on something that truly just jumped from zero to 100 faster than anyone would have expected. And like most things that become adopted as an internet meme, it didn’t spring out of nowhere.

Where does ‘well that escalated quickly’ come from?

Although it had undoubtedly been said before, the phrase shot to cultural relevancy thanks to the Will Ferrell comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, revolving around a San Diego news team in the 1970s.

“Boy, that escalated quickly,” Ferrell’s Burgundy says of a brawl between his news team and a rival news team, prompting Steve Carrell’s character to admit he killed a man with a trident.

Although Anchorman was released in 2004 (and its sequel didn’t hit theaters until 2013), the use of “well that escalated quickly” exploded on the internet in 2012. 

According to Know Your Meme, back in 2010, an image of Ferrell alongside the quote began circulating as the meme response we’ve come to know so well today, largely on sites like 4chan and Reddit. But The Verge believes credit for the serious uptick that happened two years later may go, at least in part, to a clip of the scene being uploaded to YouTube in 2011.

How is the phrase used?

In its original usage, Burgundy and his pals were meant to have a little scuffle between news anchors, but instead, at least one person wound up dying in a baffling and unexpected way. Perhaps most importantly for memeing purposes, although the conflict did escalate quickly, that escalation didn’t change their tone. Everyone stayed relatively casual about the accidental murder.

An escalating event can either be paired with the original meme—the image of Burgundy alongside the quote—or, at this point, simply tossing out a “well that escalated quickly” or “boy that escalated quickly” is recognizable enough to do the trick.

What are some of the best uses of ‘well that escalated quickly?

The examples of this meme on the internet are too numerous to consider, but here are some great ones that encapsulate what it represents:

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*First Published: Oct 15, 2023, 2:19 pm CDT