Today we celebrate the birth of the word snowclone, which happened precisely at 10:57 pm on this day in 2004. The creator of the neologism, or new word, was Glen Whitman, an economics professor at California State University, Northridge. Writing in his blog, Whitman was looking for a snappy term to describe the increasingly popular practice, especially in journalism, of adapting or slightly altering a cliché. For example, folklore tells us that Eskimos have a large number words for snow. This oft repeated factoid spawns spinoff phrases that fit the following formula:
If Eskimos have N words for snow, X have Y words for Z.
A quick Google search reveals the following snowclones:
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, fibromyalgics should have them for pain.
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, the Nicaraguans have a hundred related to the machete.
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, Floridians should have at least as many for rain now.
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, we have let bloom a thousand words for fear.
Glen Whitman exudes pride when talking about his lexicographical invention, the bouncing baby “snowclone”: “If I can claim no other accomplishment when I die, at least I’ll have one neologism to my name!” (1).
The word that was born in a blog is now being catalogued by blogger Erin Stevenson O’Connor at his website snowclones.org. The following are some of the additional members of the snowclone species which have grown out of a variety of popular culture sources:
In X, no one can hear you Y from the tagline for the movie Alien: “In Space, no one can hear you scream.”
I’m not an X, but I play one on TV from a 1986 cough syrup commercial: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”
X is the new Y from the world of fashion: “Pink is the new black.”
X and Y and Z, oh my! from The Wizard of Oz movie line: “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
I X therefore I am from philosopher Rene Descartes’ famous quotation: “I think, therefore I am.”
This is your brain on X from a famous anti-drug public service announcement: “This is your brain on drugs.”
My kingdom for a(n) X! from a famous line from Shakespeare’s play Richard III: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”
Today’s Challenge: Send in the Snowclones
What familiar proverbs might you adapt into your own snowclones? Use the proverbs below along with the Snowclone Formulas to generate your own ideas. Select your best snowclone, using it as the title of a paragraph. In your paragraph, explain the wisdom behind your snowclone proverb.
The bigger they are the harder they fall.
-The Xer they are the Yer they Z
Actions speak louder than words.
-Xs speak louder than Ys
The pen is mightier than the sword.
-The X is mightier than the Y.
Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.
-Don’t count your X before they are Yed.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
-Don’t judge a X by its Y.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
-X is the mother of Y.
Too many cooks spoil the broth.
-Too many Xs spoil the Y.
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Snowclone: “A multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different jokey variants by lazy journalists and writers” -Geoffre Pullman
1-McFedries, Paul. Snowclone is the New Cliché. Spectrum.ieee.org. 1 Feb. 2008. http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/snowclone-is-the-new-clich.