January 15:  Snowclone Day

Today we celebrate the birth of the word snowclone, which happened precisely at 10:57 pm on this date 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 cliche.  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 on 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 movieline:  “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.

Familiar Proverb Snowclone Formula

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 Don’t count your X before they are Yed.

they are hatched.

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-http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/snowclone-is-the-new-clich

http://homepage.smc.edu/reading_lab/american_english_proverbs.htm

 

 

December 31:  Spam Day

On this day in the 1930s, Jay Hormel hosted a New Year’s Eve party where he challenged his guests to create a name for his latest invention, a canned pork product.

Spam can.pngOn that night not only was a new year born, but also one of the most successful and most recognizable brand names in history came into being: Spam. The winning name was formed from the contraction of

sp(iced h)am; the winner of the contest was awarded $100.

Thanks to a sketch and song from the British television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the word Spam lost its capital letter and became a lowercase common noun referring to unsolicited e-mail. In the sketch, which first appeared in 1970, a waitress recites a list of menu items, all including Spam. As the menu is being recited, a song begins where male voices chant the word Spam more than 100 times. It’s this seemingly endless, repetitive chant that inspired computer users to select spam as the appropriate appellation for unwanted, disruptive email in 1994 (1).

One organization that is especially interested in language and new words is The American Dialect Society (ADS), a non-profit organization that studies the varieties of English specific to North America.  Founded in 1889, the ADS publishes the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), a dictionary that attempts to document and map the varieties of spoken American English in the United States.

At its annual convention each January, members of the American Dialect Society vote on their “Word of the Year,” selecting the single word that was both popular in the previous year and that was demonstrably new.  Below are some examples of previous winners:

2015:  they

2014:  #blacklivesmatter

2013:  because

2012:  hashtag

2011:  occupy

2010:  app

2009 – Tweet

2008 – Bailout

2007 – Subprime

2006 – Plutoed

2005 – truthiness (2)

Today’s Challenge: New Year, New Words

What words or phrases do you think best typify the past year?  What individual words or individual phrases would best sum up your experiences this year?  Write an explanation for the word or phrase that you would submit as this year’s nominee for word of the year.  You may base your explanation either on the important influence the word has had on the broader culture, or you may base your explanation on the important influence the word has had on your personal experience this year.  

Use this writing exercise as an icebreaker at your New Year’s Eve party.  If you’re really ambitious, you might also challenge your guests to honor Spam Day by inventing a new year for the word ahead.  Award cans of Spam as the prize. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day: If variety is the spice of life, marriage is the big can of leftover Spam. –Johnny Carson

1-Steinmetz, Sol and Barbara Ann Kipfer. The Life of Language. New York: Random House, 2006.

2-http://www.americandialect.org/woty/all-of-the-words-of-the-year-1990-to-present