narrow vs. broad snowclones

If you read Language Log or the American Dialect Society mailing list, you have probably come across discussion of snowclones that narrows the definition in a way that I don’t do here.

Arnold Zwicky refers [PDF] to this sort of usage as “playful allusion”, and phrases may be playful allusions on the way to becoming snowclones by the narrow definition.

The cliché templates known … as snowclones … have two-part histories, a first phase in which a fixed model gains currency, a second in which variations are played on the model, sometimes leading to a second fixing, a crystallization of these playful allusions into a snowclone.

In the first phase, an idea is expressed in various ways: “what one person likes, another person detests”, “things that please some people repel others”, etc. All of these are understood literally, require no special knowledge to understand, and can be created on the spot. Eventually, one particular formulation becomes conventional, in a cliché, striking quotation, proverb or saying, catchphrase, slogan, or memorable name or title: “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

I tend to overlook this distinction when documenting snowclones here, because I like playing with *all* the phrases, and I think from a lay standpoint the distinction is not always clear. I do want to call attention to this fact, however, and I encourage you to remind me that a phrase I document here may not be a snowclone by the narrow definition.

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3 responses to “narrow vs. broad snowclones

  1. Google finds these: trash/treasure, junk/treasure, trash/story, trash/mulch, trash/cash, trash/dinner, meat/muse, ceiling/floor (Paul Simon), love song/blues (Johnnie Ray), editor/censor, weird/world, garbage/megawatt, pork/pain, bait/sushi, hissy fit/cash cow, nightmare/wet dream, wage rise/price increase, hell/heaven, modus ponens/modus tollens, onion/lotus flower, community organizer/outside agitator, collateral damage/son, white box/black box, chickenshit/chicken salad, toxic sludge/potpourri, priceless/worthless, faith/fiction, limo/hearse, tailing pile/treasure, onion/allium, and the beat goes on…. Clearly this snowclone is almost infinitely productive. There’s a preference for single nouns rather than noun phrases, and for alliteration or rhyme.

    Two jokes I like:

    One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.

    One man’s mean is another man’s Poisson.

    In addition, this Guy Clark song is practically nothing but instantiations of this template.

  2. Ha, thanks for doing the work for me on “one man’s X”. This post wasn’t meant to be about it–I was just quoting Dr. Zwicky.

  3. (not trying do undervalue John’s comment) not sure if you’re aware of this, but you can do wildcard searches in google, eg. “one man’s * is another man’s *” and “it’s * all the way down”. very cool for searching for snowclone instances.

    p.s. love this blog :)

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