X considered harmful

This one has already been well-documented on Language Log and Wikipedia. For computer scientists, the X0 is “Go to statement”, per a 1968 letter to Communications of the ACM by Edsger Dijkstra, but this phrasing was actually journalistically well-known well before 1968, which is likely why it was chosen as the title of the 1968 letter. Since the phrasing is not particularly idiomatic, it arguably did not become a snowclone until the “Go to” variation became well-known. All the variants of X are really particular to computer science writing, more specifically to programming languages or shell commands because of this origin: cat -v, csh programming, global variable, recursive make, considered harmful (my favorite).

Love in the time of X

X0 is “cholera”, from the title of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1985 book of that name. X is usually something with a society-crossing effect, like global warming, insurgency, affluenza, the apocalypse, and of course, these days, COVID-19 or corona, which has overtaken all variations.

This snowclone naturally exists in Spanish as well: variations of X include redes (networks), Castro, corona (just as in English), impuestos.


A site for “CountryX is the CountryY of Z”

A site for “CountryX is the CountryY of Z”

This site maps puts tweets of the snowclone of the form “CountryX is the CountryY of Z” on a world map, in real time or something close to it.


Snowclones are one of the memetic modes that cause misquotations to persist, so I found this The Atlantic article worth sharing today: “Beam Us Up, Mr Scott!: Why Misquotations Catch On.”

Among the ones I’ve written about so far, I discovered that “the only good X is a dead X” is a bit of a misquote, as is “we’re gonna need a bigger boat,” “these are not the droids you’re looking for,” and (arguably) “we don’t need no stinking X“.

verbal “heart” added to the OED

The power of “I [heart] X” is now such that the transitive verb “to heart” (spelled out, or written as “♥”) has become part of the Oxford English Dictionary. I’m not a lexicographer, but that seems like a quick turnaround.

Hat-tip to Ben Zimmer for bringing this to my attention.

♥ to heart

The new sense added to heart v. in this update may be the first English usage to develop via the medium of T-shirts and bumper-stickers. It originated as a humorous reference to logos featuring a picture of a heart as a symbol for the verb love, like that of the famous ‘I ♥ NY’ tourism campaign. Our earliest quote for this use, from 1984, uses the verb in ‘I heart my dog’s head’, a jokey play on bumper stickers featuring a heart and a picture of the face of a particular breed of dog (expressing a person’s enthusiasm for, say, shih-tzus) which itself became a popular bumper sticker. From these beginnings, heart v. has gone on to live an existence in more traditional genres of literature as a colloquial synonym for ‘to love’.

The entry:
heart, v.

trans. colloq. (orig. U.S.). To love; to be fond of.Originally with reference to logos using the symbol of a heart to denote the verb ‘love’: see quot. 1983.

[1983 Associated Press (Nexis) 16 Nov., From Berlin to the Urals, teen-agers wear T-shirts reading, ‘Elvis’, ‘Always Stoned’, and ‘I (heart) New York’.]
1984 About Helmet Visor Screws in net.cycle (Usenet newsgroup) 26 June, Joe ‘I heart my dogs [sic] head’ Weinstein.
1986 Daily Collegian (Pennsylvania State Univ.) 14 Feb. 2/3, I just want to say to my Bunny Boo I Heart you Kathleen.
1998 Houston Chron. 10 May (Chronilog section) 7/1, I think he’s so cute. I heart him to bits.
2003 Time Out N.Y. 7 Aug. 77/1 If you heart dance like DJ Scott does, then hie thee down to this little drink spot tonight.
2009 A. Ham et al. Middle East (Lonely Planet) (ed. 6) 141/1 We heart the brownies (E£4).
2010 Observer 18 July 13/4, I hearted Take That‥with a teary passion that was deemed unbecoming in a Jesus and Mary Chain fan.

I [shape] X roundup

It’s time some of the excellent submissions to the “I [shape] X” entry got their own post. The selections displayed here do not cover all the comments on that post, as some of the images have become elusive. Plays on the original heart make an appearance, in addition to symbols that don’t have a Unicode representation, like a food cart. There’s also one without any symbol at all, calling the reader to supply his or her own.

I [food cart] street food:

I [cart] street food

I [raindrop] Seattle:

I rain Seattle

I [dice] Las Vegas:

I dice Las Vegas

I [space invader] Paris:
I invade Paris

I [heart heart heart] polygamy:

I heartx3 polygamy

I [?] Unicode:

I ? unicode

I [glove] MJ:

I glove mj

I [ ] organ donation:

I organ donation

I [tomato] my farmer:

I tomato my farmer

I [foot] Madlibs:

I foot madlibs

it’s X all the way down

X0 is turtles, as recorded in Stephen Hawking’s 1988 A Brief History of Time:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever”, said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!

Whenever this story originally appeared, it does seem to have become popular as a result of Hawking’s retelling:

X must be something that can be pluralized: actors, cans, features, caches, big bangs, cronies, and fraudsters all occur in the variable position. It often seems that if a person suggests that it’s “caches all the way down“, he means that many things in a system may be called something else but ultimately can be modeled as caches. Whether we think of gravity and centrifugal force rather than the balancing of a giant turtle as what holds us on the earth, it doesn’t make much difference in most of our day-to-day actions. I’ve also often heard “it’s X all the way down” as the answer to “but then what? but then what?” type questions–at some point the last thing you understand in a sequence of events is what goes all the way down.

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.

all your X are belong to us

This originates in the Internet memetic spread of a 2000 animation that cut together scenes from the Japanese video game Zero Wing in which a character says “all your base are belong to us” with various Photoshoppings of the same phrase. [Ed: if you haven’t seen this video before, I suggest you watch it before proceeding further.] The odd phrasing (a result of poor translation) seems idiomatic to native English speakers and thus lends itself to being snowcloned. Thus it has spread from the leet enclaves of the web (i.e. Something Awful) to the headlines of posts on Reason.com (all your economic decisions are belong to us) and the Center for Democracy & Technology (all your browsing history are belong to us) relatively quickly.

Because of the phrase’s idiomaticity, X may be singular or plural or otherwise not quite line up with the restrictions normally implied by “all your”. Variations include Trek (as in Star Trek), geolocation, [hard] drives, big data, candy, tax cuts. In 2006, the Tensor found with snowclone.pl that X other than “base” most frequently was blogs, audioscrobbler, snakes, bass, bias, skyscrapers, iraq, athens, and typos. I do not see a feature restriction on X like must-only-have-one-or-two-syllables, which makes it more flexible than other snowclones. In cliche years, it is very young, however, so it remains to be seen whether or how this snowclone will flourish.

consider the X

Ben Zimmer wrote this one up on Language Log a year ago. Here is my summary of that article.

It originated in Luke 12:24 of the Bible, X0 being both “consider the crows” and “consider the lilies”. “Consider” is translated from the Greek “observe fully”, so when using this snowclone, you’re instructing the reader to think carefully about X and compare some of its qualities to himself. X must be restricted to flora and fauna in order to evoke the original, and famous instances include daisies, cod, fish, termite, oyster, armadillo.