About the snowclones database

** If you are looking for a place to suggest a snowclone, please go to the Queue.**

The Snowclone(s)1 Database was inspired primarily by Mark Liberman et al’s Language Log and Chris Weigl’s Eggcorn Database. If you are here, you probably already have some idea of what a snowclone is, but in case you’re not sure, here’s some quick review.

A snowclone is a particular kind of cliche, popularly originated by Geoff Pullum. The name comes from Dr. Pullum’s much-maligned “If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z”. An easier example might be “X is the new Y.” The short definition of this neologism might be n. fill-in-the-blank headline. The phenomenon is real enough to have 90,000 Google hits as of this moment and a Wikipedia entry.

The definition of snowclone is somewhat fluid, by its nature, but there are some ground rules. I consider a high number of google hits with significant variation evidence for a phrase’s snowclonehood. Snowclones are a subset of cliches, but not all cliches are snowclones. (Depending how how strictly you define “cliche”, not all snowclones are cliches, either.) Your favorite Simpsons quote is not necessarily a snowclone.

I first discussed snowclones here.

Who’s responsible for this thing? My name is Erin O’Connor, and I have a B.A. and (almost) an M.A. in linguistics, specifically computational linguistics for the latter degree. Generally, I am interested in sociolinguistics and discourse, which I think snowclones illustrate a bit of each of. I wrote the original snowclone article on Wikipedia, but it was immediately nominated for deletion on the basis of being too neologistic. I’m glad there’s a thriving snowclone article there now, but I’m a little bitter that it isn’t mine anymore. (Not that anything on Wikipedia ever really belongs to anyone.)

I also drew the snowman with a snowcone hat with his clone army you see on the main page.

1 July 2007: more adminstrative notes

As of today, I have at least 40 more snowclones queued up to be posted. I am holding off on taking suggestions until I get through them, although comments are open as you can see. I intend to post at least one snowclone a week until I get through my queue. All posts should be searchable, so if you do have a suggested addition to the database, please do a search before sending me a suggestion!

I am trying to make this comprehensive and consistently formatted, but as a blog getting it to that state is an organic process. You will see it get prettier as we go, I hope. I haven’t ironed out the formatting exactly, and I don’t always remember everything I want to say about a particular snowclone when I write its post, so I hope you can help me by commenting when you see information missing.

31 August 2007: The queue

I have now added a “Queue” page for all the as-yet unblogged snowclones. If you don’t see the one you’re thinking of there, please suggest it in comments.

1 My usage varies freely, as far as I can tell, between “the snowclone database” and “the snowclones database”. Be welcome to use either.

18 responses to “About the snowclones database

  1. Steve Hartman Keiser

    I’m wondering about “Rub two X together” as a possible snowclone…sometimes with accompanying “…to get/make Y”. It was a post on languagelog that got me thinking about this, http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004731.html , Mark Lieberman says “Anyone could figure this out, given 30 seconds of web searching and two brain cells to rub together.”
    The source image is rubbing two sticks together to make fire.

  2. Are you actively seeking new examples of snowclones you’ve already dealt with? Only, it isn’t obvious, nor where to send them.

  3. Do you have a list up of the snowclones you have queued up for future entries? I recently heard “X, the official Y of Z” on a commercial and my ears perked up thinking that this could be a snowclone.

  4. I’ve got a great snowclone for you: “How I learned to stop X and love the Y.” If I see this b.s. one more time in print, I’m going to lose it. For some reason, everyone thinks that mimicking the subtitle of Dr. Strangelove is just SO clever and amusing. I’ve seen this about a dozen times in the last year, inadvertently learning why various authors have stopped worrying and learned to love the iPhone, presidential primaries, flu vaccines, and countless other random things.


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  6. As a word nerd, I love the site but one of my favorite parts is the tiny little floating smiley face about 2 inches to the right of your snowmen header.

  7. Here’s a snowclone for your records:

    The X who cried Y.


    68,300 Google hits for “… who cried wolf” excluding “boy”; 97,300 for “boy who cried …” excluding “wolf”.



  8. What about “My X is longer than yours”?
    I’m not sure, but there are about 29,900 hits for “longer than yours” on Google…

    Oh, and thanks Erin for your database! I love this kind of things… 🙂


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  10. I clicked on “About the Snowclone Database” and got to this page. Then I read this page. It tells me about snowclones, and it tells me about who’s responsible for the snowclone database, and it tells me about what’s not in the snowclone database yet.

    And then it shows me some comments on “About the snowclones database”, and then it lets me leave one. Which I am. Leaving one, I mean. Not “one”. Though I am one. Hmm.

    But I don’t see anything about the snowclone database. That makes me sad. Which is a catchphrase, and maybe a cliche, but not a snowclone. If it were, it would be in the database. Wherever that is.

  11. @Jay: I’m not sure what you’re asking, but this blog is the database. Each individual post is an entry in the database. If you want to see a list of snowclones, look at the Queue.

  12. Yep, that’s exactly what I was asking – thanks. Believe it or not, that wasn’t so obvious! Or, rather, I thought that the blog might itself be the database, but when I couldn’t find any sort of index, I started questioning it.

    I saw the Queue, but it says it’s an index only of things that haven’t yet been added. There are some crossed out entries, which presumably have been added, but I couldn’t tell if that was back-dated to the beginning of the blog, or if that was only from the time the entry was written, or what. There’s no timestamp on the page, but since the first comment was in September, I’m assuming it was written around then. And since the default WordPress layout doesn’t have any sort of entry index, there’s no way to look at a list of snowclones without reading every page of the blog.

    In your copious free time, if you should so happen to feel like maybe adding an index page for the snowclones category, it’d make it easier to understand what’s going on. (I have no idea if that’s easy or not in WordPress; I’d volunteer to help if I knew how.) If not, it’s all right, I’ll sit in the dark…

    Thanks for a great resource.

  13. The crossed-out list is updated (mostly) every time I add a new entry, so until I put together a linked index, that can tell you which snowclones have entries, after which you’ll have to page through the blog to see the entries themselves. I do this with the “previous entries” link at the bottom of the page. (This would be slow if there were a lot of entries, but it’s only about four or five pages’ worth so far.)

    I’ll look into putting together an index–that’s a good idea, and something that bothered me early on that I then forgot about. 🙂

  14. Possible list of would-be snowclones at Cardhouse’s auxiliary brain, Macros2000 (best envisioned as pronounced half in French: “Macros deux milles”).

  15. Im in ur comments loving ur database!

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