Category Archives: Snowclones

everyone loves Eskimo words for snow

Even Iron Man:

From Invincible Iron Man #28, Matt Fraction and Salvador LaRocca.

(Bonus “word for X” cliche action there too!)

I X therefore I am

This begins with I think, therefore I am, the translation of Descartes’ Je pense donc je suis (1637) or the more common cogito ergo sum (1644).

The Google Ngram Viewer reveals “I think therefore I am” taking off in (non-periodical) print around 1900.

The snowcloneification was surely not far behind, since so many people would already have been familiar enough with this cliche of philosophy. Something else will very occasionally occur in place of “am” (“I knit, therefore I blog“), but this generally weakens the tie to the original–unless the composer of the snowclone is very clever.

X is often single-syllable verbs, no doubt to help evoke the original, but longer words are possible: smell, skate, rez, tweet, drink*, fink*, shrink*, consume.

* Note the rhyming with the original think.

the first rule of X is, you don’t talk about X

This snowclone began with the 1999 film Fight Club, whose title is X0.

Note that the original phrase was “…you do not talk about fight club”, emphasis mine. This shifting to the less-formal contracted form is consistent with the reference to the film being a playful one, as snowclones in general so often are.

Many of the Xs are also clubs, including fat club, AppleClub, film club, Lego club. Other Xs include robots, the metro, Usenet. One unusual X, the quilting society, turns out to be in the title of an Onion article. These snowclones often serve as headlines to stories about X, in which it is interesting that participants in X do not talk about it.

Fritinancy writes up’s snowclone slogans

Her post can be found here, and includes “X is so Y”, “every time X, a Y Zs”, and “X happens”.

the snowclones database is not dead, long live the snowclones database

Here’s another quick-n-easy post to say, hello! I’m still here! And to point you to the delightful Laugh Out Loud Cats, which made a familiar reference yesterday:

in the wild: X do it like Y

T. Rex seems to have discovered a couple of snowclone-y jokes:

I’m not sure if all of them have actually reached snowclone status, but the well-worn bumper sticker slogan “X do it like Y”, particularly for any Y that is a pun on what Xes do, has certainly been in the queue for a while.

this is your brain on X

This snowclone originated with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America’s 1987 PSA:

The original phrase was frequently lampooned in subsequent years, becoming strong enough in popular culture that the variations in place of ‘drugs’ probably didn’t take long to appear at all. The snowclone is mainstream enough now to appear in the title of a recently published book: This Is Your Brain on Joy.

Most other variations on X are meant to evoke the altered state–good or bad!–your brain is in on X: music, crack, technology, television, fox, exercise, pink floyd, gluten, estrogen..

Edited to add: A case can be made for this is your X on drugs also being derived from the original anti-drug PSA, as noted by commenter Emily, but I think the X on drugs snowclone is a separate thing, since referring to “Azumanga Daioh … as ‘Peanuts on LSD'” is not the same as saying, “This is Peanuts. This is Peanuts on LSD.” The “this is your” part of the phrase is obligatory–without it, the connection to this particular snowclone is lost.

call for variations: I [shape] X

This is a generalization of the I ♥ X clone begun with the “I ♥ NY” rebus created in 1977 to promote tourism in New York State. Variations on [Place] include any city with enough tourism to want to print t-shirts with their name on it. On the web, I was able to find LA, Boston, SD [for “San Diego” and “South Dakota”], Seattle, New Orleans, DC (for the District of Columbia in the U.S.), etc. This variation requires the styling of the original, where the “I ♥” appears on one line and the “[Place]” appears immediately below it, justified so that the logo is inscribed by a square.

The snowclone is not really limited by this logo styling, however: the X of I ♥ X may be any kind of noun or noun phrase representing something concrete: I ♥ Java or I ♥ my schnauzer is okay, but I ♥ puppycide is not. X must be something that is loveable.

What makes the ♥ version especially interesting is that the phrase “I heart” has come to mean “I love” in English. It’s not completely interchangeable in speech–talking about “hearting” a person is certainly strange, and you can’t say “he hearts his wife”. But ah, semiotics! We can interpret the symbol itself as standing in for the verb “love” or we can interpret the word for the symbol as standing in for the act of love. The actual usage of “heart” for “love” is more playful. When Fran Healy sings “I heart everything about you” in Travis’ song “Big Chair”, he’s being sentimental, but maybe it’s coy: it’s not clear if he means the same thing as if he said “I love everything about you”.

And this leads us to the generalization: we may now get a variety of shapes in place of the heart. For example, I Godzilla Tokyo:

Or I Shamrock Guinness [where I write “Shamrock” to mean the green symbol below, and “Guinness” for the pint symbol]:

The ubiquity of “I ♥ X” is really what makes these other variations possible, and what makes it a snowclone. You can’t understand I Shamrock Guinness without knowing about “I ♥ NY”.

These are the two variations I’ve seen in the wild, but I expect there are others. There just isn’t a good way to do a web search for them. If you have seen one, please point it out to me!

Edited to add commenter matt’s superquick suggestion: I Adidas NY:

Another addition: fj says, “I know that someone’s done an “I (bean) Chicago” where bean is a sketch or photo of Anish Kappor’s Cloud Gate sculpture, but I’ll be damned if I can find an image of it online.”

Edited to add: Be sure to check out comments here for more great variations!

a reminder on the definition of snowclone

There have been a number of recent suggestions on The Queue that do not fit the definition of the term snowclone, so I thought it might be time to revisit what it means to be a snowclone.

A snowclone must be more than a common turn of phrase. Arnold Zwicky argues that to be a snowclone rather than a “playful allusion”, a user need not be aware of its origin when using it–that is, X and Y and Z, oh my! is not entirely a snowclone because we always know we’re calling up The Wizard of Oz when saying “Python and Perl and Ruby, oh my!” Contrast this with “untested code is the dark matter of software”, which meets all these criteria for snowclonehood:

the figure contributes some meaning of its own … you treat the expression as figurative, and the figure as meaningful;

In order to understand what this phrase means, you have to have some idea of what dark matter is and does, or at least of the relationship between untested code and software that makes untested code LIKE dark matter.

the figure has form as well as content;

To communicate what is contained in the “dark matter” phrase you might instead say, “Untested code can suck away the effectiveness of software and a disproportionate amount of the software developer’s time and energy down the line”.

this form is neither completely fixed (as in frozen idioms like “by and large”) nor subject to many variations … like many idioms, it has a lot of fixed stuff and some variable slots

We can variable-ize “X is the dark matter of Y” further to “X is the Y of Z”, but we can also say “untested code is to software as dark matter is to the universe” to enter the same snowclone world that the first phrase suggests.

you can use the figure without much thought; you get it “off the shelf”, and real creativity (even at the level of the pun) is not required;

I think this is another way to say it must be somewhat idiomatic and metaphorical. Here, untested code is not actually dark matter.

you can use the figure without any appreciation of its origin; in fact, for many snowclones the original model is hard to determine.

We have not determined who said the first X is the Y of Z, since not every instance of a phrase fitting into that template is a snowclone (e.g., “Joe Smith is the CEO of Acme Inc.”) and it is so very variable, searching for it in sources is difficult indeed. [I am more flexible with regard to this last requirement, mainly because I think it’s more interesting to find the earliest usage for these phrases than not.]

X and the Y of Z is not a snowclone, but some writers’ way of signaling that you may expect one of their books with a title of that form. For George R. R. Martin, it is A(n) X of Ys; for Sue Grafton, it is X is for X-word. A playful allusion to Harry Potter is certainly intended with Harry Potter and the King of Pop, but “Nancy Drew and The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds” is not referring to Harry Potter (and not just because it predates it :)). There is not really another way to express these phrases without summarizing the books they title, so the content requirement is not met.

The content requirement is a big one, and is the reason “my X days are over”, “X unplugged”, “Murder on X”, “X the Y”, “that old X of mine”, “a girl and her X”, and “how to X a Y” are not snowclones. These are not metaphorical and only marginally idiomatic. They are only common ways to title stories.

The Talented Mr. X

I believe this snowclone was popularized by the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was based on the 1955 book of the same name by Patricia Highsmith. It is possible that the book title popularized the form, but I do not have access to journalistic materials that would allow me to investigate this.

Mr. Xs include Roto, Damon, Minghella, Nolan, Barker, Paolo. Clearly the limitation on X here is simply that it be a proper name. X01 Mr. Ripley is talented, but also a thoroughly disconcerting and distasteful figure. Subsequent Mr. Xs need be nothing but talented in the positive sense. Two of the examples above [results from and Google] are direct references to the lead actor and the director of the film, The Talented Mr. Ripley, which I see as evidence that this snowclone is still strongly tied to its source.

“The not-so-talented Mr. X” is also a possibility. Negation of this sort is permissible with many snowclones, which is to say, the original source is still recognizable even when the phrase is negated.

1 I’m going to try to be consistent about using X0 to indicate the original form of the snowclone rather than writing out “the original form of the snowclone” from now on. Thanks to Emmanuel Dammerer for the term.
Side note: In case you’re wondering, I employ no heuristic other than my whim when choosing which snowclone to write about next. I’m working my way through the ones I’m most familiar with first, but not in any kind order.