Category Archives: Snowclones

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.

status report

It’s been entirely too long since I’ve written up a new snowclone, despite the continuous additions to the Queue. Thank you all for keeping up on your suggestions. Just wanted to drop a quick note letting you know I’m still alive, as is the Snowclones Database, even if I can’t guarantee when I’ll make time to update it again. It should be within the next couple of weeks.

my kingdom for a(n?) X

This is a relatively simple one that has been around for quite a while. “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” speaks the eponymous King Richard in desperation as the battle turns against him in William Shakespeare’s c. 1591 Richard III.

Modern usage of this snowclone is much more lighthearted–or so I judge from the variations of X, which include book, nap, glass of milk, whore, cake, couch, goat, calf, pun, loaf, cough drop, blu-ray burner, carder, and swashbuckler’s life, among many many others. The speaker may not have his X at the moment, but

So X is most commonly a physical object, to parallel the original horse, but it doesn’t have to be (nap, pun, brogue). I believe this snowclone is still closely tied to its origins, which is to say that users know it comes from Shakespeare, and that the original X is horse. A possible limitation on X is that it start with a consonant sound–so that we don’t get “my kingdom for an airplane”. All of my top results from a Google search and a search (which may or may not be enough information) confirm this. There doesn’t seem to be a limitation on the number of syllables X may have, even though the original would have been constrained by the iambic-pentametric form of the play’s verse.

This snowclone also appears in German (“mein Königreich für ein X”), with similar variation. Xs include Ladegerät (charger), Zimmer (room), Sonnenbrille (pair of sunglasses), Brücke (bridge), and Nacht (night). German speakers also generally know it comes from Shakespeare, and seem to place the consonantal constraint on the beginning of X.

X 2: Electric Boogaloo

This originates with the title of a 1984 film, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. It was the sequel to Breakin’, a B movie about breakdancing, and was received as one of the “25 Worst Sequels Ever Made”.

X variants [chosen semi-randomly from top Google results] include Five Iron Frenzy, baby geek, get me naked, tumblr meetup, and Obama girl. The general limitation on what may appear in the X slot seems to be that (1) there is an X (1) that predates X 2, and (2) the work as a sequel is not to be taken too seriously. The most popular instances are titles of real (music albums, YouTube videos) or fictional works of art. Wikipedia’s page on the film notes on this snowclone, “The implications [of this usage] vary, but tend to imply a sequel that is ridiculous, disappointing, formulaic, or simply obscure.” The phrase has a nice nearly-trochaic rhythm, which may help give this snowclone some ease of use/production.

Ben Zimmer wrote about this snowclone–and the nature of snowclones in general–on the Oxford University Press Blog in his “From A to Zimmer” feature last August.