Category Archives: Snowclones

added an Index

There is now an Index page with links to each snowclone that I’ve written about so far. The Queue still contains the list of as-yet unblogged snowclones, and the items crossed off in the Queue should appear in the links in the Index.

(going to) X like I’ve never Xed before

Hello, and welcome, visitors from Fimoculous!

I haven’t been able to track down an origin for this phrase, if there is one.

Variants on X include act, love, pretend, work, pray, sleep, party, travel, blog, knit, wriggle, lecture, push this book, stalk.

It looks like there might be some limitation on how long a phrase can fill that X slot, at least from what shows me. This makes sense from a production perspective: it seems like once X gets too long, it’d be easy to either forget how you were going to finish the sentence, or find the sentence so unwieldy by the time you got halfway through it you’d have a hard time finishing it. (“I’m going to lay on the beach and drink margaritas like I’ve never lain on the beach and … Wait, what was I talking about again?”)

I thought “X like you‘ve never Xed before” would be just as common and variable as the I version, but returns me nothing for it. [I will have to try again later; I seem to be having technical difficulties with the script.]

X is the Y of Z

The metaphor processing that this snowclone induces is more complex than most: in order to understand any given instance, you have to know what Z is, have an idea of how X relates to Z, and what about Y is important enough to illustrate the relationship between X and Z. Mark Liberman calls this “conceptual universe” a key element of the snowclone in “Snowclones are the dark matter of journalism“:

X is the dark matter of Y is more than a fixed phrase or cliché. It’s a pointer to a little conceptual universe, bringing along with it a metaphorical framework that structures the surrounding chunk of discourse. If X is the dark matter of Y, then X is crucial to Y, is even the biggest part of Y, but it is not directly visible, and must be inferred because of the strong effects it has on visible things.

(I have been more flexible in my definition.)

So, if you know what Y is, but are not as familiar with X and Z, use of this snowclone may give you a better idea of what X and Z are. This helped me understand “Eric Raymond is the Margaret Mead of the Open Source movement”. I sort-of know who Eric Raymond is and what Open Source is about, but now I understand his role in OS better, because I know who Margaret Mead is. This helps demonstrate the “thoughtfulness” this snowclone requires both from its user and hearers.

Examples of this snowclone abound, but I have no idea where to start for an earliest instance, if such a thing even exists. The metaphorical flexibility of this snowclone makes it much less idiomatically fixed than many of the others I’ve written about so far, which means you can’t trace it back to a comedian or movie from which all other usage was inspired. Metaphor is everywhere. It’s also very difficult to track down examples of the snowclone versus plain statements of the “Thing1 is the Thing2 of Entity” form. “The perfect is the enemy of the good” is not a snowclone, nor is “Jupiter is the lord of the house of Death”.

Other Language Log posts which talk about this snowclone include X as the Y of Z” and “

the only good X is a dead X

The original, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”, has been attributed to American Civil War General Philip Sheridan, in response to salutations from Comanche chief Tosawi1, c. 1869. It’s not clear whether he actually said it, but whoever said it, it spread in this form. Indian seems to be the commonest X, but pig, racist, republican, fascist, abortionist, commey [sic], and chinaman also appear in this slot. X is not only limited to slurs, but it does tend toward people and items the speaker has great (real or tongue-in-cheek) contempt for, like the hipster, pabst, raver, clone, poodle, or barney.

1Tosh-a-way? Toshaway? I wasn’t expecting to come across the Indian name hyphenation problem here–but then, I didn’t know Indian was the original X.

whatever Xs your Y

I apologize for my overlong hiatus. Thanksgiving and rearranging my schedule around a new job, plus reinstalling Windows and Ubuntu on the laptop I use at home interrupted my post-a-snowclone-on-Friday habit.

The origin of this snowclone is unknown. [Of course, I welcome any dates on this usage!]

“Whatever floats your boat” is commonly attested, with ~46,000 Google hits, and an entry in the Urban Dictionary, and several seem to have an obligatory “floats”, while the Y is quite flexible as gloat, ornaments, emf, cephalopod, rocketship.

X needs to be a verb, and Y is the item to be Xed, and there is usually some kind of whimsical relationship between X and Y, or the phrasing has an offbeat quality. X and Y may rhyme as in “floats your boat” or alliterate as in “fluffs your flannel”, or Y is not something that naturally follows X in reference to “you”, as in “tweaks your udders.” Thus, “whatever tickles your fancy” does not satisfy this snowclone’s requirements, even though it means the same thing–it is more of a cliche in its own right.

Some other examples found via

whatever roxxx your soxxx
whatever jiggles your jello
whatever bangs your shutters [as seen on “Unblogged Snowclones“]
whatever marinaras your molinaro
whatever tickles your tastebuds
whatever blows your hair back

my X runneth over

This snowclone goes back to the 1611 King James translation of the Bible, Psalm 23, verse 5, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” The original version implies gratitude to a higher power (“thou”) for life’s plenty. Modern variants are more likely to carry a sense only of “too much” and not allude to this gratitude.

Cup is the most common variant, including words that look like it (cpu), contain it (cupcake, D cup), or have a sense of containment as a cup does (chalice, pint, cranium, quarter jar, trough). Other variants include:


It seems that modern users of this snowclone do not limit themselves to the more strict meaning of physical overflowing that “runneth over” is meant to indicate, but since the Psalm itself is meant to be metaphorical (you don’t have to have a real cup literally overflowing to say “my cup runneth over”), this seems perfectly natural.

got X?

This snowclone originated with the 1993 California Milk Board ad in which a collector of the very paraphernalia of a famous duel attempts to answer the contest question “who shot Alexander Hamilton?” with a mouthful of peanut butter sandwich. He cannot make himself understood, and finds he has run out of the milk which would help him wash that mouthful down, and so loses the contest. The ad ends with the words “got milk?”

As I recall, the ad was very popular, and was part of a set of similarly-themed ads in which the protagonist finds himself alone with a mouthful of something sticky and no milk. Its ubiquity is what I think helped snowcloneize the phrase, since “got X?” isn’t a particularly idiomatic construction.

This snowclone is used in situations where someone is trying to sell X, or it is presumed that X is something everyone needs or wants.

Instances of this snowclone are tricky to track down with or Google, since searches on “got X?” or “got *?” are a little too permissive. Variations I have seen on bumper stickers and in my daily life include:

got sand?
got islets? [I want a t-shirt with this on it]
got rice?
got root?
got aloha?
got subluxation?

X does not need to be a one-syllable word, as the last example illustrates. It does need to be a noun, but the noun type is not particularly limited, as far as I can tell, though of course it does need to be something that can be referred to without an article (a(n)/the). (I.e., mass nouns, except I’m not sure that aloha and subluxation are considered mass nouns.)

More modern “got milk?” ads can be seen here.

If X is wrong, I don’t want to be right

This one may be traced to the 1972 soul song “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right.”

The variable seems to vary freely between “loving X” and “X”. When it’s “loving”, some variants of X include:

the buckeyes
frito pie

“Loving X” in this case doesn’t seem to be as morally suspect as the affair referred to in the original song. “Loving frito pie” may be wrong to someone on a diet, but there’s nothing inherently bad about it.

Lacking “loving”, X includes these:

lusting after naked Daniel Radcliffe
hating these pictures
public twister
using ‘irregardless’
eating tofutti
wanting those glasses
fondling Manny’s package
homicidal rage

A gerund-form verb to take the place of the original “loving” is most common, but not obligatory–note the lack of gerund in “public twister” and “homicidal rage”.

X may be something that is considered morally wrong (“lusting after naked Daniel Radcliffe”), morally ambiguous, or wrong on some other level (“using ‘irregardless'”). There does seem to be a general theme of illicit desire here, reflecting the affair alluded to in the original song.

On the other hand, usage may just be intended to be surreal, as in “If selling babies for profit is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Im in ur X Yin(g) ur Z

I have traced references to this to 2004, but it may be older than that. According to the wiki spoof site Encylopedia Dramatica it originated as “Im in ur base killin ur d00ds”. Sources around the web believe that the phrase appeared on a StarCraft screenshot in the Something Awful forums, but if it did, it can no longer be found there or anywhere else on the web. a (possibly non-original) version of which SomethingAwful member Lucas Ng dug up for me.

(Note it’s “all ur doodz” rather than just “your doodz”)

Ask the average internet user and they’ll probably be able to produce a variation on this snowclone and give a sense of where it comes from: gaming chatter, leetspeak, etc. This is, I think, what makes this phrase a snowclone–it is meant to be funny, but it isn’t funny if you don’t know anything about the world in which it originated. Since the content words are all variables, the meaning of this phrase isn’t necessarily limited to “LOL you got pwned and don’t even know it yet”. That is, if you write, “Im in ur meeting planning ur barcamp”, you’re not saying that you’ve taken over the meeting. You’re making a literal statement about where you are or are going to be and how geeky you are.

Another change to this phrase’s “original” usage is its entrance into kitty pidgin. “Im in ur X Ying ur Z” is very popular on the macros that have become known as LOLcats. Variants:

Im in ur couch stealin ur change
Im in ur house bitin yr kids
Im in ur gutter blockin ur drainage
I am in ur dictionaries verbing ur nouns
Im in ur macaronis warming my feet [note non-cat]

Spelling in this snowclone can vary: “ur” may be “yr” or even “your”, and “Im” may be “I’m” or “I am.” (Though I find the latter suspect as true kitty pidgin, unless it’s part of the separate meme of “correcting” LOLcatese. [“I am in your forum posting in a grammatically accurate manner.”])

yes Virginia, there is an X

This one can be dated to an 1897 New York Sun editorial, “Is There a Santa Claus?.” in which the editor reassures a young letter-writer, “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

X seems to range from things that do literally exist to more metaphorical people, places, or things–like the original “Santa Claus.” Variants on X revealed by include Uncle Sam, all-reality TV channel, anarchist communism, iconic Canadian cuisine, Axl Rose, underscore. Multi-word strings seem to be favored, perhaps because the more specific you get about X, the more Virginia will be unsure it actually exists.

“Virginia” is, of course, obligatory to this snowclone. Its fixation into a snowclone has probably been helped by the name Virginia becoming uncommon, so we can easily associate it with an earlier era. That is, if the original editorial had been addressed to Jenny, we might not be using this snowclone.

Yes Virginia, X, where X = “[mildly improbable statement is true]”, is also possible, as first noted by Arnold Zwicky. Variations on the second half of the snowclone include SEO is rocket science, they really are out to get you, there will be a Flash Player 9 for Linux.

I originally “discovered” this one here.