we’re gonna need a bigger X

This originated in the 1975 movie Jaws. The group setting out to kill the great white shark are told, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” [Insert something here about the movement from “you” to “we” because of the asynchronous nature of Internet dialogue…]

Variations on X returned by snowclone.pl include cessna, stoat, blimp, litter box, skillet, blanket, park, rug, roach motel, and console, among many others. People seem most comfortable with single-word Xs, and single-syllable Xs are even better, so that the phrase more easily recalls the Jaws usage.

This is a pretty unidiomatic expression, so it is quite possible for people to use it without making any reference to taking down overlarge sharks. The instances I’ve investigated for context confirming intentional allusion to Jaws do favor it, though this confirmation is likely biased because I searched using “gonna” instead of “going to.”


Wikipedia claims the X0 of this snowclone, “WWJD?” for “what would Jesus do?” became popular in the 1990s “as a personal motto for … Christians who used the phrase as a reminder of their belief that Jesus is the example to be followed in daily life, and to act in a manner of which Jesus would approve.” Subsequent Xs are intended as tongue-in-cheek role models, to contrast with Jesus, and include Brian Boitano, Patrick Swayze, Dumbledore, Snape, Xena, and Dubya.

The Jesus of the X0 phrase is also sometimes fixed, so that instances like “what would Jesus bomb?” are also acceptable.

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 snowclone.pl 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 snowclone.pl 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 snowclone.pl:

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 snowclone.pl 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.