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.
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 islets? [I want a t-shirt with this on it]
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.
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:
“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
wanting those glasses
fondling Manny’s package
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.“
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.
(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.”])
Posted in Snowclones
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 snowclone.pl 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.
Here’s another “not too bright” snowclone. Y and Z here correspond pretty closely to the X and Y of “a few X short of a Y”:
Not the brightest light in the harbor
Not the sharpest knife in the drawer
Not the brightest crayon in the box
Not the quickest bunny in the forest
Not the quickest horse in the stable
“Not the sharpest knife in the drawer” alone seems to be fairly popular: it gets ~37,500 Google hits at time of writing. Like “a few X short”, this snowclone doesn’t seem to have an original referent, which makes it also a “strong” snowclone. It’s a cliche, an [American?] idiomatic expression, rather than an allusion to a phrase from a specific source.
This one is less flexible than “a few X short”, where the adjectival X is intended to correspond to mental agility, playing on the physical and mental senses of sharpness, brightness, and quickness.
[from Arnold Zwicky’s list at Unblogged Snowclones]
There are many ways to say that a person isn’t very bright in English. This page lists many of these, including a number of variants on this snowclone:
A few screws short of a hardware store.
A few cards short of a deck.
A few fries short of a Happy Meal.
A few peas short of a casserole.
A few keys short of a keyboard.
A few sandwiches short of a picnic.
Y is something that contains a large enough number of X, that if “a few” are missing, it’ll slow the party down. If someone is “a few oranges short of a bushel,” they can still go to market, they just won’t be able to compete as well with the other orange sellers. I believe this metaphorical flexibility makes this snowclone an example of [what I am marking as] the strong definition of snowclone1, as it is more than a “playful allusion” to a particular expression. If there is an original referent for this phrase, I have not been able to locate it.
Mark Liberman discussed this “Snowclone of Foolishness” (or variant on “Full Deckisms“) back in July 2005, providing even more examples, and pointing out other variants on the pattern itself. Shy may appear in place of short (“A few straws shy of a bale”), and a number may appear in place of the a few quantifier (“three pickles short of a barrel”).
People seem to have a lot of fun with this expression, so I’d like to share a few more examples:
a few bananas short of a bushel
a few sprinkles short of a sundae
a few hosannas short of a miracle
a few smarties short of a lollybag
a few beers short of a barrel
1I swear, I will go back over the various discussions of what it means to be a snowclone and write them up, eventually.