January 16, 2004

Snowclones: lexicographical dating to the second

At last a suitable name has been proposed for the some-assembly-required adaptable cliché frames for lazy journalists that have received occasional discussion on Language Log (here, in the first instance). I mean formulae like these (where the N, X, Y, Z are filled in to taste):

If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z.

In space, no one can hear you X.

X is the new Y.

Glen Whitman, who discussed this topic on Agoraphilia, taking his cue from the first example, proposes calling these non-sexually reproduced journalistic textual templates by an appealingly simple name: we can call them snowclones.

Hearing no other nominations, I now hereby propose that they be so dubbed. The clerk shall enter the new definition into the records.

Since we have a record of the exact time at which Glen hit Send and transmitted the new term to me (the first person to read it), lexicographers are in luck here: they can date the coining of snowclone to the second. So they may like to note for their future reference that this term was coined at 22:56:57 (that's 3 seconds before 10:57 p.m.) on Thursday, January 15, 2004, in Northridge, California.

[Update 10/19/2005 (myl) -- some other Language Log posts on Snowclones, added for those who find this via the Wikipedia entry for "snowclone":

Bleached conditionals (10/21/2003)
Phrases for lazy writers in kit form (10/27/2003)
Clear Thinking Campaign gives "Fogged Spectacles" Award to John Lister (12/02/2003)
Another snowclone (1/18/2004)
When did you first hear this pattern? (1/25/2004)
Snowclones are the dark matter of journalism (1/28/2004)
"I, for one, welcome our new * overlords" (1/29/2004)
In Soviet Russia, snowclones overuse you (1/29/2004)
The memetic phylogeny of "our new * overlords" (1/30/2004)
Expression's vast varieties (3/3/2004)
The right X and the right Y (4/3/2004)
The backpack of it all (4/18/2004)
Putting the X in Y (4/19/2004)
The A-er the B, the C-er the D (4/19/2004)
Is 30 the new 42? (4/23/2004)
Cuteness (4/24/2004)
X are from Mars, Y are from Venus (4/27/2004)
Have X, will travel (5/25/2004)
Not the * I know: let * be * (7/3/2004)
Snowclone sightings (10/21/2004)
Twos and threes (11/27/2004)
Homeric objects of desire (1/7/2005)
* me P and call me * (1/25/2005)
Defecated to eggcorn fans everywhere (1/31/2005)
Not everything that passes (1/31/2005)
Smart kids (2/27/2005)
Liberalism is the new communism (3/27/2005)
Once a snowclone, always a snowclone (5/17/2005)
Antique snowclones (5/17/2005)
The hounds of ADS-L (5/18/2005)
An avalanchlet of snowclones (5/21/2005)
X-ing outside the Y (6/2/2005)
That's why they call it X (6/3/2005)
Polysemy in action (6/3/2005)
What is this 'snowclone' of which you speak? (7/3/2005)
Documenting snowclones, dating them (7/4/2005)
A few players short of a side (7/14/2005)
You can call it X all you want (8/23/2005)
Two, three ... many prefabricated phrases (9/13/2005)
Wikipedia on Simpsons words (9/26/2005)
What is this Harvard? (10/12/2005)
Playing one (10/12/2005)
To snowclone or not to snowclone (10/12/2005)
Playing one 2 (10/13/2005)
Playing one 3 (10/176/2005)
Critical tone for a new snowclone (10/18/2005)
My big fat Greek snowclone (10/19/2005)
Is splanchnic just another word for schmuck? (10/28/2005)
Snowclone shortening (11/14/2005)
Eating, drinking, sleeping snowclones(11/15/2005)
Eating, drinking, sleeping snowclones, part 2: the early years (11/16/2005)
Snowclones hit the big time(12/5/2005)
The proper treatment of snowclones in ordinary English(2/4/2006)
Not your mother's snowclone(2/20/2006)
No snowclone left behind2/25/2006)
Crazy talk(3/1/2006)
Tracking snowclones is hard, let's go shopping!(1/2/2006)
The entire United State wept(1/3/2006)
Noclone (4/5/2006)
The Agenbite of Onion Wit (4/7/2006)
Brokeback generalizations (4/7/2006)
Respect (4/9/2006)
More brokeback generalizations (4/9/2006)
Best. Snowclone. Evar (4/10/2006)
A pirated Barbie-ism (4/11/2006)
X-back mountain (4/13/2006)
Snowclone Mountain (4/13/2006)
It's not hard out here for a cliché (4/17/2006)
It's X's world, we just live in it (4/21/2006)
I found my snowclone in Palo Alto (4/23/2006)
Springtime for Snowclones (6/6/2006)
Snowclones of linguification (7/9/2006)
X as the Y of Z (7/28/2006)


Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 16, 2004 01:37 PM