November 15, 2005

Eating, drinking, sleeping snowclones

In an attempt to parse the Tom Paine quote "It sleeps obedience," Eric Bakovic ended up chasing a tangent, but what a very interesting tangent it is. He brought up the snowclone "X eats, drinks, and sleeps Y," understood to mean "X has an all-consuming dedication to Y." It turns out this is a remarkably "modular" snowclone, allowing a wide variety of conjoined verbs beyond eat, drink, and sleep, in numerous permutations and combinations.

Based on some quick-and-dirty corpus analysis using the Newspaper Archive database, I have isolated ten main verbs that can be used in the snowclone, suitable for paradigmatic alternation and syntagmatic combination:


These verbs tend to cluster in series of three, though the number can range anywhere from two to six. Rules for ordering are a bit hard to determine, beyond tendencies toward certain collocations, e.g., EAT-DRINK, EAT-SLEEP, and SLEEP-DREAM. The most common alternant is EAT, though it is not obligatory — indeed, the oldest example I have found so far, from 1882, uses DRINK SLEEP THINK, with no EAT. The second-oldest example thus far uncovered, from 1890, is the more familiar series EAT SLEEP DRINK, while EAT DRINK SLEEP appears as early as 1908.

As can be seen from the citations below, there are a number of variations on the canonical form of the snowclone. For instance, the object of the conjoined verbs may be repeated for emphasis in the form "X V1 Y, V2 Y, and V3 Y," as in the 1903 cite, "He eats railroad, drinks railroad, sleeps railroad and dreams railroad." Furthermore, the verbs are usually transitive, though occasionally they are used intransitively with a preposition like for, of, or about introducing the object. Because the conjuncts may belong to different verb classes, intransitive usage can lead to WTF coordinations as in the 1969 cite, "Why does a boy suddenly give up something he outwardly eats, thinks and sleeps about and then elect to do something else?"

As for the object of the consuming passion or dedication, it is very often "politics" or a sport like baseball or football. (This may reflect a preponderance of articles reporting on sports and politics in the corpus of newspaper articles, or perhaps journalists reporting on those subjects are more prone to clichés!) The object doesn't necessarily have to be an activity, though an activity is usually implied metonymically (e.g., "horses" for equestrian sports).

The list below is certainly not meant to be exhaustive. A bigger corpus (like webpages indexed by Google) will turn up countless more variations on the theme. But these examples provide a historical glimpse at the many guises a particularly flexible snowclone can take.

ACT THINK EAT SLEEP (Frederick, Md.) News, Aug 27, 1964, p. 8/1
Sen. Hubert Horatio Humphrey acts, thinks, eats and sleeps politics.
BREATHE EAT SLEEP Trenton (N.J.) Evening Times, Oct 14, 1910, p. 15/1
That peculiar brand of sport-loving inhabitant who breathes, eats, and sleeps for baseball first, last and all the time.
DRINK EAT SLEEP DREAM Bridgeport (Conn.) Telegram, Feb 11, 1918, p. 4/1
He drinks, eats, sleeps, and dreams continuously of notes, bills, bonds, stocks and business.
DRINK SLEEP EAT (Reno) Nevada State Journal, Apr. 28, 1946, p. S2/1
The victim practically lives in a bowling alley; he drinks, sleeps and eats bowling.
DRINK SLEEP LIVE Chillicothe (Mo.) Constitution Tribune, Oct 6, 1978, p. 9/3
Mr. Haney practically eats, drinks, sleeps, and lives sports.
DRINK SLEEP THINK Atlanta (Ga.) Constitution, Sep 28, 1882, p. 4/1
The native Georgian drinks, sleeps and thinks politics.
EAT BREATHE SLEEP Oakland (Cal.) Tribune, Apr 3, 1960, p. B23/1
When he is working on a new film, he literally eats, breathes and sleeps the role.
EAT BREATHE TALK Indiana (Pa.) Evening Gazette, Aug 18, 1950, p. 14/4
The trouble with Hollywood is that everybody eats, breathes and talks movies here.
EAT BREATHE THINK DREAM Frederick (Md.) Post, May 14, 1953, p. 14/2
He eats, breathes, thinks, dreams Army.
EAT DREAM LIVE Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune, May 11, 1967, p. 12/1
Baseball Reds' manager eats, dreams, lives the game.
EAT DREAM THINK Western Kansas Press, June 25, 1964, p. 4/1
Burt is different. He eats, dreams and thinks horses.
EAT DRINK SLEEP (Ada, Okla.) Evening News, Apr 21. 1908, p. 8/1
The politician who is following the calling for a livelihood eats, drinks and sleeps politics. You cannot get him off the track. He finds little interest in anything else.
EAT DRINK SLEEP BREATHE (Saint George, Utah) Color Country Spectrum, Apr 6, 1977, p. 4/3
She nearly eats, drinks, sleeps and breathes her native homeland — the red hills of Brigham Young's Dixie of the desert.
EAT DRINK SLEEP DREAM (Oshkosh, Wisc.) Daily Northwestern, Mar 12, 1903, p. 4/4
There is little doubt  that the governor has railroadophobia in an acute form. In fact, there is reason for believing that he eats railroad, drinks railroad, sleeps railroad and dreams railroad.
EAT DRINK SLEEP LIVE Council Bluffs (Iowa) Nonpareil, Nov 29, 1947, p. 7/7
Dyer is a fine manager; he eats, drinks, sleeps and lives baseball.
EAT DRINK SLEEP THINK Havre (Mont.) Daily News Promoter, Aug 30, 1929, p. 4/2
Farrell Macdonald eats, drinks, sleeps, and thinks one thing — acting.
EAT SLEEP (Connellsville, Pa.) Daily Courier, Sep 6, 1932, p. 1/7
Pinchot eats and sleeps politics.
EAT SLEEP BREATHE Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald, Mar 10, 1954, p. 8/1    
He eats, sleeps and breathes football.
EAT SLEEP DREAM Stevens Point (Wisc.) Daily Journal, July 25, 1913, p. 5/5
He eats, sleeps and dreams baseball all the time.
EAT SLEEP DREAM LIVE (Elyria, Ohio) Chronicle Telegram, Mar 20, 1980, p. D11/7
The vital element of any series is having one person who eats, sleeps, dreams and lives the show 24 hours a day.
EAT SLEEP DREAM WALK TALK ACT Lancaster (Ohio) Daily Eagle, May 6, 1918, p. 5/2
She eats, sleeps, dreams, walks, talks and acts pictures.
EAT SLEEP DRINK (Portland, Or.) Morning Oregonian, Mar. 11, 1890, p. 7/6
He eats sleeps and drinks his educational bill and he talks it upon every possible occasion.
EAT SLEEP LIVE Marion (Ohio) Star, Nov 8, 1940, p. 19/3
The man eats, sleeps, lives football.
EAT SLEEP TALK Bucks County (Pa.) Gazette, June 17, 1910, p. 2/4
The county seat just now eats, sleeps and talks Fourth of July celebration, the big, big day of the year.
EAT THINK DREAM Sheboygan (Wisc.) Press, July 23, 1913, p. 6/4
He eats, thinks and dreams baseball when he is not dreaming of the little cottage in Sheboygan.
EAT THINK SLEEP Edwardsville (Ill.) Intelligencer, June 28, 1969, p. 2/5
Why does a boy suddenly give up something he outwardly eats, thinks and sleeps about and then elect to do something else?
LIVE BREATHE SLEEP EAT Lincoln (Neb.) Evening Journal, Feb 14, 1967, p. 6/3
Miss Runn says she lives, breathes, sleeps and eats skating.
LIVE BREATHE THINK Oakland (Cal.) Tribune, Sep 30, 1940, p. 10D/1
Intense, he lives, breathes, thinks football all his waking hours.
LIVE EAT BREATHE Syracuse Herald Journal, Aug 15, 1965, p. 52/8
This is a man who really lives, eats and breathes football.
LIVE EAT BREATHE SLEEP (Zanesville, Ohio) Times Recorder, Nov 25, 1968, p. 4D/9
He lives, eats, breathes and sleeps music.
LIVE EAT DRINK SLEEP DREAM Fort Pierce (Fla.) News Tribune, Mar 20, 1952, p. 6/6
But the balding brown-eyed gentleman is described by friends as one who "lives, eats, drinks, sleeps and dreams politics."
LIVE EAT SLEEP Monessen (Pa.) Daily Independent, Feb 26, 1954, p. 7/1
Kovey is the popular umpire from Monessen who lives, eats and sleeps baseball.
LIVE EAT THINK SLEEP ACT San Mateo (Cal.) Times, Nov. 6, 1926, p. 1/1
He not only sells Studebakers, but he actually lives, eats, thinks, sleeps and acts Studebaker.
LIVE SLEEP Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal, July 21, 1941, p. 8/4
Greasy Neale, the Philadelphia Eagle coach, lives and sleeps football.
LIVE SPEAK THINK EAT SLEEP Fitchburg (Mass.) Sentinel, June 9, 1945, p. 8/1
The man lives, speaks, thinks, eats and sleeps baseball.
LIVE THINK EAT SLEEP BREATHE DREAM Wisconsin Rapids (Wisc.) Daily Tribune, Aug 03, 1929, p. 1/1
Everybody in Seattle lives, thinks, eats, sleeps, breathes and dreams Seattle and this state of Washington.
TALK EAT SLEEP Mansfield (Ohio) News, June 7, 1917, p. 12/5
King talks, eats and sleeps baseball.
TALK THINK EAT Appleton (Wisc.) Post Crescent, Oct 18, 1939, p. 4/5
Joe talks football, thinks football, eats football.
TALK THINK EAT SLEEP DREAM Lincoln (Neb.) Evening News, Jan 05, 1912, p. 3/5
In New York there is a man who talks, thinks, eats, sleeps and dreams peanuts.
THINK ACT BREATHE Key West (Fla.) Citizen, March 18, 1931, p. 3/5
He thinks, acts, breathes in headlines, slogans.
THINK DREAM Wisconsin Rapids (Wisc.) Daily Tribune, Nov 25, 1927, p. 7/2
He thinks, dreams football most of the year.
THINK EAT BREATHE (North Hills, Pa.) News Record, Aug 17, 1985, p. 5/3
With those credentials you would think Dunn is Mr Music. He thinks, eats and breathes the stuff, right?
THINK EAT DREAM Mansfield (Ohio) News, June 26, 1915, p. 10/2
Buck thinks, eats and dreams baseball.
THINK EAT DRINK (Elyria, Ohio) Chronicle Telegram, Oct 19, 1955, p. 16/8
Eddie Fisher...thinks, eats and drinks the product he sells on TV.
THINK EAT LIVE Oakland (Cal.) Tribune, Dec 9, 1927  p. 46/3
Helen Wills...thinks, eats and lives tennis.
THINK EAT SLEEP (Connellsville, Pa.) Daily Courier, August 19, 1926, p. 2/4
One of our customers is a merchant who thinks, eats and sleeps in terms  of business.

[Update: For the early history of the snowclone, see this post.]

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at November 15, 2005 01:40 AM