December 05, 2005

Snowclones hit the big time

The humble study of snowclones, pursued in this space intermittently over the past two years, may be getting a significant boost in attention. David Rowan, who writes on "trendsurfing" for the (UK) Times, has devoted his most recent column to "'Snowclone' Journalism":

Sometimes a trend comes along that is brutally painful for a self-respecting journalist to acknowledge. So it is with some embarrassment that I report on the latest obsession buzzing through the arcane fields of linguistics and lexicography, one that will resonate with any Times reader who values well-written English. We hacks, it seems, have become so enamoured of lazy, formulaic turns of phrase that we have inspired a new academic sport devoted to chronicling them. They even have their own name: snowclones. Snowclones? Darling, as journalistic clichés go, snowclones are the new black.

Rowan peppers the column with various snowclones collected here in the past, from "have X will travel" to "X eats, drinks, and sleeps Y." (For a comprehensive list of snowclone posts see Mark Liberman's update on Geoffrey Pullum's baptismal announcement of Jan. 16, 2004.) Not all of the snowclones mentioned in the column derive from the friendly confines of Language Log Plaza. For instance, "X, the hidden epidemic" was first noted on Jan. 29, 2004 by Danyel Fisher (who also contributed "X, the second-oldest profession" and "X considered harmful"). Rowan remarks that snowclone-spotting is a game everyone can play (not just those obsessive scholars of linguistic arcana!), and he encourages his readers to send in examples they've come across.

I don't see the column in the online version of the Times (though it should be appearing soon on the Factiva and Proquest news databases). Still, this publicity may presage the incipient mainstreaming of snowclonology. Just a couple of months ago, a Wikipedia entry for "snowclone" was deleted because "it was decided that it is a neologism that is not used widely enough to warrant an entry in an encyclopedia." But a new entry emerged shortly thereafter, and Rowan's column and its follow-ups may help convince the Wikipedians that snowclones are here to stay.

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at December 5, 2005 01:13 AM