February 20, 2006

Not your mother's snowclone

In an entertaining piece on shelter magazines in the March 2006 Atlantic Monthly ( "Home Alone: The dark heart of shelter-lit addiction"), Terry Castle reports (on p. 122) that

    If you enter the words "not your mother's" on Google, you'll get nearly 200,000 results, a huge number of which point you immediately toward shelter-mag articles.  "Not your mother's [whatever]" turns out to be an established interiors trope, endlessly recycled in titles, pull quotes, advertisements, photo captions, and the like.  "Not Your Mother's Tableware" is a typical heading--meant presumably to assure you that if you acquire the featured cutlery you will also, metaphorically speaking, be giving your mom the finger.

Castle is exploring the message of the shelter magazines that you can free yourself from your mother's influence and make "your own space".  Along the way she has stumbled upon a snowclone that we haven't discussed here: "not your R's X" (where R is a kin term) conveying that this X is new, unprecedented, improved, superior, unconventional, etc.

We haven't commented on Not Your R's X here, but at least once we've used it: Mark Liberman, in a brief posting "Word Wars" (6/16/04) linking to a site on Scrabble competitions, quoted "This is not your grandmother's scrabble."

Back on the mother front, Castle enumerates:

Other online items that are not your mother's: wallpaper, mobile homes, Chinette, faucet sponges, slow cookers, backyard orchards, and Tupperware parties.  Beyond the realm of interior decoration--it's nice to learn--you can also avoid your mother's menopause, divorce, Internet, hysterectomy, book club, Mormon music, hula dance, antibacterial soap, deviled eggs, and national security.  Thank you, Condi.

On 2/19/06, I got 256,000 raw Google webhits for "not your mother's" and 70,000 for "not your grandmother's".  Some of these occurrences are literal, but an astonishing number of them are snowclones.

Surely the most famous instance of Not Your R's X is the ill-fated "Not Your Father's Oldsmobile" advertising campaign that General Motors launched back in the 90s, a campaign that alienated older car buyers and didn't attract enough younger ones.  The Oldsmobile is no more, but the snowclone thrives; "not your father's Oldsmobile" gets 9,190 hits!

In any case, "father's" beats out "mother's" on Google, 492,000 to 256,000, while "grandfather's" trails "grandmother's" by a bit (57,600 to 70,000).  "Parents'" gets a respectable 79,000, and then the numbers drop precipitously:

grandparents' - 818
brother's - 826
sister's - 609
uncle's - 481
aunt's - 176

For example: "not your brother's GameBoy" (referring to a Nokia handheld), "not your sister's Nancy Drew" (referring to America's CryptoKids, a National Security Agency website for children -- I am not making this up), and "not your uncle's Lexus" (will they never learn?).

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at February 20, 2006 12:15 PM