As Mark Liberman just
, the coining of the playful "Spongeback Mountain
(blending two titles, "Brokeback Mountain" for a movie about two
cowboys in love and lust, and "SpongeBob SquarePants" for a children's
television show about two undersea characters that a few critics have
seen as in a homoerotically tinged relationship) has a snowclonish feel
to it. Perhaps we're seeing the birth of an X-back Mountain
Well, I don't think we're there yet. "Spongeback Mountain" is
just one of a number of variations on "Brokeback Mountain" that people
have come up with since the movie opened last year, and only a few of
these variations are of the form "X-back Mountain". It looks like
we're still in the playful allusion stage, as I argued for the Eye Guy
, in a posting titled "Critical tone for a new snowclone"
(the title exemplifying a very distant variant on the original, "Queer
Eye for the Straight Guy"). The history of a snowclone involves
two separate points at which expressions are fixed in form: a
first fixing, in an expression with little variation, and then after a
period of creative variations on this formula, a second fixing as a
relatively invariant prefab template with open slots, that is, a
snowclone. But not every expression makes it to the second
fixing; only some finish the snowcloning process.
As for "Brokeback Mountain", there are three variants that can arise
from people's (unconsciously) reshaping brokeback
to something that makes
more sense to them: in order of descending frequency, "Brokenback
Mountain", "Bareback Mountain", and "Breakback Mountain". The
first and third represent "corrections" of the nonstandard broke
, and the second looks like an
eggcorn, especially for someone who knows even the barest outline of
the plot of the movie.
"Bareback Mountain" also has a large number of occurrences that are
clearly deliberate plays on "Brokeback Mountain". And it's of the
form "X-back Mountain". As are "Buttback Mountain" and "Boneback
Mountain" (also with a sexual allusion), for each of which there's a
handful of jocular uses.
But most of the variants I've found vary something other than the
"Broke" slot, or vary something in addition to this slot.
First, there's the "Mountain" slot. This lends itself to the
obvious sexual allusion, the imperfect pun "Mounting" or the perfect
pun "Mountin'". Thousands of occurrences of "Brokeback Mountin'"
and hundreds of "Brokeback Mounting". The "X-back Mountain"
versions with broke
"corrected" also occur with puns on mountain
a few of "Brokenback Mounting", one jesting "Brokenback Mountin'"; and a
few of "Breakback Mounting". And, of course, a HUGE
number of "Bareback Mounting" and "Bareback Mountin'", with the sexual
reference in both words of the title.
[Added 3/14/06: Over on soc.motss, Gwendolyn Alden Dean has suggested an RCMP movie "Brokeback Mounties". There are a modest number of web hits.]
There is also at least one variant in which the whole first word is
varied: "Backdoor Mountain". This preserves the prosodic
structure of brokeback
its initial /b/, and pounds in an allusion to anal intercourse.
Hundreds of occurrences, plus a dozen or so each of the doubly sexual
"Backdoor Mounting" and "Backdoor Mountin'".
Then there's the "back" slot to vary, usually with break
in the "Broke" slot. With reference to the movie: a hundred or so each of
"Breakthrough Mountain" and "Breakdance Mountain", plus small numbers
of "Breakup Mountain", "Breakfront Mountain" (once with reference to Will and Grace
Mountain", and "Breakbone Mountain". Plus a hundred or so occurrences of "Brokedown Mountain".
I don't see a snowclone here. I just see people playing with
every part of the movie title they can, especially in ways that add
Now, if you look back at my postings last year on snowclones, you'll
see a lot of stuff (especially in October) about distinguishing
snowclones from other kinds of formulaic language. Here's how I
now see the development:
: an idea is
expressed in various ways, say "what one person likes, another person
detests", "things that please some people repel others", etc. All
of these expressions are understood literally, require no special
knowledge (beyond knowledge of the language) to understand, and can be
created on the spot.
: somebody produces
an especially apt way of expressing the idea, uses an effective
metaphor, or devises a memorable title or name. This expression,
which is essentially fixed in form, then spreads, and gains currency as
a cliché, catch phrase, proverb, quotation, or well-known title
or name. "One man's meat is another man's poison", for
instance. Or the movie title "Brokeback Mountain".
Variation on the fixed expression
the fixed expression may quickly extend by developing open slots, or by
playful allusion to it (via puns or other variations of it). "One
man's Mede is another man's Persian", for instance. In many
cases, every part of the fixed expression that can be varied for effect
is, by somebody or other.
Snowcloning (the second fixing)
these variants become (relatively) fixed as formulas with open slots in
them, as in "One man's X is another man's Y". It's still possible
to play creatively with the expression (just as we can play creatively
with idioms), but most occurrences of variants will fit the
template. I don't think we're there yet with the "Brokeback
Mountain" variants, and I suspect that (as with the Eye Guy variants)
we'll never get there; once the movie and the television show recede
from the front stage of popular culture, these variants will be seen as
quaint relics of the past.
I don't want to give the impression that the four stages can be crisply
distinguished. As with all historical changes, things proceed
differently for different people; the resources of earlier stages will
usually still be available at later ones; and there will be some
borderline cases. For instance, as I said last
in "An Avalanchlet of Snowclones":
... the line between clichés,
some of which can have open slots (the
wonderful world of X, as in the
wonderful world of snowclones...), and the somewhat more complex
classic snowclones, like the X have
N words for Y (which gave the genus its name), is not at all
clear. Probably it's like the line between idioms and
constructions: there are pretty clear examples at the extremes (the
idiom by and large, the
construction Subject Auxiliary Inversion), but [there's also] a range
of intermediate types, with varying degrees and kinds of freedom as to
what can fill the slots in the pattern and with varying degrees of
semantic and pragmatic specialization.
But it isn't all fuzziness. Sometimes you can feel pretty sure
that things are in stage 3 for pretty much everybody.
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at March 13, 2006 02:54 PM