April 11, 2006

X is a Y best served Z

According to the first sentence of a story in the New York Times by Richard Siklos, "Post to Daily News: Drop Dead",

In New York's tabloid newspaper war, revenge is a dish best served boldface.

Nathan Bierma writes to suggest that Siklos has produced a clever new variant of the well-established "X is a dish best served Y" snowclone.

The original phrase is "Revenge [or vengeance] is a dish best served cold", so that boldface is nice rhyming substitution. It's even semantically appropriate, since the Post's breathless gossip columns put celebrity names in boldface. (Thus today's Liz Smith lede "'YOU THINK those girls abstain?' That's Sandra Bernhard on the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara.") And the "revenge" part, in case you've been preoccupied with the Mars Rover's broken wheel, is the Daily News' schadenfreude over the gossip-column extortion scandal at the Post.

According to the Wikipedia:

Revenge is a dish best served cold. - suggesting that emotional detachment and planning ("cold blooded") are best for taking revenge. The earliest well-known example of this proverb in print appears as "La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid" in the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. The saying exists in many cultures, including Sicilian, Spanish and Pashtun, making its ultimate origin difficult to determine. The modern English wording is attributed to Dorothy Parker. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and, in reference, Kill Bill) it is said to be a Klingon proverb and was quoted by Khan Noonian Singh (Original Klingon "bortaS bIr jablu'DI', reH QaQqu' nay"). In comic books it is often associated with Batman's enemy Mr. Freeze.

And there's certainly ample evidence for the popularity of this phrase as the basis for the usual sorts of substitutions. Web searches produce many substitutions for the initial noun and final adjective:

{Vendetta, Justice, Democracy, Seawater, Service, Continuity, Redemption, Truth, Mike Karikas, Tweeness, Schadenfreude, elimination, horror, paranoia, Arch Enemy's music, diplomacy, consciousness, Trampling, stats, skepticism, Payback, Titanium, Ignorance, Intensity, Doom, Comedy, Bed-making, Snark, German electronic music, War, Humble Pie, cronyism, victory, Ethnic insult, Improv, ...} is a dish best served cold.

Revenge is a dish best served {on broken glass, popped, with Happy Penguins, bold, with spam, with a Merlot, online, with ketchup, with postage, cheap, by reply mail, with cabbage, with a stripper, by a musical virgin, slick, smelly, stale, with wine, fried, with a side salad, smack in the f*cking face, with cheese, milky and chocolatey, with a quart of potato salad eaten at one sitting, guava-flavored, ...}

There are also quite a few substitutions for the medial noun alone, though these are mostly simple semantic adjustments or elaborations of the original quote, rather than the re-purposing that typifies a snowclone:

Revenge is a {meal, dinner, plate, drink, platter, dessert, cocktail, beer, tator-tot hotdish, tasty morsel, supper, donut, sweet, meat, repast, fish, cake, ...} best served cold.

Likewise many of the substitutions for the participle served:

Revenge is a dish best {eaten, tasted, savoured, enjoyed, delivered, supped, ...} cold.

And we'll pass over the many examples where it's literally meant that X is best served cold, for X = {Turkey, cheese on toast, Pasta, Steak, Gazpacho, ...}, though this phrasing is probably influenced by the now-famous quotation.

Then there is a penumbra, of indefinite size, of phrases with multiple substitutions:

Disturbing is a dish best served animated
Love is a dish best served in a warm, irresistible atmosphere
Flatulence is a dish best served at 37.5 C
Nostagaligia [sic] is a dish best served squishy
Freedom is a dish best served hot
The truth is a dish best served plain
Clockcleaner's music is a dish best served loud
...comedy is a dish best served black ...
Schadenfreude is a dish best served daily
Blues is a dish best served hot.
Romance is a dish best served spontaneously.
...political insight is a dish best served funny.
Utah's optimism is a dish best served with caution.
... nostalgia is a dish best served without Asian-fusion.
Public radio is a dish best served to those whose palate is mature enough to appreciate it.
...humour is a dish best served cool.
Funk is a dish best served live.
Water skiing is a dish best served at dawn or dusk, when the water is glassy and calm.

Nostalgia Pie is a Dish Best Not Eaten At All.
Five Iron is a dish best experienced live
Satire is a dish best consumed sparingly.
Kama Sutra is a dish best paired with a mango smoothie
Embarassment is a dish best enjoyed alone
Justice is a Pizza Best Served Cold.
History is a lesson best served cold.
envy is a drink best served chilled.
irony is a drink best served on the rocks
Respect is a milkshake best served with two straws.
Reality is a genre best served simple.
quality is a fish best served boned


Posted by Mark Liberman at April 11, 2006 12:47 AM