July 28, 2006

X as the Y of Z

Recently, a reader alerted us to an incipient snowclone in the speeches and writings of Rees Lloyd:

(link) "The ACLU has lost all moorings and common sense and rationality and proportionality," he said. "It's become the Taliban of American liberal secularism.
(link) “Today, I am literally ashamed, ashamed that [the ACLU] has become the Taliban of American liberal secularism, wiping our history clean."
(link) "... the ACLU, which I believe has become, by its fanaticism, the Taliban of American secular totalitarianism.”
(link) ... the ACLU is now so fanatic and loosed from common sense that it has become the Taliban of liberal secularism ...

The idea of X as the Taliban of Y has been more widely used:

(link) "The Taliban of Modern Market Capitalism: Fear the accountants as much as the terrorists"
(link) I heard my denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, described as "The Taliban of American Christianity" the other day.
(link) "If allowed to, Hezbollah could easily become the Taliban of Lebanon."

And sometimes the group compared to the Taliban are put in the of-phrase:

(link) Michael Moore and Al Franken are very proud that you and the taliban of liberal loonies are out making fools of themselves.
(link) In jumping into the Schiavo case, the Republicans are simply once again engaging in crass pandering to the Taliban of the religious right...

But the Taliban metaphor is not yet all that frequent, and in any case, it's a particular instantiation of a more general and much commoner meta-snowclone, which starts from a correspondence of the form A:B::C:D, where A and B are famous and evocative of some desired properties and relationships, and then transfers those properties and relationships to C in the context D, with a phrase like "C is the A of D". One of the commonest of these correspondences sets up George Washington and the establishment of the United States of America as the A:B pattern --

(link) In meetings, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense William Luti described him [Ahmed Chalabi] as the "George Washington of Iraq."
(link) Ali Al-Sistani: The George Washington of Iraq?
(link) He is called El Liberator (The Liberator) and the "George Washington of South America."
(link) ...it is probably only Nelson Mandela whose charisma, role, and accomplishments give him some claim to be the George Washington of his country
(link) The files contain an array of his edgy political positions, including his statement in Philadelphia that "Ho Chi Minh is the George Washington of Vietnam."
(link) Well, it happened, though, to the George Washington of Chile, Augusto Pinochet, the man who kicked the Reds out of Chile.

Similar phrases involving other founding (or at least epitomizing) fathers and mothers are common:

Price is truly "the Charles Darwin of nutrition".
Andrew Leonard is the Charles Darwin of bots...
Loch Eggers is the Charles Darwin of surfing.
...[Stilgoe] is the Charles Darwin of real estate, utility and transportation development...
Geoffrey Moore is both the Carl Linnaeus and the Charles Darwin of business and markets.
One writer referred to Breathnach as the "Isaac Newton of the Simplicity Movement."
A professor of philosophy from the University of Texas says, "William Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory."
Griffith, for good reason, is considered the Isaac Newton of filmmaking...
Arguably the most brilliant thinker of ancient China, and certainly the most systematic, he [Xunzi] has been called "The Aristotle of the East."
Scott McCloud, known as the "Aristotle of comics", writes that ...
Could Kerry be the 'Hitler of the Unborn'?
Saddam Hussein is the Adolf Hitler of the 1990's.
Elijah Muhammad is the Adolf Hitler of the black man.
Tila Tequila is the Adolf Hitler of culture.
Nancy G. Brinker calls herself ''the Carrie Nation of breast cancer.''
And the revolutionary was a woman oft hailed as a pioneer for women’s rights, the Carrie Nation of contraception, Margaret Sanger.
Ishimoto Shizue: the Margaret Sanger of Japan.
Marie Stopes, by the way, was the Margaret Sanger of England...

And there can be correspondences that don't involve people at all:

(link) Patents have become the nuclear stockpiling of the software industry.

[Update -- James Callan wrote in with links to his posts on "X is the Saudia Arabia of Y" ("I've discovered a snowclone", 7/13/2006), and "X is the Seattle of Y" ("The Things We Learn from Google", 7/20/2006).

And Benjamin Zimmer wrote:

This reminds me of an essay by Douglas Hofstadter, "Analogies and Roles in Human and Machine Thinking" (Sci. Am., Sep. 1981, reprinted in Metamagical Themas, 1985), where he considers what it means to call Denis Thatcher "the First Lady of Britain" or "the Nancy Reagan of Britain".

Searchable Metamagical Themas links:


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 28, 2006 07:23 AM