August 11, 2007

Yet another snowclone omnibus

Living on the slopes of Snowclonia as I do, I'm always in danger of being swept away by an avalanche.  And those snowclones have been piling up for nine months since my last snowclone omnibus.  It's time for some snowclone removal.

By way of introduction, here's a tribute to the current World Champion Snowclone, The New Y:

(Hat tip to Ornithopter.  Note: I am no longer adding examples to my file on The New Y; the case is closed.)

In this posting, I'm going to survey snowclones (well, snowclone candidates) that are new to Language Log since my earlier omnibus posting.  In another posting, I'll comment on some of the older ones.

1.  From Alex Baumans, 11/12/06: "It's X, Jim, but not as we know it" (from Star Trek; there are examples without a name and with names other than Jim).

2 and 3.  From Michael Covarrubias, 11/12/06, two formulas closely related to "As a X, N is a great Y":

The first is the standard "X is to Y what Z is to Q" -- which can be used as a complement, an insult, or a neutral (though sometimes odd) observation.  E.g. "She is to academics what Olivier is to acting" or "He is to relationships what Gallagher is to watermelons" or "She is to cooking what Stephen King is to writing."  [Since blogged on, with an example from Zippy the Pinhead.]

The second is a simple change in the formula: X is to Y what Z is to Y.  There's usually a partial echo between X and Z.  I first heard it used by Comedian Jeff Ross in a Friars Club Roast of Drew Carey (1998).  He said "Drew Carey is to comedy what Mariah Carey is to comedy."

4.  From Rebecca Egipto, 11/11/06, "I'm in ur Noun V-ing ur Noun" (according to the account here, taking off from "I am in your base killing your d00ds"); mentioned by Mark Liberman back in April, in the lol-lexicography thread.

5.  From Paul Kalmar, 11/11/06: "Save a X, ride a Y".  This seems to have spread from the (catchy) country song "Save a horse, ride a cowboy", in the 2004 recording by Big & Rich (on Horse of a Different Color), though others (e.g. Haley Bonar) have recorded the song.  I found lots of variants:

Save a horse, ride a: skater/feminist/donkey/cowgurl/Hornet/tractor.

[reversed] Save a cowboy, ride a horse.

Save a skateboard, ride a skater.  Save a wave, ride a surfer.

[ride and save reversed] Ride a Llama, save a NukeWorker.

6.  From a correspondent on 11/11/06, "Sufficient unto the X is the Y thereof" (based on "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof", Matthew 6:34).  Examples from my correspondent:

Sufficient unto the logic is the rigor thereof.  [grad students in philosophy, about their logical studies]

Sufficient unto the occasion is the idiom thereof.

Sufficient unto  the toaster is the destruction thereof.

Sufficient unto the facts is the paranoia thereof.

Sufficient unto the day is the drivel thereof.

7.  From David Hilberg, 11/14/06: "You can't X your Y and Z it too" (based on "You can't have your cake and eat it too"; yes, I know the proverb doesn't make much sense in this form).  Some examples Hilberg googled up:

You can't capitalize your cake and expense it too.

You can't have your torture and ban it too.

You can't have your pyatiletka and NEP it too. [DH: Whatever that may mean.]

You can't have your cliché and use it too - can you?

Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly; but when they lit a fire in the craft, it sank, proving that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

Alas, you can't have your Cab and drink it too. No sooner enjoyed but worthless, it's sometimes even dead on uncorking.

Who says you can't have your data and store it, too?

Who says you can't have your heritage and develop it, too?

Who says you can't have your fUZZ and WAH it too?

"You" "can't" "have" "your" "use" "and" "mention" "it" "too." --Douglas Hofstadter

"You Can't Offer Your Sacrifice and Eat It Too: A Polemical Poem from the Aramaic Text in Demotic Script." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 43 (1984) 89-114.

Sudz Cola - Who says you can't take your bath and drink it too? [DH: Supposedly this is an old saw, though I was never so warned.]

8 and 9.  Two snowclones reported by Mark Peters on the ADS-L, 12/6/06: "Pimp my X" and "Stupid X tricks".

10.  From James Sinclair, 12/28/06: "If X are outlawed, only outlaws will have X" (presumably the original has X = guns).  Sinclair found the following, among many others, in a Google search:

puns, cigarettes, giant pythons, cigars, cluster bombs, chickens, socks, pickles, Beanie Babies, pit bulls, tomatoes, catapults

He was spurred by an article by Patrick Hruby on's Page 2, where Hruby declares:

If dead eels tied to ropes are outlawed, only outlaws will have dead eels tied to ropes.

11.  From Liz Coppock,  12/24/06: "A watched X never Ys" (based on "A watched pot never boils").  Her first example was

A watched file never downloads.

and you can google up many other variants.

12.  From Jason Grafmiller, 1/16/07: "The once and future X" (based on "The once and future king").  First ten examples (with X other than "king") googled up:

web, sun, country, threat, action network, analytic powerhouse, carbohydrate economy, cosmos, nanomachine, Steve Jobs

13.  From Andy Hollandbeck, 1/25/07: "Nothing says X like Y" (based on the Pillsbury advertising slogan "Nothing says lovin' like something from the oven").  Many occurrences with X = lovin', but others can be googled up.  From Hollandbeck himself, "after a particularly lascivious time-out routine by the Pacer Pacemates" (i.e., cheerleaders, in old-fashioned talk):

Nothing says "Go team!" like simulated sex.

14.  Blogged about by Mark Liberman a while back: "X: panacea or Y?"

15.  Joining "X are from Mars, Y are from Venus": "Men are from X, women are from Y", as in

... "in both the United States and Europe, there appears to be a striking discrepancy between the body that that men think women like and the body women actually like."  Put another way, men are from Schwarzenegger, and women are from Quetelet.  (Stephen S. Hall, Size Matters, p. 235)

More recently, there's Janet Hyde's wonderful

Men are from North Dakota and women are from South Dakota.

mentioned in Mark Liberman's posting "Men are from ..."

16.  "Are we X yet?" (and its variant "Are we X now?"), which I finally got around to blogging on recently.

17.  From Jon Winokur's Encyclopedia Neurotica, a reference to comedian Richard Lewis's claim to have originated the phrase "the BLANK from Hell/hell" ("the date from hell", "the roommate from hell").  From the Wikipedia page for Lewis (back in December 2006):

This theory is expounded in the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode "The Nanny from Hell". Lewis has petitioned the editors of Bartlett's to be given credit for the coinage, but the editors claim that the phrase was a common idiom prior to Lewis' use of it.

The Yale Book of Quotations (p. 458) credits Lews warily:

Richard Lewis
U.S. comedian, 1947-

1 [Self-description:] Comedian from hell.

Quoted in Chicago Tribune, 20 Apr. 1986.  Earliest documented example of the expression "from hell" referring to a person.

18.  From Cole Paulson, 2/11/07: "X city".  The example Paulson sent me was

This new girl is random city!  We have nothing in common!

and he also had noted occurrences of "weird city" referring to people.  Both have an adjective X.  Paulson posted his observations to ADS-L on 2/19/07.  Dennis Preston then suggested that "Fat City" was the original, and added that in his perceptual dialectology work in the 1980s he got lots of "N City" nonce names for areas of the U.S.: "Rebel City" (the South), "Eskimo City" (Alaska), "Cowboy City", etc.

I added that I'd been assuming that the original had a noun X; at some point we got "Sin City", and then "Spin City" (the television sitcom) as a take-off on that.  More recently, we get adjective Xs, and the use of the formula has extended from place/region names to predicatives applicable to all sorts of things (or people).  These extensions could be from "N City" examples, or they could have developed from "the Adj City" names (like "the Windy City" for Chicago), with the common-noun construction, having a definite article, turned into an anarthrous proper name.  Or, of course, both.

I suggested that the early uses of "Fat City" were for actual places -- "Los Angeles is Fat City", meaning it's a place of opportunity or success  -- or for metaphorical places, as in "I'm in Fat City now" (note the preposition), meaning I've achieved success.

Finally, I noted "X City" examples with X probably to be analyzed as a verb: "suck city" (city that sucks), "barf city" (a place that makes you want to vomit, or the act of vomiting), "fuck city" (a place where you can get laid, or getting laid).

19.  In the middle of February, I came across an example of "As X falls, so falls X Falls".  The original is Pat Metheny Group's "As Wichita Falls, So Falls Wichita Falls" (first released in September 1980).  There aren't a lot of examples, because of course you need a place name "X Falls" to build on, and there are only so many of these.  But I quickly found cites for:

Seraphim, Idaho, Cuyahoga, St. Anthony, Niagara

20.  Then there's "X for Jesus", blogged about back in March by Mark Liberman under the title "Snowclones for Jesus", which cited Karl Hagen's blog on the topic.

21.  And "X's X", which I posted about in April.

22.  On 4/21/07, James Harbeck posted to the ADS-L about "Step away from the X":

Here's a lately popular idiom, started by "Step away from the vehicle," I'm pretty sure. "Step away from the Blackberry" gets 158 Google hits all by itself. If you search just "step away from the" you get nealry a million hits; some of the ones on the first couple of pages are graffiti, cold medicine, keyboard, spell-checker (yay for that one!), social media release, PC, mousse (with your hands up), shovel, podium, Gatt chart, jokes, computer, and tofu burger.

Larry Horn added:

... crucial too is the intonation, which ideally approaches that of a police officer enunciating clearly and forcefully, possibly through a loudspeaker.  There's often a slight pause between "step" (with unreleased [p], rather than the usual elision with the following vowel) and a slight rise on "away"; someone with a better control of the descriptive terminology could  do a better job of narrowing down exactly what this intonation is.  This has been quite popular in

23.  Then came the lolcats snowclones, blogged on in at least five postings here: 4442, 4485, 4500, 4507, and 4508.

24.  Late in May, the folks on ADS-L mused on a set of formulas involving the prefix Mc-.  One of these, "Xy McXerson" ("Drinky McDrinkerson"), was in my last snowclone omnibus, but there are more, including a somewhat less restricted formula for derogatory invented proper names; Joe Salmon's favorite (5/24/07) was "Drunky McPukeshoes" for Tom DeLay.  Searching the ADS archives for May under the subject line {"Mc-" prefix} will get you the whole convoluted thing.

25.  In July, Mark Liberman took up "X considered harmful" here.

26.  And in August "I am X, hear me Y".

27.  At the beginning of August, Bonnie Taylor-Blake started an ADS-L thread on the quotation "He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch" (attributed to FDR with reference to Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, in the wording given by the Yale Book of Quotations (p. 647)).  I then issued a

snowclone alert!  In the first 40 google webhits for {"he may be a * but he's our"} I get 14 different fillers for

He may be a X, but he's our X

(in addition to versions of "son of a bitch"):

jackass. bastard (one hit attributing this to FDR, of Somoza), fool, crook, jerk, lunatic, monster, scorpion, swine, terrorist, sleazebucket, scumbag, butcher, devil

So much for the "new" snowclones.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at August 11, 2007 04:23 PM