October 31, 2007

And so can you (be)

The quick eye of Mark Liberman recently spotted what may be the fastest ever emergence of a new phrase into snowclonehood when Steven Colbert's book title I Am America (And So Can You!) was picked up by Guy Trebay of the New York Times after just three weeks: Trebay's pastiched article title She's Famous (and So Can You) has just the same syntactic property — an ungrammatical (or at least strikingly and off-puttingly unusual) deletion of a repeat occurrence of be. [I'm assuming here that I am America (and so can you be!) is fully grammatical and acceptable, and so is She's famous (and so can you be). At least one reader has written to say he disagrees with this. The near-prohibition of deleting non-finite forms of be under identity of sense was studied in a nice doctoral dissertation by Nancy Levin at The Ohio State University some years ago. And Arnold Zwicky gave a careful and serious discussion of the syntax of Colbert's title back in May, in this post.]

Emergent snowclone, thought Mark when he noticed the pastiche. Well guess what: the Current Strawpoll at the Doonesbury site as of today is "Colbert for President, and you can too." Mark really is one heck of an emergent snowclone spotter. And you can too.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at October 31, 2007 09:26 AM