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Not to be confused with Snow cone.

Snowclone is a cliché and phrasal template originally defined as "a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different variants". The term was coined as a neologism in 2004.[1]

A typical example snowclone is the phrase "grey is the new black" (a form of the template "X is the new Y", in which "X" and "Y" may be replaced with different words or phrases—for example, Orange is the New Black or even "comedy is the new rock 'n' roll").[2]


In October 2003, linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum described the phenomenon in a post on Language Log, a collaborative blog by several linguistics professors, and solicited ideas for what the phenomenon should be called.[3] In response to the request, the word "snowclone" was coined by Glen Whitman on January 15, 2004, and Pullum endorsed it as a term of art the next day.[1] The term has since been adopted by other linguists, journalists, and authors.[4][5] The term alludes to one of Pullum's example template phrases:

If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have M words for Y.

As Language Log explains, this is a popular rhetorical trope used by journalists to imply that cultural group X has reason to spend a great deal of time thinking about the specific idea Y,[6][7] although the basic premise (that Eskimos have a larger number of words for snow) is often disputed by those who study Eskimo languages.

Snowclones are related to both memes and clichés, as the Los Angeles Times' David Sarno notes, "Snowclones are memechés, if you will: meme-ified clichés with the operative words removed, leaving spaces for you or the masses to Mad Lib their own versions."[8]

Similar concepts[edit]

In 1995, linguist David Crystal referred to this kind of trope as a "catch structure", citing as an example the phrase "to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before," as originally used in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series (1978).[9] Adams' phrase references Star Trek (" boldly go where no man has gone before") to humorously highlight the use of a split infinitive as an intentional violation of a disputed traditional rule of grammar.[10]

In the study of folklore, the concept of proverbial phrase has a long history of description and analysis. There are many kinds of such wordplay, as described in a variety of studies of written and oral sources.[11]

Notable examples[edit]

The original request from Geoffrey Pullum, in addition to the Eskimos-and-snow namesake of the term, mentioned a poster slogan for the 1979 film Alien, "In space, no one can hear you scream", which was cloned into numerous twistings, such as "In space, no one can see your breasts".[3]

Saddam Hussein's 1991 speech promising "the mother of all wars", in reference to the Gulf War, gave rise to the snowclone "the mother of all X"[12] e.g. "the mother of all patents", "the mother of all bombs", etc. The American Dialect Society declared "the mother of all" the 1991 Word of the Year.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pullum, Geoffrey K (January 16, 2004). "Snowclones: lexicographical dating to the second". Language Log. Retrieved Jan 5, 2010. 
  2. ^ Jupitus, Phill (June 2, 2008). "Comedy is the new rock 'n' roll (again)". Times Online. London: The Times. Retrieved September 14, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Pullum, Geoffrey K (October 27, 2003). "Phrases for lazy writers in kit form". Language Log. Retrieved November 25, 2007. 
  4. ^ Abley, Mark (2008). The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-618-57122-2. 
  5. ^ McFedries, Paul (February 2008). "Snowclone Is The New Cliché". IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved February 21, 2008. 
  6. ^ Liberman, Mark (June 18, 2005). "Etymology as argument". Language Log. Retrieved November 25, 2007. 
  7. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K (October 21, 2003). "Bleached conditionals". Language Log. Retrieved November 25, 2007. 
  8. ^ "The snowclone", Webscout, The LA Times, Aug 6, 2008 .
  9. ^ Crystal, David (1995). The Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 178. 
  10. ^ See Fowler, H.W.; Gowers, Ernest (1965). "Split infinitive". A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (2nd ed.). Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 
  11. ^ Loomis, C. Grant (1964). "Proverbial Phrases in Journalistic Wordplay". Western Folklore. 23 (3): 187–f89. 
  12. ^ Ratcliffe, Susan (2010). Oxford Dictionary of Quotations by Subject. Oxford University Press. p. 219. ISBN 9780199567065. 
  13. ^ "» All of the Words of the Year, 1990 to Present American Dialect Society". Retrieved 2016-05-21. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]