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Snowclone is a neologism for a type of 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".
An example snowclone is the phrase "grey is the new black," a form of the template "X is the new Y." 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." Saddam Hussein's 1991 speech promising "the mother of all wars" gave rise to the snowclone "the mother of all X" e.g. "the mother of all patents," "the mother of all bombs", etc. The term "snowclone" can be applied to both the original phrase and to a new phrase that uses its formula.
The term snowclone was coined by Glen Whitman on January 15, 2004, in response to a request from Geoffrey Pullum on the Language Log weblog. Pullum endorsed it as a term of art the next day, and it has since been adopted by other linguists, journalists and authors. 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, although the basic premise (that Eskimos have a larger number of words for snow) is often disputed by those who study such Eskimo languages.
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). Adams' phrase references Star Trek ("...to boldly go where no man has gone before!") to humorously point out the use of a split infinitive, a controversial construction.
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." In the study of folklore, snowclones are a form of what are usually described as a proverbial phrase which have 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.
- Pullum, Geoffrey K (January 16, 2004). "Snowclones: lexicographical dating to the second". Language Log. Retrieved Jan 5, 2010.
- Jupitus, Phill (June 2, 2008). "Comedy is the new rock 'n' roll (again)". Times Online (London: The Times). Retrieved September 14, 2009.
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- Abley, Mark (2008). The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-618-57122-2.
- McFedries, Paul (February 2008). "Snowclone Is The New Cliché". IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved February 21, 2008.
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- Crystal, David (1995). The Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 178.
- "The snowclone", Webscout, The LA Times, Aug 6, 2008.
- Loomis, C. Grant (1964). "Proverbial Phrases in Journalistic Wordplay". Western Folklore 23 (3): 187–f89.
- "How the Web Is Changing Language". NPR Talk of the Nation. June 28, 2006. Retrieved November 25, 2007.
- Peters, Mark (July–August 2006). "Not Your Father's Cliché". Columbia Journalism Review. Archived from the original on December 22, 2007. Retrieved November 25, 2007.
- "The word: Snowclone". New Scientist (2578). November 18, 2006. Retrieved November 25, 2007.
- Warburton, Annie (March 24, 2007). "I mean, what's it mean?". Hobart, Tasmania: The Mercury.
- Smith, Russell (May 31, 2007). "Do you speak kitteh?". Toronto: The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 25, 2007.
- Vaszily, Scott (August 4, 2007). "Colourful language (letter)". New Scientist (2615). Retrieved November 25, 2007.
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