snowclone

/ (ˈsnəʊˌkləʊn) /

noun

a verbal formula that is adapted for reuse by changing only a few words so that the allusion to the original phrase remains clear

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Word Origin for snowclone

C21: from snow in reference to the common formula 'If the Inuit have N words for snow, then surely X have Y words for Z ' + clone
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

VOCAB BUILDER

What does snowclone mean?

A snowclone is a phrase that can be adapted for different situations by changing only some of the words. It’s typically expressed using variables like X, Y, and Z to represent the blanks of the phrase. For example, X is the new Y (pink is the new black, Orange Is the New Black). As a result, the original phrase or formula is easily recognized.

Where does snowclone come from?

The coinage of the word snowclone is credited to Glen Whitman in 2004 on the linguistics blog Language Log. He suggested the term in response to linguist Geoffrey Pullum’s call to name this phenomenon. Whitman coined it to address the overuse of certain kinds of fixed phrases in journalism. The inspiration for the term was the oft-quoted but incorrect piece of trivia that Eskimos have a large number of words for snow. (Please see our usage note at Eskimo.) Phrases that more or less went, “If Eskimos have N words for snow, then surely X have Y words for Z” were considered clones of the original snow quote.

How is snowclone used in real life?

Although snowclone was created to describe a phenomenon in news writing, snowclones themselves have found a new home in memes with the rise of internet humor. All your X are belong to us is an example of a snowclone that originated as an internet meme rather than in journalism. This meme, which sprung from the poor English translations in the opening dialogue of a game called Zero Wing, went viral in 1998.

Other examples of snowclones include Xy McXFace. In 2016, the British government held a contest to let the public decide the name of a polar research ship worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The public flooded the votes with Boaty McBoatface, which was ultimately given to a small underwater autonomous vehicle rather than the giant ship. Similar names, such as Parsey McParseface, Planey McPlaneface, and Firey McFireface followed.

Another snowclone example is this is your X on Y. It originated from a 1987 television public service announcement from Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which contained the phrase this is your brain on drugs. Formulations have included this is your brain on poetry and this is your premise on drugs.

More examples of snowclone:

“One of the most popular snowclones right now is I’m in ur X, Y-ing ur Z .”

—Paul McFedries, “Snowclone Is The New Cliché,” IEEE Spectrum (February 1, 2008)