A blizzard of snowclones

We know what a cliché is: a phrase used so often, it is irritating to the reader. Nevertheless, they survive, because they are so easy to bank upon by lazy copywriters (such as this writer). In fact, they are cliché in the first place because they are so good at surviving.

A slightly less lazy copywriter might instead prefer a snowclone to make his (selling) point. This term, devised in 2004, was coined by Glen Whitman to fit the following brief:

It now occurs to me that we also need a name for another linguistic figure… the thing we need a name for is 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 jokey variants by lazy journalists and writers.

The conservative, writers prefer the term ‘phrasal template’, but I will stick to snowclone. Like many of the English language’s delightful quirks, it doesn’t reveal what it exactly means, but once you know what it means, it sticks.

The earliest snowclone probably dates back to, well who, else, Shakespeare. To be or not be has, according to this source, generated close to 700 snowclones, with verbs like herd, cheat and certify. And also infected other languages.

Another rather fashionable snowclone is ‘X is the new Y’, beginning with the original ‘pink is the new black‘. A particular favourite of (lazy) copywriters this one, when trying to compare a new product with an established leader.

And then there’s ‘the X, the Y and the Z’, often in the form, ‘The Good, the bad and the Z’. Another advertising

And from Bob Dylan’s ‘Love is just a four-letter word’ comes the formulation ‘X is a Y-letter word’.

A particularly infectious (and complex) snowclones comes from a 90’s Mastercard campaign. You know how it goes:

A: $X

B: $Y

C: $Z

D: Priceless.

A number of stories based on D being priceless (like this one) being the punchline ran around as internet forwards in the early days.

Do share your snowclones with us here. For an extensive database, refer here.

About ozymandias

What am I? A body and brain, products of carbon concatenation chemistry, an intelligence and conscience to enable bits of DNA evolve. Maybe a pharaoh, maybe a dung-beetle, never more than a safe conduit for some genes.
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