An Introduction to Snowclone

Snowclone is a clichéOpens in new window and phrasal templateOpens in new window mainly 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 meanings”. It is a neologismOpens in new window suggested in 2004.

A typical example of 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 BlackOpens in new window” or even “comedy is the new rock 'n' roll”).

Origin — 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, Snowclone 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 snowOpens in new window) is often disputed by those who study Eskimo languagesOpens in new window.

Snowclones are related to both memesOpens in new window and clichésOpens in new window, 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.”

Further Readings:
Wikipedia | SnowcloneOpens in new window