Snowclones, in Geoff Pullum's early formulation, were defined as "some-assembly-required adaptable cliché frames for lazy journalists." Of course, the field of snowclonology has moved beyond "lazy journalists" to a consideration of phrasal templates used by the broader populace, in varieties exhibiting a wide range of creativity. But journalists who have many column inches to fill remain a fertile source for the more clichéd strain of snowclones.
Sports journalism might be particularly prone to such hackneyed phrase-making. Case in point: in his most recent Monday Morning Quarterback column for Sports Illustrated, Peter King wrote that Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith "leads the NFL in guts." The sports blog Deadspin had already been tracking King's "funny little tic of expressing abundance by saying something like, '[Person or Team X] leads the league in [Intangible Category Y].'" Deadspin's Tommy Craggs then laid out the damning evidence of King's endless snowcloning.
Person: Andy Reid, 2002
Leads the league in: "boring press conferences"
Person: Andy Reid, 2004
Leads the league in: "brains"
Person: Norv Turner, 2007
Leads the league in: "coloring the color book between the lines"
Person: Bill Parcells, 1997
Leads the league in: "decisiveness"
Person: Tanard Jackson, 2008
Urged to lead the league in: "effort"
Person: Tarvaris Jackson, 2008
Leads the league in: "good news"
Person: Steve Young, 1992
Leads the league in: "diplomacy"
Person: Matt Schaub, 2009
Leads the league in: "normalcy"
Person: Tony Romo, 2009
Leads the league in: "smiles"
And so on and so forth. King, Craggs concludes, "leads the league in boiler plate."
Later on in the same MMQB column, King said of New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, "He's been the definition of shutdown corner." Deadspin editor-at-large Drew Magary, at his other blogging home Kissing Suzy Kolber, snarked thusly:
He defines shutdown corner. You look up that term in the dictionary, where you will not find it because it isn’t an entry, and you will see a picture of that man. Only you won’t, because that’s not actually true.
Geoff Pullum has termed this type of cliché a "snowclone of linguification" (e.g., "Look up W in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of X"). And King has been guilty of such linguifying in the past. In January, when King declared that Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb "was the definition of clutch," Magary wrote:
If you remember last week, it was Brian Westbrook and Ed Reed who were the definition of clutch. Now, McNabb defines clutch. Next week, someone else will almost certainly define clutch. This is why, when we define words, we use OTHER WORDS to do it. People are notoriously unreliable for lexicographic purposes.
Perhaps the next time King needs to assert a player or coach's dominance in a notional category, he should lay off the league-leading and the defining.