Archive for Snowclones

Nanook of the South

From the current New Yorker: has "more than 50" grits recipes (I count 64 on display), and there are lots more on other sites, so (costume aside) this is entirely region-appropriate. It's still linguistically naive, since the recipes have mostly-transparent phrasal names like "Raspberry Kielbasa over Cheese Grits"; but hey, it's a cartoon, and I guess the point is to mock those southerners with all their different approaches to grits, using the "Eskimo words for snow" trope as a vehicle.

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Snowclone blizzard

Elif Batuman, "The Awkward Age", The New Yorker 9/9/2014:

As the Eskimos were said to have seven words for snow, today’s Americans have a near-infinite vocabulary for gradations of awkwardness—there are some six hundred entries in Urban Dictionary.

Since the Eskimo snow word count has been dialed back to a mere seven here, its value seems to be limited to a vague sort of evocation of words-for-X ideology. And the next piece frames the Eskimo vocabulary as an explicitly legendary reference, rather like mentioning Lot's wife to illustrate the dangers of looking backwards:

Giovanni Rodriguez, "The Sisu Social: Can Finns Teach The World to Hang Tough?", Forbes 9/1/2014:

How many mainland Americans, as children, hear that Eskimos have more words for snow than we – mere mortals — can even imagine? There is more legend than fact in the old cliche (it’s complicated), but it’s rooted in a truth we all learn at some point in our development:  how language can evolve to help us navigate the particular worlds to which we are born.

As a boy growing up in the sixties in New York, I was exposed to many words for venting, complaining, and otherwise toughing out life’s many indignities. The language was New York street Yiddish, from which I learned to kvetch when I am wont, schlep when I must, and turn on the chutzpah, when appropriate.  


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Snowclone of the day

Sent in by A.C. from NZ:

My ISP's sign-on page has a 'daily picture', accompanied by some surprising(?) trivia. (Usually the surprise is how strained is the link to the picture and how badly they twist the language — often ending up misusing language in some way or other — this one is itself an example: is it really a fact *about* snow?)

Even a simple Google search offers an Inuktitut word for hello. (Admittedly also a large number of links alleging "no word for hello".)

Sparing you the screenshot, the "Daily Fact" is "Snow: Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow but none for hello."

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We have a winner

William Lashner, Fatal Flaw, 2009:

What are we looking at when we are looking at love? Eskimos have like six billion different words for snow because they understand snow. Don’t ever try to snow an Eskimo. But for six billion different permutations of emotional attachment we have just one word. Why? Because we don’t have a clue.

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Bad science reporting again: the Eskimos are back

You just can't keep a bad idea down. And you just can't lift the level of bad science journalism up. David Robson of New Scientist, in a piece published in that pop science rag a couple of weeks ago (issue of 22/29 December 2012, p. 72; behind a pay wall) and now also published in the Washington Post, reports on a book chapter by Igor Krupnik and Ludger Müller-Wille about anthropologist Franz Boas's travels in the early 20th century with a Canadian Inuit band whose language he learned. Robson says of Boas:

Mentioning his observations in the introduction to his 1911 book "Handbook of American Indian Languages," he ignited the claim that Eskimos have dozens, or even hundreds, of words for snow. Although the idea continues to capture public imagination, most linguists considered it an urban legend, born of sloppy scholarship and journalistic exaggeration. Some have even gone as far as to name it the Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. The latest evidence, however, suggests that Boas was right all along.

Not a single statement in this passage is correct.

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Snow words in the comics

Coincidentally, two syndicated comic strips running today riff off of the old "Eskimo words for snow" canard. In Darby Conley's "Get Fuzzy," Satchel the dog discovers that "cats are like the Eskimos of laziness":

And in Jef Mallett's "Frazz," one of the "really really false" statements on Mr. Burke's quiz is "The Inuit have 100 words for snow and one of them is 'humptydiddy'":

(Hat tip, Nancy Friedman and Ed Cormany.)

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"We are all the other now"

Writing recently for the online Ideas section of Time, Jeffrey Kluger took on the "We are all X (now)" trope, or as it's called in these parts, a snowclone. "This increasingly common trope has an easy, fill-in-the-blank quality to it that allows us to affect a bit of purloined heroism, put it on the credit card of someone else, and feel pretty darned good about ourselves in the bargain," he writes. Kluger quotes me on the history of the snowclone (which I looked into for a 2006 LL post), and its ready adaptability to various expressions of empathy and solidarity. Now, in a thinkpiece about Obama's re-election, David Simon (creator of the HBO shows "The Wire" and "Treme") takes the snowclone to its logical conclusion: "We are all the other now."

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Get Fuzzy '05

[Background: in inventorying postings with linguistically interesting cartoons, for a Language of Comics project at Stanford (directed by Elizabeth Traugott and me), the project intern has been unearthing postings from Language Log Classic whose image links no longer work. Here's one of Mark Liberman's from 2005 — "Illustrations" of 8/2/05, with two Get Fuzzy strips. I'm reproducing the posting here, with fresh, working links.

Back in 2005, we didn't have comments open on postings. But I've opened them now. Just remember: This posting is by Mark, not me. I'm just a typist.]

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"The last acceptable form of <SomeImmoralAttitude>"

Reader T.B. writes:

I don't think I've noticed discussion of this snowclone: "X is the last acceptable form of prejudice/discrimination".  I've come across it in reference to obesity…now linguistic bigotry and gingerism.

The fact that it's become a snowclone almost makes it an empty claim.  You can be sure that something else will soon pop up to replace X as the last acceptable form of prejudice…

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The All Are Belong snowclone

On my blog, here, a survey of the descendants of All your base are belong to us, with a section on the 2004-06 heyday of the snowclone on Language Log.

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It's baaack . . . and upside-down!

There's a new sighting of the  well-worn "There's no word for accountability in X" snowclone, which we first noticed back in 2006 ("Solving the World's Problems with Linguistics"), and picked up again just about a year ago ("Annals of 'No word for X'"). The usual function of this rhetorical trope, as documented in those posts, is to explain why bankers/business-executives/bureaucrats from a wide range of non-Anglophone counties, from Angola to Iceland, are so feckless — they simply can't understand the concept of accountability, poor things, since their language lacks the word.  The cultural assumptions are probably no more true than the linguistic ones,  of course — my impression is that in actual fact, Anglophone bankers etc. can give the rest of the world a substantial fecklessness handicap and still win going away. I mean, did Silvio Berlusconi ever misplace 1.2 billion dollars of someone else's money, as a certain American ex-Senator recently did? But I digress.

Anyhow, the latest example turns the trope on its head, and uses it to explain why Finnish schools are so well managed.

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Don't get me wrong: I am entirely positive about octopus porn. Graphically depicted sex with our multiply-tentacled cephalopod friends is cool as far as I'm concerned.

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Eskimos again, this time seeing the invisible

"As Eskimos do with snow," wrote Emma Brockes yesterday in a New York Times review of Alan Hollinghurst's new novel (and the hairs rose on the back of my neck as I saw those words), "the English see gradations of social inadequacy invisible to the rest of the world; Mr. Hollinghurst separates them with a very sharp knife."

If Emma Brockes were one of the sharper knives in the journalistic cutlery drawer she might have avoided becoming the 4,285th writer since the 21st century began who has used in print some variant of the original snowclone. (I didn't count to get that figure of 4,285, I just chose a number at random. Why the hell not? People make up the number of words for snow found in Eskimoan languages that they know absolutely nothing about. I might as well just make stuff up like everybody else.)

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