Archive for Snowclones

The snowclone silly season opens

Winter has definitely come to Scotland. It is cold, and when light first returns to the sky around 9 a.m. I can see snow on the cars outside my apartment that have driven in from out of town. The winter silly season in the UK newspapers has begun. Here is Charles Nevin in a putatively quite serious newspaper, The Independent:

Minor British Institutions: The white hell

The most unexpected regular event in Britain is on its way, if it hasn't already arrived.

The Inuit may have more than a few words for snow, but so do we: transport chaos, hundreds stranded in sub-zero misery, grounds to a halt, disrupted flights, mass cancellations, forced to spend another night, enjoying another day off school, clear or don't clear the pavement outside your house if you don't want to be sued, it doesn't happen in Norway.

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"Don't you know it's not just the Eskimo"

Last month, in the post "'Words for snow' watch," I reported that Kate Bush's new album (out Nov. 21) is called 50 Words for Snow. I wrote, "It's unclear at this point exactly how Eskimos will figure into Bush's songwriting, but it's safe to say they'll be in there somewhere." Today, thanks to NPR's stream of the album, I've listened to the ethereal title track, and the Eskimos are indeed in there, but perhaps not in the way you'd expect.

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"Words for snow" watch

It's been a while since we've rounded up public appearances of the old "Eskimo words for snow" myth. Here are a few recent examples that have been sent in to Language Log Plaza.

Item #1: The singer-songwriter Kate Bush will be releasing a new album on Nov. 21 with the title (sigh) 50 Words for Snow. That's also the name of a song on the album, and some other tracks are similarly snow-themed ("Snowflake," "Snowed in at Wheeler Street"). It's unclear at this point exactly how Eskimos will figure into Bush's songwriting, but it's safe to say they'll be in there somewhere. It's perhaps also a telling sign that the album features a guest appearance from Stephen Fry, he of "Fry's Planet Word."

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Who Put the X in AXB: Snowclone Follies of 1912

Inspired by Mark Liberman's post, "Putting the X in AXB," I spent some time trying to find the origin for this venerable snowclone. A quick check of newspaper databases uncovered "putting the fun in fundamentals" from November 1912, and it turns out that the fall of 1912 was when the snowclone snowballed. It's a nice example of how, even a century ago, lingua-memes could "go viral" (and go stale).

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Putting the X in AXB

Josh Fruhlinger was morpho-syntactically unhappy about Shoe for 9/21/2011 ("Josh puts the 'long' in 'long-winded'", The Comics Curmudgeon 9/21/2011):

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The Navy SEALs of snowclones

David Craig writes:

I saw a post on Facebook declaring Chanticleer to be the Navy SEALs of music and got to wondering how far this snowclone had taken off.  A quick googling on "the navy seals of" and, in the first ten hits three were undeniable snowclones where "the Navy SEALs of X" had X filled with "the NFL", "cars", and "seahorses".  I can't convince my boss that future research into this is in the interests of my company so I'm passing the job on to you.

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Could Watson parse a snowclone?

Today on The Atlantic I break down Watson's big win over the humans in the Jeopardy!/IBM challenge. (See previous Language Log coverage here and here.) I was particularly struck by the snowclone that Ken Jennings left on his Final Jeopardy response card last night: "I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords." I use that offhand comment as a jumping-off point to dismantle some of the hype about Watson's purported ability to "understand" natural language.

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"You can't explain that"

I doubt that it has the staying power of lolcats, but for the moment, people are having a lot of fun mocking Bill O'Reilly's puzzling argument for the existence of God:

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I'll tell you why it's not a scam, in my opinion. Right?
Tides goes in, tide goes out, never a miscommunication.
YOU can't explain that.

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Maureen Dowd's characteristically waspish review ("Blame, not shame", NYT 2/5/2011) of Donald Rumsfeld's memoir (Known and Unknown) begins like this:

So many to blame. So little space.

Donald Rumsfeld has only 815 pages — including a scintillating List of Acronyms — to explain why he was not responsible when Stuff Happened. His memoir, “Known and Unknown,” is like a living, breathing version of the man himself: very thorough, highly analytical and totally absent any credible self-criticism.

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Genomic heteroglossia

In "Snowclones are the dark matter of journalism", 1/24/2004, I noted the spread of the phrasal template X is the dark matter of Y: "The PC is the Dark Matter of the Internet", "Global technoscience is the dark matter of social theory", "Networking is the dark matter of high-speed internet", "Terrorism is the dark matter of the civilized world", "The extraterrestrial hypothesis is the dark matter of political science and science policy in the second half of the twentieth century", "Euroscepticism is the 'dark matter' of German politics", "the Boswell Co. now stands revealed for what it is: the dark matter of 20th century California history", "Intellectual property is the “dark matter” of the corporate universe".

A search today, almost seven years later, would turn up many more: "Untested code is the dark matter of software", "Influence is the Dark Matter of the Social Media Universe", "Organized crime is the dark matter of Ohio politics", and so on. And just this morning, I learned that dark matter has at least one scientific sense outside of physics.

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The new black is back

From TPM, a billboard in Houston:

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Meta-snowclones for gastro-geeks

The granddaddy of all snowclones has often been expressed here at Language Log Plaza as a formula with variables:

If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z.

So it's pleasing to see this iteration of the ur-snowclone, from Jeff Potter's new book, Cooking for Geeks (p. 258):

If Eskimos have N words for describing snow, the French and
Italians have
N+1 words for describing dishes involving egg yolks.

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Pullum Xhani and Snowclone

A bit of silliness as the U.S. Revolutionary holiday winds down.

Facebook just suggested to me that I might want to friend Pullum Xhani. I was, of course, intrigued by the name, but found nothing illuminating in what Pullum Xhani was willing to provide on his page — nothing but name, sex, and a photo of anime characters. Pursuing things a bit further, I seem to have discovered that the name is Albanian, with Xhani being a reasonably commonly Albanian family name (well, in the top 100, though just barely) and that Pullum is an Albanian personal name. Geoff take note. (I say "seem to have discovered" because the pages I pulled up were all in Albanian, and though Albanian is an Indo-European language it's about as opaque to me as Mongolian or Aymara. So I could easily have misunderstood things.)

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