The Cadillac of snowclones

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In Sunday's "On Language" column in The New York Times Magazine, I use the recent discussion in Congress about "Cadillac health plans" as a news hook to consider the transferred usage of Cadillac in general. Most prominent is the phrase "the Cadillac of X" to refer to "the highest quality of (something)" (predated by the similar formation "the Rolls-Royce of X"). Around these parts, this is of course known as a snowclone, but space did not permit a discussion of the expression's snowclonosity (beyond referring to it as a "sturdy phrasal template").

"The Cadillac of X" and "the Rolls-Royce of X" are instances of a more generic snowclone, "X is the Y of Z," which we've discussed on several occasions:

The last two posts describe snowclone-centric endeavors by Mark Peters: The Rosa Parks of Blogs and his running series for JamsBio Magazine, "X is the Y of Z." I asked Mark for his thoughts on the Cadillac snowclone, which has persisted long after Cadillacs themselves have lost their iconic prestige:

Snowclones may stay close to their original source at first, but if they catch on, the examples get wilder and woolier. "The Cadillac of trucks" is predictable and not-so-exciting, and "The Cadillac of lawnmowers" is a little further out there, but this snowclone has probably gone on many off-road excursions. I don't know if a doctor would recommend these medical examples or not: "The Cadillac of pain medication" and "The Cadillac of clot inhibitors". Here's a good question: What is the Cadillac of snowclones?

For further Cadillac talk, specifically in the context of baseball, see my latest Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus, "It's Cadillac Time!"


  1. Alex said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

    Don't forget WKRP in Cincinnati's version: "Red wigglers, the Cadillac of worms!"

  2. Russell said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

    Let's not forget the Cadillac SRX, which Cadillac touts as "the Cadillac of crossovers."

    (and the Honda Odyssey, the Honda of minivans)

  3. John Cowan said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

    So who was the First Lady of Britain back in the 80s, Prince Philip or Denis Thatcher?

  4. Neil Dolinger said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    so are you now the Bill Safire of your generation? ;-)

  5. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

    I forget — is Rolls Royce the Cadillac of cars, or is Cadillac the Rolls Royce of cars?

  6. Ken Brown said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

    Well, as a year or so ago you could have bought the entire Cadillac brand and the factories that used to make them for about the cost of a single Rolls Royce – or, more seriously, you could buy three of the most expensive Cadillacs in the current line for the list price of the cheapest current Rolls Royce – I think its safe to say that Cadillac is not the Rolls Royce of cars.

  7. Ray Girvan said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 1:54 pm

    I rather like this 1949 example, where the usage appears to be so new that it needs a laboured explanation:

    The Edison GE idea is related to full-fledged statistical control in the same way that the Ford car is to the Cadillac. It cannot do all that the "Cadillac" of quality control can do.
    How to cut production costs: a guide to better methods and techniques, Henry E Blank, 1949

  8. Ray Girvan said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

    Alex: "Red wigglers, the Cadillac of worms!"

    Creeping Bentgrass (Agrostis palustris) … used on golf greens, is the "Cadillac" of grasses.
    – Circular, Issues 424-441, Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service<, 1968

    is almost as strange a juxtaposition.

  9. Maria said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

    There was a short saga of snowclones this year in The Economist, starting on July 23rd. A story talked about Japanese toilets, and the first two sentences were

    IT IS the Lamborghini of lavatories, the Cadillac of commodes.

    Over three weeks, readers contributed the following

    In the spirit of alliteration, might I also suggest the “Jaguar of johns” and the “Lexus of loos”?

    Sanjiv Mehta

    Continuing your recent trend for enjoining car superlatives with commodes (Letters, August 15th), may I suggest the “Porsche of potties”, the “Jeep of jakes” and the “Hummer of heads”

    Peter Shire
    New York


    SIR – In keeping with the high spirits of recent letter-writers who embraced your enjoining car superlatives with commodes (Letters, August 15th and 22nd), one might add the “Lotus of latrines” to your list.

    William Stepp
    New York

    * SIR – Hoping this will be the last word on the subject, may I suggest the “Bentley of bathrooms”?

    Sanjiv Mehta

    * SIR – Since this is now dangerously close to a contest, might I chip in with the “Rolls-Royce of rest rooms”.

    Gautam Patel

    SIR – To complete the “heady” humour, may I propose the “clunker of crappers”, which aptly describes all the facilities at Heathrow’s Terminal 2.

    Jon Faraday
    Bogis-Bossey, Switzerland

  10. mollymooly said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

    Of course, only the "Rolls Royce" analogy exists in UK English, since the Cadillac brand was unavailable for decades and is now a quirky niche product. The Mercedes is the archetype of "luxury car that's not as vulgarly opulent as a Rolls Royce would be". Twenty years ago, the word "Cadillac" would for me have conjured up a 1950s pastel confection with giant fins; in which sense, the "Cadillac of pain medication" would probably be three Banana Daiquiris.

  11. Private Zydeco said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

    The Remarkable Potato, with Laughs®.

  12. Stacy said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

    I read the On Language column and would have loved to comment there… in my (UChicago) college lingo, I use "the Cadillac of X" to mean something that's a little bit janky, as all the Caddies in Hyde Park are not exactly top-of-the-line quality anymore, but rather the type that would be referred to as a "ghettomobile", be missing the front bumper, and having pounding music blasting through windows that don't close. Really faded quality in a sense, or something that a certain group thinks is awesome but isn't actually: "PBR is the Cadillac of beers", for example.

  13. Dan T. said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

    Cadillac is a rather aging luxury brand these days; I think "the Lexus of…" would be more contemporary.

  14. Private Zydeco said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

    As for what Akinness Pabst Blue Ribbon shares with any other thing,
    Pabst Blue Ribbon would perhaps more accurately be regarded as
    the puberty of beers, insomuch as everyone ends up going through
    a case of it eventually, it seems.

  15. Kenny Easwaran said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 5:26 pm

    I in fact had no idea that Cadillac was supposed to be a luxury brand until I started hearing about "Cadillac health coverage" from John McCain when he was trying to justify a policy that Senate Democrats seem to have now adopted as their own. In fact, if I had been asked to name an American make of luxury cars (actually, I would have said "brand" because I didn't know the word "make" either) a few years ago I probably would have come up with Lexus as the only example. (I can't remember when I learned that Lexus was made by Toyota.)

  16. Acilius said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

    @Pvt Zydeco: I've always loved that joke!

    Sometime in the 1960s, MAD Magazine ran a page purporting to show rejected ad slogans. The two I remember were "Lincoln: The Cadillac of cars" and "Van Heusen: A New Wrinkle in Men's Shirt's." I also remember "Esso brand gasoline has not been shown to cause cancer of the tongue," but I think that was from another, similar feature of theirs.

  17. JimG said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    When the rubber meets the road, I think there's a difference between the Cadillac and Rolls Royce metaphors. Rolls Royce has the rep for being top quality at a very high price; Cadillac is (was?) a good (but less-so) offering, at a high price. Personally, I'd like to have seen adopted "the Bentley of health insurance laws", giving us top value for less than top cost. Seems like Congress didn't learn anything from Detroit's problems, and enacted something comparable to typical "Detroit iron" that will begin to rust in a few years, that will last if and only if Congress does the required maintenance. Maybe the US Congress is the Cadillac of legislatures, the best that our money can buy.

    Didn't we use the Edsel metaphor?

  18. Cameron said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 6:21 pm


    I remember the MAD bit from the book MADvertising, which was a collection of various advertising related spoofs they had run. But I remember the cadillac gag as "Cadillac: The Rolls-Royce of cars".

    I've always thought that Miller's "The Champagne of Beers" slogan was just as silly as the MAD spoof line.

  19. Syntaxophobe said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

    Look at what I found today on
    Serotonin: This is the James Brown of neurotransmitters.

  20. Mark F. said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 11:54 pm

    The thing you have to realize is that, when this snowclone was taking life, the American car market was much less international and much less fragmented than it is today, and Cadillac really was the Cadillac of cars, just by being the top brand of the biggest automaker. Nowadays there's no new brand to play that role. A lot of people don't take Cadillac seriously as an exemplar of quality, but a lot of Americans aren't ready to use a foreign brand in that role either.

  21. Andrew F said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 5:20 am

    Is The New Black the Cadillac of snowclones? Or is it too ubiquitous, perhaps the Ford?

    PS:Cadillac is the new Rolls-Royce.

  22. Jon said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 7:53 am

    My understanding of the position of Cadillacs in America was formed when at university (UK, 1970s) we had an American Junior Year Abroad student. George's father was a real estate agent and minister of the Fire Baptized Holiness Church. George told me the family had 5 Cadillacs, including the family car, a gold Cadillac with gold brocade interior. (George flew to Paris one weekend, and came back with a present for his mom, a perfume called 'Bourjois'.) Surprisingly, George wasn't a bad bloke.

  23. Alexander said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 8:28 am

    @ the various comments about Lexus

    Famously, Lexus replaces Cadillac on the TV show "The Wire." Snoop, the lady assassin, buys a nail gun at Home Depot from an older white guy who describes it as "the Cadillac of nail guns." She reports this to her accomplice Chris, before they go out to use the nail gun in their murder spree. But he is nonplussed, until she explains: "He meant the Lexus of nail guns."

  24. Graeme said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 9:05 am

    Should we say 'marque' instead of 'brand', Old Chaps?
    Branding is so vulgar…

  25. Mr Punch said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

    Mark F. is right. In the '50s-'60s,Cadillac was THE American luxury car. I believe it outsold Lincoln by about ten to one, and Chrysler's Imperial by much more. There were very few luxury imports, and only a Rolls (much more expensive than a Caddy) was actually a fairly large, though narrow, car by US standards; the others (including Mercedes) were best known for their sports models.

  26. Alec said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

    So who was the First Lady of Britain back in the 80s, Prince Philip or Denis Thatcher?

    I remember hearing a Mexican TV humorist at the time referring to Denis Thatcher as "el primer damo".

  27. Seymore Butz said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 11:50 pm

    Ah yes, I remember the second time my father's Cadillac engine failed and we had to tow it more than 100 miles home…

    I assume congress genuinely means the health plans are overpriced but only actually considered useful by people who remember when Oldsmobiles won races.

    Of course I had a Lexus once and it was a complete POS. I couldn't even get parts for it in less than a month. I have a BMW now and I wouldn't drive anything else.

  28. Rich said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 10:16 am

    Bill Amend's Fox Trot is only new on sundays and goComics runs classic strips the rest of the week. Today's just happens to be from a series where Roger finally tries to catch up to the cell phone age, but misses the mark (and the point slightly) by trying to do so on the cheap. Very cheap.Check back to monday and tuesday for context, but today's (wed, Nov 11) is the one which mentions that the phone's brochure states, "The MOBYTEL-2000 is without question the Cadillac of cell phones."

  29. David H. said,

    November 14, 2009 @ 2:28 am

    While "X is the Cadillac of Z" is a very serviceable phrasal template, it is not, shall we say, fully upholstered. For my test-driving money, the true Cadillac of snowclones boasts four explicit variables and is the boat of a formula, "A is to B as C is to D."

  30. Steve K said,

    November 20, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

    There's a musing on the profitability of this snowclone at Ironic Sans:

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