Snowclone watch

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Laura Beil, "Opponents of Evolution Adopting New Strategy", NYT 6/4/2008, includes a nice negative specimen of the phrasal template "What happens in X stays in X":

Yet even as courts steadily prohibited the outright teaching of creationism and intelligent design, creationists on the Texas board grew to a near majority. Seven of 15 members subscribe to the notion of intelligent design, and they have the blessings of Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican.

What happens in Texas does not stay in Texas: the state is one of the country’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are loath to produce different versions of the same material. The ideas that work their way into education here will surface in classrooms throughout the country. [emphasis added]

The first page of the estimated 117,000 Google hits for {"what happens in * stays in *" -vegas} includes X = Terokkar, Aldershot, Blogshares, Negril, Uncasville, Bucksnort, Mushpoie, Cancun, Rumspringa, and Galera. The negative pattern {"what happens in * does not stay in *" -vegas} is less popular — 3,040 hits — but equally diverse: the first page of hits has X = Whistler, Uganda, Nevada, California, China, Kårsta, Bakersfield, Homo-land, and Pinebrook. There are another 5,960 hits for {"what happens in * doesn't stay in *" -vegas}, with first-page X = Lebanon, Gaza, the Capitol, Facebook, Washington, Mexico, Pascagoula, Zimbabwe, prison, and Minneapolis.

As far as I can tell, the original phrase is relatively recent. The Vegas History timeline of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has the item:

2003 – The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority debuts its new advertising campaign, "Vegas Stories" with the tagline, "What Happens Here, Stays Here."

Searching for versions with single-word locative adverbs rather than locative prepositional phrases turns up X = TDY, downrange, underwater, onboard, backstage, uptown, offshore, onstage, iirc, downstairs, inside, etc. — though of course most of these are lexicalized PPs.

LexisNexis has several newspaper stories about the LVCVA slogan from 5/9/2003, but the earliest mention in the mass media seems to be Jay Leno's Tonight Show monologue for 5/8/2003:

"The big news today in politics of course is Dick Cheney agreed to be President Bush's running mate once again in 2004. He made the announcement while riding in Ambulance One. In fact, he's got a new campaign slogan: No chest pain, no gain. … He said he wanted four more years but his doctor is only giving him two. … Hey those Clinton-Dole debates on '60 Minutes' — not doing well. Their ratings are really bad. In fact, there's talk they won't be back next season. They said to be renewed Bob Dole would have to be come off as more charming and Clinton would have to come off as more honest. In other words, they're screwed. Have you watched it? It's not working. Have you watched it? It is kind of dull, isn't it?. If they want some real fireworks they should have Bill arguing with Hillary. I'd pay to see that. … Las Vegas is trying to get rid of that family image thing. They tried it for a while. The family thing wasn't working so they're back to a more adult theme. And you've probably heard it, this is their new slogan: 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.' Including $8 million of Bill Bennett's money. That's a great story. William Bennett, the man they call the moral voice of America, lost almost $8 million playing slot machines. And here is the amazing part: He still has a better economic plan than President Bush. That's amazing. In fact, he is so popular in Vegas his picture actually hangs in one of the casinos. It is the famous Bill Bennett playing poker with dogs. … I guess the other big story this week is the Democrats are very upset that President Bush flew onto that aircraft carrier dressed as a fighter pilot. They said it was just a campaign stunt. But I don't know. Before that he visited that Boeing plant and put on a construction hat. And then he went to his ranch and put on a cowboy hat. Then last week he met with cops and put on a motorcycle hat. I think he's trying to join the Village People" ("Tonight Show," NBC, 5/8).

In January of 2008, John Edwards quoted this slogan as an "old saying":

After a veritable trouncing in Nevada today, John Edwards told reporters following a rally in South Carolina that he'd like to move on.

"This is one of those times where I hope the old saying 'what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas' turns out to be true," he said with a laugh. "We'll find out."

It must be one of the highest aspirations of flackdom to create a slogan that after four years has sunk so deeply into the public consciousness that people think of it as a traditional expression. So congratulations to the unknown author!

(If this phrase had an earlier life as a folk expression before 2003, I haven't been able to find the evidence — if you know of any evidence, let me know.)

[Update — Anton Cox writes:

I would put forward the phrase "what goes on tour stays on tour" as a likely precursor for the Vegas slogan. Unfortunately I only have a vague sense of its history – but I think it has been around for quite a while.

My understanding is that it was originally used by (British?) rugby teams to describe the rule that the drunken antics of a team tour would remain private among the members. Now it is used by (British?) stag and hen parties to cover any debaucheries that might take place.

I did a web search, but it was hard to find old examples. However, the page suggests that it was well used in 1999 – and several other pages referred to it as the 'old cliche' – so I believe it has been around a lot longer than that.



  1. Mike said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 8:45 am

    Is the vegas themed saying an evolution of the expression often used in conjunction with holidays and sports tours: "What goes on tour, stays on tour"?

    A brief googling found a 2002 reference ( ) which cites it as "an old but wise saying".

  2. Benjamin Massot said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 9:03 am

    I'm not sure if the meaning exactly fits, but I've been knowing of this phrasal template for quite a while, in its French version. It's used when a group of very good friends (for example ruggers) go on a tour where they make big big partys, including many anecdotes that shouldn't be told to anyone when back home. It says:

    "(tout) ce qui se passe en tournée reste en tournée." which means "(Everything that/What) happens on tour stays on tour."

    It's a kind of pact between the mates. And it really is a folk expression. This webpage ( shows it quite well: a rugby tour is told about but at some point, some details aren't told, with the discussed expression as a satisfactory explanation for not telling:

    "Mais là, comme on dit dans ces cas là, ce qui se passe en tournée, reste en tournée. Je n'en dirai pas plus." ("But now, as we say in such cases, what happens on tour stays on tour. I won't tell any further.")

    Google finds 1.030 hits for "ce qui se passe en X reste en X" with X being very various: holidays, tour, Spain, New-Zealand, congress, outwards, …, and 30.000 hits for "ce qui se passe à X reste à X".

    If the French version and the English one are related to each other (which seems plausible to me), it seems that the meaning has expended from "not to be told anywhere else or if so just among the people who were there" to "not to be exported (in a broad sense)". And the latter being negatable to mean "to be exported/not meant to stay unexported".

    Sorry, I can't give a better datation for any presumable beginning of the use of this expression. Simply, it has to be older than 2003 (I would say I heard of it at least ten years ago for the first time).

  3. Elyaqim Mosheh Adam said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 9:12 am

    When I first heard that Vegas slogan it didn’t seem at all original to me. I used to hear a similar sentence in discussion groups along the lines of “What is said here stays here.” I don’t remember exactly when I heard it, but it was certainly well before 2003. A quick search turned up an article: Sam Howe Verhovek, “Savvy Slogan Leads to Suit,” The Seattle Times, 4 September 2005, : “¶There’s that old saying among traveling salesmen: ‘What happens on the road stays on the road.’ ¶And the one from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings: ‘What you see here, what you hear here, whom you see here, stays here.’” “¶No one seems to know the origin of ‘What Happens Here Stays Here,’ and that probably won’t be answered in court. ¶The phrase might be centuries old, and no doubt has its parallels in dozens of languages.”

  4. Roger, FCD said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 9:44 am

    When I was in the military, back in 1994-2000, we used the phrase "What happens on deployment stays on deployment," quite commonly. The phrase had seen use long before I was mustered in, though I couldn't tell you how much longer.

  5. Erwin said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 9:55 am

    This slogan actually features in a Google Answers, ; apparently the unknown author worked for R&R Partners, Inc. -E

  6. Josh Millard said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 11:58 am

    Yet even as courts steadily prohibited the outright teaching of creationism and intelligent design, creationists on the Texas board grew to a near majority.

    This actually stopped me short for a moment — my immediate thought was, "so, in other words, not a majority". Which I think shows only that I've been paying too much attention to two-party American political gamesmanship and reporting, because there's nothing wrong with it as written. That it even struck me as odd is probably the odd thing.

  7. John Laviolette said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 6:28 pm

    I think the snowclone is derived somehow from the group therapy craze of the '60s and '70s (which would seem to be confirmed by the Alcoholics Anonymous example above.) But I can't think of what the original phrase would have been. A simple Google search for "What happens in group, stays in group" only finds recent hits, and not many at that.

  8. The Tensor said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

    A little google(groups)ing around turned up this occurrence of "what happens on IRC stays on IRC" in a Usenet posting from December 2001.

    I'm running on "what happens in X stays in X" at the moment, and I'm seeing a lot of entries where the fillers are women's names. Turns out there's a series of adult DVDs (no link, sorry) titled "What Happens in Stays in ". Charming.

  9. nomis said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 10:41 pm

    "What goes on tour stays on tour" is also used in the touring band scene, I'm pretty sure the line was used in the movie "Almost Famous", released in 2000 so also predating the Vegas slogan.

  10. Matt said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 10:45 pm

    In Australia, there is a fairly regular saying of "what happens on the field stays on the field"… used mostly with sports such as footy and cricket, and generally used to mean any violence or sledging that takes place on the field will not continue off the field (i.e. everyone will be mates afterwards).

  11. Trevor Stone said,

    June 10, 2008 @ 1:31 am

    I agree with Elyaqim Mosheh Adam. I've attended meetings (before 2003) in which a sensitive subject, such as inappropriate actions of coworkers, were discussed. The meeting leader would typically say "What's said in this room stays in this room" as a request to keep the conversation confidential.

  12. John Stephens said,

    June 10, 2008 @ 5:38 am

    Like Roger FCD above, I recall hearing a military version. In common use at least as early as the late 80's, and which turned up in your locative adverb search, that version was:
    "What happens TDY stays TDY"
    Where TDY = temporary duty, or short-term deployment to somewhere other than your permanent (i.e. spouse-supervised) station. Note the disregard for grammaticality once the acronym is de-acronymized. This is typical. ETS (End of Time in Service) happily functions as a verb, e.g "When are you ETSing?"

  13. Josh Millard said,

    June 10, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

    This post got me thinking about a possible round-up of Vegas snowclonery on Metafilter. Turns out it's been used a few dozen times over the last four years on the site, in a variety of ways.

    You can read the whole writeup on my blog, but the standout notes for me in the context of this post were:

    – some further examples of X, not X
    – some interesting X, Y subversions of the template, and
    – a couple of additional military anecdotes furthering what Roger, FCD and John Stephens mentioned already. One of those comments argues it back to the 1960's, even, though without any elaboration.

  14. marie-lucie said,

    June 10, 2008 @ 7:04 pm

    I think that the current French expression mentioned above: "Ce qui se passe en tournée reste en tournée" must be a literal translation from English. It is not ungrammatical in French, but rather bland: normal Colloquial French would require a resumptive pronoun before the verb "reste": "Ce qui se passe en tournée, ça reste en tournée," but current French syntax is being overwhelmed by literal translations from English.

  15. The Tensor said,

    June 11, 2008 @ 2:36 am

    Another early citation, this time via Google Books, from the February 1993 report of the DoD Inspector General on the Tailhook scandal in 1991:

    Many officers likened Tailhook to an overseas deployment, explaining that naval officers traditionally live a spartan existence while on board ship and then party while on liberty in foreign ports. Dozens of officers cited excessive drinking, indecent exposure and visits to prostitutes as common activities while on liberty. That was acknowledged by virtually all interviewees, from junior officers through flag officers. The most frequently heard comment in that regard was "what happens overseas, stays overseas." Officers said that activities such as adultery, drunkenness and indecent exposure which occur overseas are not to be discussed or otherwise revealed once the ship returns to port.

  16. Jim said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 10:11 am

    I don't have a copy of the book here with me, and you folks probably know this (?). Isn't the specific "Vegas" reference in Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"?

  17. Mike Nielsen said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

    Here in the local dart scene in Des Moines IA, I've heard for 12+ years "What goes on out of town stays out of town" to refer to various people "hooking up" while out of town. I'm sure it was in use long before that.

    I would bet it has it's origins, as others above have said, as a military term.

  18. Sally said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

    Sub rosa, anyone?

  19. Dave said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 9:47 am

    Google books also has "What goes on tour, stays on tour," in Maximum Rocknroll, from 1983.

  20. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 10:16 am

    Dave: Never trust the dating of periodicals on Google Books! 1983 is actually the first year of the series. If you look at the "About the book" page, you'll see that the issue with the citation is actually from Dec. 2001.

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