The Navy SEALs of snowclones

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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.

Really, I think that David has already nailed it.

We can look over a few more pages of web-search returns, and find

… we wanted to be the Navy Seals of growth …
We needed to develop the Navy Seals of volunteers.
… these guys are the Navy Seals of management …
Rolfers: the Navy SEALs of body work …
Put Team Prevail, "The Navy Seals of Pest Control" to work for YOU!
… what I needed was the Navy Seals of Sales
Doyle & Son Plumbing & Heating Corp – The Navy Seals of Plumbing
We do not have the Navy Seals of the political class
DD's are the Navy Seals of the Gun Dog World
She said that guide dogs are the "navy seals" of the working dog industry
the incredible training that they must undergo results in what Keith calls “ the Navy Seals of motorcycle riding riding coaches”
These are the Navy Seals of Kickball, the Ballbarians.

… and so on. But this only confirms David's observation.  I note that the Google Ngram Viewer fails us on this one, probably because the collection stopped several years before the recent events that primed "Navy SEALs" as icons of aggressive, successful highly-trained toughness.


  1. John O'Toole said,

    June 9, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

    This is completely off topic, Mr. Liberman, so please do remove it once you've digested its question (I don't know of any other way of submitting my question, a thousand pardons). "The Trip" with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon is to be released in the US shortly. Both men are justly famous for their ability to imitate the voices of famous actors and the like. YouTube has a number of their bits from the forthcoming film. My experience is odd, though. I am an American, born and bred, although I spent many years on the Continent, where I met a good number of people from the UK. The famous actors from the UK that they imitate, the ones I know, are absolutely spot on to this ear. It is when they do Americans that I have a hard time recognizing them–they seem not quite right even when the name is mentioned (gesturally they have Woody Allen down, but the voice ain't quite right, for instance). Is this a rare phenomenon, first of all, and if not, is what we Americans are hearing more like what in fact the Brits are hearing of our celebs? Are we getting in a sense a glimpse into what another English-speaking group hears (kind of like the French version of American English that's been discussed here but with all the content intact in this instance)? Sorry to submit my question in this way–and sorry if the question is a naive or uninteresting one. Thanks

  2. majolo said,

    June 9, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

    First hit for "seal team 6 of":
    Haitian mosquitoes are like the Seal team 6 of mosquitoes. Or 7 even.

    I think there's some Spinal Tap logic there too.

  3. M said,

    June 9, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

    By the way, the Ngram search is case sensitive, and thus even "the navy seals" gets no matches. "The Navy SEALs" does get some. Still none for "Navy SEALs of", though.

  4. Ray Girvan said,

    June 9, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

    And we have a British equivalent with the SAS.

    "[The F Word] … are the SAS of Soul"
    "[rabbit-hunting dogs trained for Macquarie Island] are the SAS of dog or rabbit dogs"
    "Barca's Metro pickpockets are the SAS of thieves"
    "Bowantz Environmental (they are the SAS of environmental reclamation work)"
    "Spiders are the SAS of nature"
    "the All Blacks are like the SAS of rugby"
    "Hobnobs are the SAS of the biscuit world"
    "Expert Heavy Duty are the SAS of the scouring world"
    "heated memory comfort seats … are the SAS of seats"
    "CD8+ (cytotoxic) cells are the SAS of [white blood cells]"
    "Animal Liberation Front … are the SAS of the animal rights fight
    "[crash test dummies] are the SAS of the mannequin world"
    "the Carthusians … are the SAS of monks"

  5. GeorgeW said,

    June 9, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

    @Ray Girvan: The SAS are the Navy Seals of Britain?

  6. Ray Girvan said,

    June 9, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

    @GeorgeW: not exactly. The Special Boat Service is a closer analogy in terms of activities and branch of the services. But the Special Air Service is the one that's iconic in the way that the Navy Seals are in the USA.

  7. Matt McIrvin said,

    June 9, 2011 @ 9:36 pm

    The Navy SEALs were already iconic years before the Osama bin Laden raid, though undoubtedly that's given their reputation a huge boost. I think I first became conscious of the name because of the 1990 Charlie Sheen movie "Navy SEALs", though I haven't seen the movie.

    Since their real names are secret, there's been a tendency for people to falsely claim to have been SEALs, and other people who spend their time exposing them.

  8. Suzanne Kemmer said,

    June 10, 2011 @ 12:47 am

    "X is/are the Navy Seals of Z" is a more specific version of the "X is the Y of Z" construction that has been discussed on LL. The Navy Seals trope has the Y element filled in. Both are the kind of partially lexically filled constructions that the Construction Grammarians talk about (partially-instantiated constructions/ subconstructions in Cognitive Grammar terms). Does the resemblance between snowclones and Constructions ever get discussed by syntacticians outside these frameworks? The CG theories mentioned assume a continuum between more specific (more lexically-filled) to more schematic units (those with less lexical content and more non-lexically specified grammatical categories in the construction). The grammar, or rather language, is a big structured inventory of constructions of different levels of specificity. (The semantic side is analyzed by means of frames, scales, conceptual blending and other cognitive semantic devices.) How do other syntactic theories deal with all the partial lexical specification? Or are snowclones undescribed theoretically outside the above-named theories?

    Speaking of the more general construction, Kelefa Sanneh, writing in the 5/9/11 New Yorker, came up with a good one: Noting that the rotten reputation that once attached to TV in general now attaches specifically to reality TV, he wrote: "Reality television is the television of television."

  9. chris said,

    June 10, 2011 @ 7:47 am

    The Navy SEALs were already iconic years before the Osama bin Laden raid, though undoubtedly that's given their reputation a huge boost.

    And before that, the pirate incident off Somalia.

  10. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 10, 2011 @ 8:42 am

    Didn't we have a go-round recently on the advisability of just drowning the iconic comparison in the bathtub? "The Rolls-Royce is the Cadillac of British automobiles."

  11. Electric Dragon said,

    June 10, 2011 @ 9:13 am

    So the killing of Osama is the Iranian Embassy Siege of the Navy SEALs.

  12. A Jack said,

    June 10, 2011 @ 9:40 am

    @George W:The SAS are the Navy Seals of Britain?

    I got it

  13. Pliny said,

    June 10, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

    My favorite remains "Saddam Hussein is the father of the Mother of all Cliches." [wrt "the mother of all battles", of course]

  14. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 10, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

    The bull walrus is the Navy seal of Arctic marine mammals.

  15. Bob C said,

    June 10, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

    I'm trying to imagine what the Navy SEALs of seahorses looks like.

  16. Ray Girvan said,

    June 11, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

    @George W:The SAS are the Navy Seals of Britain?
    @@A Jack: I got it

    Ah, indeed. Factual geekiness over-rode my sense of humour.

  17. Pete said,

    June 13, 2011 @ 10:42 am

    Another snowclone I've just noticed recently: "the only X in the village", based on the only gay in the village, from Little Britain.

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