Obama is the Y of Z

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We've commented several times on the rhetorical template X is the Y of Z ("X as the Y of Z", 7/28/2006; "X as the Y of Z, again", 3/25/2008), and several others have joined us. Following Barack Obama's historic victory in yesterday's election, it occurred to me to wonder which versions of this pattern would be instantiated over the next few news cycles. The first one that I've seen was produced by John F. Harris and Jim Vendehei at 5:28 a.m.("A new world order", Politico, 11/5/2008):

Obama is the Google of politics: He has technological expertise and an audience his political competitors simply cannot match. Looking ahead to 2010, House and Senate Democrats will be jealously eyeing Obama's e-mail lists and technology secrets — giving him even greater leverage over them. Republicans will be forced to invest serious money and time to narrow the technology gap.

This one is effective, but not strikingly original, since "X is the Google of Y" long ago became common enough to be discussed as a meme ("Google as a Symbol of Excellence", 3/31/2007):

When you want to say that a company is a leader in a field or has the best products, you say it's the Google of that field. If you search for "* is the Google of *", you'll find a lot of services and companies compared to Google.

This explanation of the metaphor is different, and seemed wrong to me — Harris and Vandehei emphasized not just leadership but also "technological expertise and … audience". But the first page of the cited search includes "Potash is the Google of fertilizer", so go figure.

Anyhow, the recently concluded campaign produced many interesting variants applied to both candidates. One of my favorites was "John McCain is the Jud Crandall of America" — though this one requires familiarity with the movie Pet Sematary.

This is not the easiest pattern to search for — most of the hits are things like "is the 44th president of the United State" or "is the embodiment of this American dream". So if you come across genuine instances of "X is the Y of Z" applied to the current political landscape, please put them in the comments.



24 Comments

  1. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 10:11 am

    From the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/10/28/do2806.xml

    "Barack Obama is the Busby Berkeley of Modern America"

    From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/naomi-wolf/the-battle-plan-ii-sarah_b_128393.html

    "Palin, not McCain, is the FrankenBarbie of the Rove-Cheney cabal."

    From Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aYI5UQWvIChI&refer=home

    "Joe Biden is the Reggie Jackson of presidential politics."

  2. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 10:13 am

    Oh, and another fun one: http://baratunde.com/blog/archives/2008/09/announcing_the_launch_of_the_voter_suppression_wiki_-_learn_report_act_.html

    "Joe Lieberman is the Fredo of the Democratic Family."

  3. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 10:31 am

    I am old enough to remember when the Y in the formula was usually "Cadillac."

  4. Nicholas Waller said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 10:42 am

    I rather assume that the vintage Rolls-Royce of these sayings is X is the Rolls-Royce of Y, of which my favourite, possibly apocryphal, is "Cadillac is the Rolls Royce of automobiles". One similar statement which I saw as it appeared live on TV (then subsequently collected in Private Eye's "Colemanballs", a regular collection of howlers committed by live broadcasters) was "Here we are in the Holy Land of Israel – a Mecca for tourists," said by BBC man David Vine in 1980.

    Anyway, I was hoping someone would have said that Obama's was the Rolls-Royce of election campaigns but no-one has, as far as Wikipedia knows. People have said Google is the Rolls-Royce of search, apparently.

  5. William Ockham said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 11:00 am

    I heard somebody on TV (I think it was Chris Mathews on MSNBC) that Howard Dean was John the Baptist of Obama's campaign.

  6. Stuart Finlayson said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 11:59 am

    "Sarah Palin is the Katyusha rocket of the American right"
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/09/uselections2008.barackobama
    I'm not exactly sure if a Katyusha is a good or a bad thing, though.

    [(myl) I think it depends on which end of the Katyusha you're at, so to speak. I was not in favor of the ones that landed near me in 1970, but I suppose that the folks who fired them had a different opinion.]

  7. Yuval said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

    …it's the Google of that field. If you search google for "* is the Google of *", you'll find a lot of services and companies compared to Google.

    There. Better.

  8. anonymous said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 12:51 pm

    My favorite: "OBAMA IS THE BOSTON CELTICS OF 2007/2008…. UNBEATABLE" (using search string "obama is the * of 2008")

    using search string "mccain is the * of 2008":
    McCain is the stale candy corn of Halloween treats
    John McCain is the Uno of the 2008 presidential race

    using search string "mccain is the * of republicans":
    John McCain is the 'Sinking Ship of Free-Market Republicans'
    John McCain is like the Tiger Woods of stupid Republicans

    By the way, I swear my searching is non-partisan.

    These searches all return more results than I care to list: "obama is the * of politics", "obama is the google of", "obama is the hugo chavez", "obama is the * of * election", "obama is the * of american", "mccain is the * of modern", "obama is the * of modern"

  9. Seth Grimes said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

    My mother used to talk about certain schools as "X is the Harvard of the South," and so on. My response: A school (or car or person) compared in this manner never merits the comparison.

  10. Ivan said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

    I don't know if you're interested only in examples in English, but I found this exchange from a Croatian internet forum pretty funny:

    Obama je američki Zoki Milanović. Ništa kvaliteta, samo etiketa. ("Obama is the Zoki Milanović of America. All brand, no quality.")

    To which another poster replied:

    McCain je američki 75 Cent. ("McCain is the 75 Cent of America.")

    "75 Cent" is the artistic name of a septuagenarian Croatian rapper. :-)

    (Strictly speaking, these sentences should be translated as "X is the American Y", rather than "X is the Y of America". However, the literal use of the latter template would sound a bit unnatural in Croatian, so you'll usually see the former where English speakers would use the latter.)

  11. GAC said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

    My search turned up some slightly different uses on the first page:

    "Baidu is the Google of China"
    (Baidu is a popular Chinese search engine that, like Google, has branched out into other services such as a Wikipedia-like encyclopedia and a perhaps-not-quite-legal music search.)

    "Where is the Google of Call Logs?"
    (Specifically asking for some kind of search application for call logs.)

    "Obama is the Google of Candidate Brands"
    (Seems to be going more for a popularity/inspirational potential idea than with a technical competence angle.)

  12. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

    Obama's Googlicity has been noted since at least Nov. '07, after he spoke at the Googleplex:

    "He's fresh, he's new, there's something about him that's Google-like," Nicole Resz, a 26-year-old who works in Google's advertising department, gushed to Reuters. (CNET)

  13. Joe said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

    Obama gets compared to Tiger Woods a lot, too.

  14. Nicholas Waller said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

    "Lewis Hamilton is the Obama of F1" in a comment in
    http://www.speedtv.com/forums/viewthread/340303/

    Briton Lewis Hamilton has just won the Formula One motor-racing Championship, which makes him both the youngest ever and the first black champion – and like Obama he has a black father and white mother.

    You can also see "Lewis Hamilton is the Tiger Woods of Formula One. Barack Obama is the Theo Walcott of politics" but in this case the writer is complaining about lazy journalists relentlessly comparing all these stars because of their racial background (Theo Walcott is a young Arsenal and England footballer).

  15. Josh Millard said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

    Here's a Palin roundup from the first twenty pages of "palin is the * of" -embodiment -personification -governor. Some of these feel a bit wobbly, but if it could be reasonably interpreted as fitting the template I went with it.

    Youtube info box: "Sarah Palin is the Michael Vick of Alaska"

    FSC: Sarah Palin is the Zamboni of this campaign"

    bizjournal: "Palin is the Clarence Thomas of VPs"

    political forum: "Palin is the Rumkowski of women"

    mudflats blog comment: "Sarah Palin is the Clarence Thomas of women"

    WAP blog (cache): "Sarah Palin is the Swiftboat campaign of 2008"

    digg: "Palin is the Cruella Devil of wolves!"

    CBRF (cache): sarah palin is the lois london of american politics"

    facebook: "Palin is the Eagleton of 2008"

    sulekha: "Sarah Palin is the Rabri Devi of USA"

    And a curious false positive led me to this smattering of hits for "bunt of a joke". Lost somewhere between being the butt and taking the brunt, then?

  16. mae said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

    " is the Barak Obama of the Jewish book world." — I heard this and wrote it down (so I could comment here) at a book talk at a Jewish Book Fair tonight. I didn't catch the name of the woman, whom I had never heard of. In context it made no sense to me.

  17. mae said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 10:24 pm

    My comment was garbled, should read:
    "[Some woman] is the Barak Obama of the Jewish book world." — I heard this and wrote it down (so I could comment here) at a book talk at a Jewish Book Fair tonight. I didn't catch the name of the woman, whom I had never heard of. In context it made no sense to me.

  18. Dick Margulis said,

    November 6, 2008 @ 12:09 am

    On a slightly different but related template, X is the new Y–which Language Log has discussed frequently–there was a photo in a New Yorker article about Spike Lee a few months back in which he was wearing a T-shirt that read "Obama is the new black." (Perhaps it was a widely seen slogan, but I don't get out much.)

  19. The Tensor said,

    November 6, 2008 @ 6:02 am

    There's a ton of fillers for Obama is the X of politics. I found 116 using snowclone.pl, including: Nissan GT R, Macintosh, Paris Hilton, Tiger Woods, Metalcore, Jackie Robinson, Ron Burgundy, Jim Jones, John Coltrane, Fred Astaire, Boy Band, Milli Vanilli, Google, Anna Kornakova [sic], David Hasselhoff, Muhammad Ali, Lady Killer, Britney Spears, Quincy Carter, Donovan McNabb…

    For the less restricted pattern Obama is the X of Y I found 483 variants, of which most are of the uninteresting variety you mention above (e.g. Obama is the candidate of change). Some of the more clever non-politics endings for Obama is the… include:

    Fresh Prince of repair
    Busby Berkeley of modern America
    Iphone of policitians
    audacity of hope
    Carter of our time
    mirror of desire
    Nixon of 2008
    ZZ Top of politicians
    wizzard of uhhs
    Putin of America
    rockstar of the l33ts

    Search for "obama is the * of *" if you want to see all the venom I've filtered out. There was a lot of it.

  20. Amy said,

    November 6, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

    Just saw this on http://www.fivethirtyeight.com:

    The emerging conventional wisdom is that there was some sort of a Bradley Effect in this contest — voters told pollsters that they weren't about to vote for that rascal Ted Stevens, when in fact they were perfectly happy to. Convicted felons are the new black, it would seem.

  21. Sili said,

    November 8, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

    And as one of the commenters pointed out convicted felons are in fact the new white in that context.

    I actually like the comparison of Dean to John the Baptist.

  22. Brendan said,

    November 12, 2008 @ 7:06 am

    My favorite take on this construction was a friend's Facebook status update during this summer's Olympics: "Maciej is the Michael Phelps of specious comparisons."

  23. En gengångare: den metaforiska mallen X är Z:s Y said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 5:28 am

    […] Obama-exempel Eftersom jag började söka på Obama (inspirerad av kommentarerna till detta inlägg på Language Log) var det lika bra att fortsätta och se hur han metaforiseras. Söksträngen […]

  24. John Cowan said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

    I think "Katyusha rocket" means "unpredictable but dangerous device that may well injure or kill the person who sets it off rather than the person it's aimed at."

    Long ago I was briefly in Springfield, Missouri, which has called itself "The Queen City of the Ozarks" for more than a century; the curious thing about this from is that there doesn't seem to be a place called "Queen City".

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