Snowclone Is The New Cliché

"If I can claim no other accomplishment when I die, at least I'll have one neologism to my name!" --Glen Whitman, economics professor

3 min read

Modern folklore holds that Eskimos have a huge number of words related to snow, but it's just not true--they use no more such words than we do. Still, the factoid continues to spin off phrases on the general format of ”If Eskimos have N words for snow, X have Y words for Z.” For example, a 2003 article in The Economist declared, ”If Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, Germans have as many words for bureaucracy.” On his blog, Agoraphilia, Glen Whitman coined a snappy name for the category to which this formula belongs: the snowclone . Of course, he was punning on the snow cone, which is shaved ice flavored with syrup and carried in a paper cone. Other bloggers have since identified more members of this lexicographic species, and one of them, Erin Stevenson O'Connor, is compiling them at at http://snowclones.org.

Many snowclones are firmly entrenched in mainstream culture. For example, I'm not an X, but I play one on TV has been around for more than 20 years. It comes from a 1986 ad for Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup, in which an actor said, ”I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Another example is In X, no one can hear you Y , which is based on the tagline of the 1979 movie Alien : ”In space, no one can hear you scream.”

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Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

In 1992, Asad M. Madni sat at the helm of BEI Sensors and Controls, overseeing a product line that included a variety of sensor and inertial-navigation devices, but its customers were less varied—mainly, the aerospace and defense electronics industries.

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