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

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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