is a type of cliché
and phrasal template
originally defined as "a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different jokey variants by lazy journalists and writers."
An example of a snowclone is "X is the new Y", a generic form of the expression "pink is the new black". X and Y may be replaced with new words or phrases, as in "Random is the new order", a marketing phrase for the iPod shuffle. Both the generic formula and the new phrases produced from it are called "snowclones".
It emphasizes the use of a familiar (and often particular) formula and previous cultural knowledge of the reader to express information about an idea. The idea being discussed may be different in meaning from the original formula, but can be understood using the same trope as the original formulation.
The term was coined by Glen Whitman on January 15, 2004, in response to a request from Geoffrey Pullum on the Language Log weblog. The term is an allusion to a specific instance of the phenomenon:
- If the Eskimos have N words for snow, the X surely have M words for Y.
As the Language Log explains, this is a popular rhetorical trope used by journalists to imply that cultural group X has reason to spend a great deal of time thinking about the specific idea Y, despite the fact that the basic premise is wrong: Eskimos do not have an unusually large number of words for "snow".
In 1995, linguist David Crystal referred to this kind of trope as a "catch structure", citing as an example the phrase "to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before" as originally used in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series (1978). Adams' phrase is a reference to a Star Trek phrase "...to boldly go where no man has gone before!", which contains a split infinitive, a grammar construction criticized by language pedants.
- "Have X, will travel." It was popularized by Have Gun – Will Travel, the title of a 1957–1963 U.S. radio and television series, which derived from the stock phrasing of short "want ads" in Variety: an example is Have Tux, Will Travel, the title of Bob Hope's memoirs. The title of Robert A. Heinlein's 1958 novel Have Spacesuit, Will Travel also referred to this stock phrase.
- "The Saudi Arabia of X." Because of Saudi Arabia's abundant and easily accessible oil, any entity that has similar abundance is often mentioned with this reference. An example is former U.S. Vice President Al Gore referring to China as "the Saudi Arabia of manufacturing".
- "X considered harmful." The rise of this phrasal template was sparked by Edsger Dijkstra's 1968 letter to the Communications of the ACM, titled "Go To Statement Considered Harmful", as well as the responses "'GOTO Considered Harmful' Considered Harmful" and "'"GOTO Considered Harmful" Considered Harmful' Considered Harmful?".
- "Got X?" This was originated by the "Got Milk?" campaign by the California Milk Processor Board in 1993, and has spawned many imitators, such as "Got Jesus?", "Got Beer?", and "Got Rice?".
- X-gate: Many scandals since the Watergate scandal have been labeled with the suffix "-gate". (see List of scandals with "-gate" suffix).
- "In (Soviet) Russia, Y X's you," the Russian Reversal.
- "What Would X Do?" and its companion "What Would Jesus X"? Examples include "What Would Thor Do" and "What Would Jesus Buy?", respectively.