Monday, November 13, 2006

The SAT Snowclone

Linguistics web logs all over are talking about snowclones. Tenser, said the Tensor has even written a post about a Perl program he wrote to help quantify occurances and variations in the Google™ corpus. It has gotten the attention of Language Log, the web log that started it all.

Arnold Zwicky recently posted some of the notable snowclone formulae that have accumulated on his "desk" since 2000. People are sending them to him constantly. After reading his list I was reminded of one common formula and its comedy cousin. (What follows is from an email I sent to Mr Zwicky.)

The first is the standard "X is to Y what Z is to Q" -- which can be used as a complement, an insult, or a neutral (though sometimes odd) observation. E.g. "She is to academics what Olivier is to acting" or "He is to relationships what Gallagher is to watermelons" or "She is to cooking what Stephen King is to writing."

The second is a simple change in the formula: X is to Y what Z is to Y. There's usually a partial echo between X and Z. I first heard it used by Comedian Jeff Ross in a Friars Club Roast of Drew Carey (1998). He said "Drew Carey is to comedy what Mariah Carey is to comedy."

Whoever first used this formula for comic effect was obviously well aware of the ability of a snowclone to shape expectation very quickly. I especially like how the similarity of X and Z make the repetition of Y ridiculous.

But I've heard it used several times since then -- even by Jeff Ross himself. Satire doesn't work as well served as leftovers.

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