Trivia Teaser

Construction: What is a datum?

A reference point from which elevations are measured.
A vertical window in a sloping roof.
The lower part of a wall
Either of the vertical sides of a doorway or window



By Miranda

Do you know what a 'snowclone' is? Snowclones are phrases or clauses, familiar through literature, speech and, increasingly, advertising and the media, from which you remove one key word and replace it with another. But, since the structure remains so recognisable, it still conveys a particular association. You'll certainly recognise the format. One often cited as an example, trotted out each season by the fashion industry, is 'X is the new black' - simply insert whatever colour is deemed essential for the next three months and there's your commentary for Spring. It goes further when you move out of the realm of colour and move to 'X is the new Y'. Then you can have such gems as 'Rock is the new Pop' or 'Fake is the new real'.

I've been looking around for older ones and found, of course, that Shakespeare is well represented, 'My kingdom for an X', 'An X by any other name' and the winner, from Hamlet, 'To X or not to X'.

Why 'snowclone', then? It, apparently, depends dangerously from the notion that Eskimos have lots of words for snow. Sadly they don't, but that hasn't stopped the idea of an avalanche of synonyms from spreading far enough for linguist Geoffrey K Pullum to name this practice with reference to his own example, 'If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z'. It's easy to send up a snowclone. I can remember (yes, probably in the good old days) seeing a MAD magazine spoof advertisement for 'Cadillac - the Rolls-Royce of cars'.

My favourite snowclone derives from a classic of Australian TV advertising for a product now doomed by this blogging technology. Nonetheless, it has been applied in contexts domestic, work and political ever since it was first broadcast in the year 2000.

'Not happy, X'


6 Responses to


May 06, 2010 at 4:15 PM

I love the X you're having when you are not having an X. So useful in many situations.

Novista said:
May 06, 2010 at 8:44 PM

My favourite was an 1890 article on Nikola Tesla, born in Croatia -- of which the author said of nearby Turkey: "The Turks have 400 words for knife and only one for bread."

ganojomo said:
May 08, 2010 at 1:30 PM

I'm also a great fan of the X you have when you're not having an X ... it just seems to fit so many situations!

kragzy said:
May 11, 2010 at 3:13 PM

Since these blogs usually attract the rantings of old blokes like me complaining about abuses of our beautiful English language, let me provide a couple of examples of annoying new words that are replacing perfectly good old words. 'Methodology' which literally means the science of methods, is often used where 'method' would be fine. I hear 'anxiousness' a lot lately - what's wrong with good old 'anxiety'? There are plenty of others.

jan54 said:
May 14, 2010 at 12:45 AM

that's about as X as X, i would have X'd

May 14, 2010 at 6:05 AM

I am with 'Kragzy'. Twice is a beautiful word but nowadays people use 'two times'. It sounds ugly.