the new black

A snowclone 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 variants.’

An example of a snowclone is ‘grey is the new black,’ a version of the template ‘X is the new Y.’  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 Agoraphilia blogger and economics professor Glen Whitman in 2004.

The original example was, ‘if Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z.’ Which 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 Z, despite the fact that the basic premise is wrong: Inuit 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!’ In his characteristic style, Adams satirically mimics the original by including a split infinitive, a controversial construction.


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