- What is a meme, if not a joke persevering?
Sound vaguely familiar?
What is x, if not y persevering is a templated meme stemming from the poignant or cheesy line from "WandaVision."
- People took that template and ran with it.
Templates like that began as formulaic cliches.
"30 is the new 20," "Whatever floats your boat," and now have become culturally pervasive.
From public service announcements to TV shows to city taglines and even political slogans, they're everywhere.
But what are they exactly?
These adaptable cliche frames are called snowclones.
They might look a little bit like algebra problem, solving for x and y, but this is no y equals mx + b situation.
It's more like Mad Libs.
Let's give it a try.
Not me asking my little sister about TikTok trends because I'm already out of touch.
Not me using a snowclone to try to explain snowclones.
It's giving millennial attempting to appeal to Gen Zers.
It's giving trying too hard to be funny.
It's giving Cher?
It's giving is a popular snowclone that became even more ubiquitous when Shawn Mendes used it in a now viral video from late 2021.
- It's giving.
It's giving Cher.
- With celebrities like Lizzo joining in.
Even more interesting, there was a homophone pun shift from Cher, the Goddess of Pop, to share the verb.
And speaking of homophone pun snowclones, I would be remiss not to mention how I'm a big fan of Dune, Dune the absolute most for the smallest laughs.
I could go on and I will.
So hold onto your bucket hats because we're about to word-nerd like we've never word-nerded before.
I'm Dr. Erica Brozovsky, and this is "Otherwords."
(light music) - [Announcer] "Otherwords."
- In a 2003 blog post on Language Log, linguist Jeffrey K Pullum solicited ideas for the linguistic phenomenon of 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.
(gasps) In response, economists Glen Whitman bestowed upon us the neologism snowclone, derived from the journalistic cliches referring to the number of Yupik and Inuit words for snow, and, of course, combined with a pun on snow cones.
So the term snowclone is pretty recent, but the concept goes back further than you might think.
Julius Caesar is known for a number of things though the first one that comes to mind is probably getting assassinated, which sticks in our collective imaginary due to "Beware the Ides of March," and "Et tu, Brute," courtesy of, you guessed it, Shakespeare.
However, besides getting got, Julius Caesar was remembered for the phrase "Veni, vidi, vici," I came, I saw, I conquered.
And now as a snowclone, I came, I saw, I x'ed we see plays in both the English and original Latin versions, like veni, vidi, Visa, I came, I saw, I shopped, or veni, vidi, Velcro, I came, I saw, I stuck around.
And, of course, it's heavily used in all sorts of media, from album titles to movies.
- We came, we saw, we kicked its (beep).
- [Erica] When our old pal William Shakespeare penned his most famous and most quotable line, "To be or not to be," he probably didn't realize that it was poised to become one of the most recognizable cliche phrases of the next few centuries.
- To swing or not to swing.
(gentle music) - And Shakespeare will be Shakespeare, so, of course, he does have a few more.
"Much ado about nothing."
"Frailty thy name is woman."
"My kingdom for a horse."
"A rose by any other name."
In his 1637 philosophical and autobiographical treatise "Discourse on the Method," Rene Decartes wrote, "I think, therefore I am," or in modern terms, I don't exactly think so I ain't exactly.
While the phrase itself is commonly repeated, it is often snowcloned such as in the 2015 film "I Eat, Therefore I Am," or the two books on Goodreads called "I Drink, Therefore I Am," one a wine guide and one about sobriety.
Philosophy is a funny thing, isn't it?
During the 19th century, eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote to the editors of the New York Sun to ask about the existence of Santa.
So from editor Francis Pharcellus Church's response, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," we get both yes, x, there is a y, and a little Christmas magic.
Another popular snowclone comes with the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," where Dorothy and her friends are fearful of what they might face in the Haunted Forest.
"Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"
It has since been adopted by journalists as a prime cliche for headlines of all sorts.
In the late 1960s, "Star Trek" gave us a special sort of snowclone.
Dr. McCoy says to Captain Kirk, "I'm a doctor, not an engineer, or mechanic, or bricklayer."
In the I'm an x, not a y format, Dr. McCoy fills in the y as the context demands.
Most snowclones originate as a consistent phrase that has been modified, but here it's snowclones all the way down.
The rise of the internet in meme culture has caused an avalanche in snowclones, from alternate words and NFTs to engagement announcement parodies.
I mean, how else do you explain Boaty McBoatface being the number one choice when the British public named a polar research ship?
And snowclones aren't limited to words.
In the right context, shapes can fill in the blanks.
The iconic I Heart New York logo, created by graphic designer Milton Glaser, has been adapted into an I, shape, x snowclone.
Sometimes it's still a heart and another location, but oftentimes we can see some creative license, like I food cart Street Food, or I shamrock Guinness.
So why use snowclones?
In one simple phrase, you're showing affiliation with others who use the snowclone through a digital inside joke that is a shared piece of popular culture.
They're efficient forms of communication for those who understand the context, and oftentimes they're funny, which is just an added bonus.
Put simply, humans crave connection, and memes just do it for us.
And hey, if using snowclones is wrong,