I’m generally not into New Year’s resolutions, but I believe that this year I will promise to write less snowclones. A snowclone, according to Wikipedia, “is a neologism used to describe a type of formula-based cliché which uses an old idiom in a new context. The term emphasizes the use of a familiar (and often particular) formula and previous cultural knowledge of the reader to express information about an idea.” An example is this post’s title: the well-known formula of “to X or not to X” is a snowclone.
The term was coined by linguist Glen Whitman, who noted that a new word was needed to describe the journalistic practice of calling things “the new black” (the snowclone is “X is the new Y”). The name comes from the famous urban myth that Eskimos “have X number of words for snow” (the range goes from 10 to 30). This is one of those lazy bits of common knowledge that nobody ever checks, but that is completely wrong, just as the myth that humans only use 10% of their brains. These lazy common knowledge adages can be the source of the snowclone, but the largest source is found in popular culture. Some of the best known snowclones are from movie tags (“In space nobody can hear you X”; “May the X be with you”, “I, for one, welcome our new X overlords”).
You too can become a snowclone hunter. Just go into Google and search using a snowclone template replacing the X for an asterisk. So, if you can find all instances of “All your X are belong to us”, or “Have X, will travel”.