What is a Snowclone?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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A snowclone is a literary device that involves transforming cliches, axioms and pop culture catchphrases into modern analogies. By substituting a few key words from the original saying, a writer can put a new context on an old concept.

A snowclone can be formed simply by borrowing a timeworn but familiar cliche and injecting the specific topic into its basic syntax. The movie catchphrase "In space, no one can hear you scream," for example, can be turned into a business-related snowclone: "In space, no one can hear you negotiate." The device works in context because the two catchphrases have a common theme; nothing works in a vacuum. The same formula could be used to create other snowclones: "In X, no one can hear you Y."

Other popular catchphrases and axioms lend themselves to the formation. "Pink is the new black," a familiar fashion axiom, is often turned into a political snowclone: "Liberal is the new moderate," among other concepts. The familiar formula "X is the new Y" can be applied to any number of modern ideas which have replaced older ones. As long as the analogy is structurally sound, the phrase works as a form of cultural shorthand between writers and readers.


Critics of the practice consider it to be an easy way out for professional writers, who should not rely on cliches and catchphrases to prove a point. Because there are literally thousands of familiar phrases which could be converted to a snowclone, writers often rely on them as the leads into non-fiction articles: "If the Eskimo language has a hundred different words for snow, why can't business leaders settle on one word for their new policy on tariffs?" "To sell or not to sell? That is the question facing homeowners during times of rampant inflation."

As long as the phrase in question brings clarity and familiarity to the article, writers should feel free to use the literary device sparingly. If the article becomes overloaded with cliches, or the writer uses an obscure or unfamiliar snowclone, then the structure of the piece could be weakened.


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