x is like a box of chocolates....

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/02/12 22:31 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/02/12/530658.aspx

I have been thinking about snowclones, and not just because of Mark Liberman's most recent mention of them in his post The proper treatment of snowclones in ordinary English.

It was actually happening due to someone asking me via email about the arguably famous (or perhaps infamous) use of the following from Tom Hanks in the movie Forrest Gump:

Momma always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

and whether this construct represented a snowclone.

To start with, the many uses of "x is like a box of chocolates" which each follow with an attempt to explain why the connection is being made, is not really a snowclone.

Because it is not based on any linguistic fallacy, let alone the often repeated fallacy about eskimos and words for snow that is well-described in Geoffrey Pullum's The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language.

So just as David Foley pointed out that rain on your wedding day is not ironic, it's just unfortunate, it is fair to say that x is like a box of chocolates is not a snowclone, it is just an analogy.

One of the funnier takes on this is Penn Jillette's Jean-Claude Van Gump (in my humble opinion) though you probably have your own favorite examples....

Though my all time favorite send up of x is like a box of chocolates comes from X Files' Cigarette Smoking Man in the episode Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, just over two years after Forrest Gump was released:

Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable -- because all you get back is another box of chocolates. You're stuck with this undefinable whipped-mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there's nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while, there's a peanut butter cup. An English toffee. But they're gone too fast, the taste is fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits, filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. If you're desperate enough to eat those, all you've got left... is an empty box... filled with useless, brown paper wrappers.

It actually mirrors about how I feel about boxes of chocolates....

To talk about actual snowclones, my favorite example of actual snowclones comes from Douglas Adams, and his character Rob McKenna, also known as the Rain God. Rob had 231 different types of rain catalogued since he never seemed to be able avoid rain, and the reason he did this he described as follows:

He had read somewhere that the Eskimos had over two hundred words for snow, without which their conversation would probably have got very monotonous. So they would distinguish between thin snow and thick snow, light snow and heavy snow, sludgy snow, brittle snow, snow that came in flurries, snow that came in drifts, snow that came in on the bottom of your neighbour's boots all over your nice clean igloo floor, the snows of winter, the snows of spring, the snows you remember from your childhood that were so much better than any of your modern snow, fine snow, feathery snow, hill snow, valley snow, snow that falls in the morning, snow that falls at night, snow that falls all of a sudden just when you were going out fishing, and snow that despite all your efforts to train them, the huskies have pissed on.

So, to use the classic construct of the snowclone, if the eskimos have over 200 words for snow, why not have 231 words for rain? :-)


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# Erin on 21 Feb 2006 5:42 PM:

A phrase does not have to repeat fallacious information in order to be a snowclone. We already have words for that kind of phrase: urban legend, old wives' tale. (Though of course a saying doesn't have to be wrong or untrue to be an urban legend or old wives' tale either.) A snowclone is a phrase that has that variable x that can be filled by a variety of things in a similar category (noun, adjective, or things that are semantically if not strictly grammatically linked), and that has a certain amount of cliche-ness. "X is like a box of chocolates" can be a snowclone if the reader/listener of its variant knows that the phrase is supposed to remind him that X is varied and interesting. See <a href='http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowclone'>the Wikipedia entry</a> for a decent definition. The discussion of the actual concept of Eskimos supposedly having 200 words for snow is not a snowclone, the actual phrase "If Eskimos have N words for snow, X must have M for Y" is.

Oh, btw: I'm here via a Feedster or Technorati (or some other blog indexing site) search for "snowclone."  I'm doing some research for the database of snowclones I'm compiling.

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