The podcast On The Media recently ran an interview with Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who is a former professional basketball player and current color commentator for the New York Knicks. As the interview shows, he has a way with words. But I found his commentary on how he developed his voice really interesting. He told host Brooke Gladstone:
Frazier: To improve my vocabulary, I used to get The Sunday Times, the arts and leisure section when they critiqued the plays.
Brooke Gladstone: Oh, the plays?
Frazier: Yes. Riveting, mesmerizing and provocative, profound. People think I’m a voracious reader but I have books and books of words and phrases. When I first started, I just studied these books over and over. Ironically, you can use cliches and no one will ever say anything, but if you use ubiquitous twice, they’ll go, “He used that word twice already.”
Frazier: Then all of a sudden, I fell in love with words. Words are like people, the more you see them, the more you relate to them. Even today, just like fashion, I’m always looking for new words and how I can incorporate them into my style.
That’s a pretty good point about ubiquitous. People love to nitpick when that word is used. But it’s an even better point about cliches. Even though the style guide will tell you to avoid cliches, using one is often the best way to go. Check Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage if you don’t believe me.
This part of the interview starts at around 12:30 minutes in. Go listen to the interview with Frazier. That page also has the transcript of the interview.
I’d like to suggest an addition to the snowclone definition: X once did Y to Z. I call it the South Philly Snowclone.
A snowclone is a rhetorical trope, often used by journalists, which “conveys information by using a familiar verbal formula and the cultural knowledge of the audience.” The South Philly Snowclone’s template is:
X once did Y to Z
What the phrase has to do with South Philly is how often lazy sports journalists refer to the time Philly fans once threw snowballs at Santa Claus.
On the surface, it’s a phrase that’s technically true. Just like the Eskimos have more than one word for snow, Philly sports fans once threw snowballs at Santa Claus. But the devil is in the details.
Ray Didinger and John Pierron* explain the whole story better than I can, but here’s what you (linguists) need to know. On December 15, 1968, after a long and disappointing season, some Philadelphia Eagles fans threw snowballs at a guy in a Santa Claus costume who was not supposed to be on the field. Ever since then, sports journalists have been using this as proof of why Philly is home to sports fans from hell. They don’t use the more recent riots started by Canucks fans or Lakers fans or any of the incidents listed here (OK, except for two out of three here). They more often than not use the South Philly Snowclone.
What all this has to do with linguistics is that you have certainly heard or read the X once did Y to Z snowclone before. It’s usually followed with an implied “therefore” and “X can’t possibly be A.” Like other snowclones, it’s used across genres. Look out for it. The next time you see it, you’ll know that the writer is only as good as a run-of-the-mill lazy sports journalist.
In conclusion, Go Flyers!
*Hat tip Enrico Campitelli Jr. at The700Level.com.