Canadian Snowclones, eh?

Speaking of snowclones, I’m surprised that none of the linguistic sites I read have made a note of The Onion‘s take on them. It’s OK. I’ll do it, you guys.

On the map of Canada in their book, Our Dumb World: Atlas of the Planet Earth, they make fun of the original snowclone by marking a spot on the map with, “Inuit community that has 20 words for having 50 words for snow.”

As with most things Onion, I like it. How many words do we have for having words for things? If anyone knows of any or of any sites that have already wrote about this Onion joke, please let me know in the comments.

The South Philly Snowclone

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