I’ve just learned from Stan Carey what a snowclone is. Geoffrey Pullum developed the concept on Language Log back in 2004, for a clichéd phrasal template that gets repeated in innumerable variants.

Geoffrey Pullum:
“I was looking at things like “In space, no one can hear you X”, where the customizability is that you get to choose the verb X, but the laziness is that you don’t have to do anything else, and just about everyone will know you are alluding to the poster slogan for Alien. The concept was named later by someone else, Glen Whitman, who chose “snowclone” because of the practice of cloning variants of my original example, a rather complex and ill-defined one: If the Eskimos have N words for snow, X have {even more / just as many / a similar number} for Y. “

Lazy, yes, but in fact we find snowclones – and snowcloning – very playful and amusing, I think. Just have a look at the collection in the Snowclones Database. It’s great thinking back to the origin of each snowclone and collecting variants. Here are my 20 favorites:

  • X is the mother of Y
  • X is the new Y
  • This is your brain on X
  • I (shape) X
  • My kingdom for an X
  • going to X like I’ve/we’ve never Xed before!
  • X is the Y of Z
  • The only good X is a dead X
  • Whatever Xes your Y
  • Got X?
  • A few X short of a Y
  • To X or not to X
  • I am X, hear me Y
  • have X, will travel
  • Pimp my X
  • The end of X as we know it
  • X for Dummies
  • Xgate (Pullum does not allow this, as it’s a lexical word-formation)
  • Xcore (he would then also disallow this)

But this is ok:

  • Men are from X/ Mars, women are from Y

And look what I stumbled across today:Committed

I’m collecting … will be sorting … and would be grateful for any associations you may have … and for lists off the top of your head!

“Like” in spoken English

“Like” has become one of the most popular words in spoken English. It was a marker I heard frequently this summer in the States, originating in teen-talk, but now firmly established in informal language. Just listen to My Brightest Diamond singer Shara Worden making small talk with fellow musicians Lisa Hannigan and Molloy Share (from 2:55).
She says, “I was at the Green Man Festival in Wales, and they had tons of kids there, and it was so muddy, it was muddy muddy muddy everywhere, and the kids were just having a great time in the, you know, playing in the mud, and the adults were, like, “Uh, uh, we hate the mud.” And the kids, like, really knew what to do with mud.”
Later, when she’s surprised to be hearing Radiohead in the background (10:15), she comments on her own surprise, in retrospect, saying, “And I’m, like, ‘Wait a second!’ ”
So she’s using “like” as a random spacer and as a comma before quoting someone. Other examples from the Urban Dictionary:
Spacer: “He was, like, about the same age as me, but, like, I wasn’t sure what he, like, wanted to do with me.”
Comma before a quote: “I’m, like, ‘Let’s do something together.'”

Sex and … grammar?

I’ve got a fun job, writing an exercise a week for learners of English. We think up a topic related to the magazine and a grammar issue that should be addressed, or a set of vocabulary items and an approach to learning them, and then I’m off and running. It’s funny: The more bizarre the task, the more it gets my creative juices flowing. This week I have to write something to accompany the title story “Sex in America”, and it’s going to be in the “grammar” section. So: Sex and grammar?? Hmm… These are some quotes I’ve found quite amusing fishing around the Internet for inspiration:

  • Remember, if you smoke after sex you’re doing it too fast. ~ Woody Allen
  • When a man talks dirty to a woman, it’s sexual harassment. When a woman talks dirty to a man, it’s $3.95 a minute. ~ Author Unknown
  • Men get laid, but women get screwed. ~ Quentin Crisp
  • Tell him I’ve been too fucking busy – or vice versa. ~ Dorothy Parker
  • I’d like to meet the man who invented sex and see what he’s working on now. ~ Author Unknown

Taken from Sex Quotes compiled by Aparna Chatterjee.

Do and make in Frankfurt


I was in Frankfurt for Management Circle teaching a course in Office Communication for Assistants, and the lovely group (hello, ladies!) decided these expressions with do and make were the most helpful ones. Some expressions included:

  • do well = gedeihen, florieren
  • do without = ohne etwas auskommen
  • make do with something = mit einer “suboptimalen” Sache auskommen
  • make ends meet = finanziell zurecht kommen
  • make up your mind = sich entscheiden

David Crystal: Keep your English up to date

David Crystal has a lovely series of short and amusing talks about words that are popular but not yet in the dictionary, such as “hoodie” and “get a life” and “in your dreams” and “wired” and “gobsmacked” and “clueless” and “wannabe” and “blog”… so all of my favorite words, actually.

Includes audio, pdf lesson plan, transcript. Favorite it at BBC Learning English.

Back office business grammar

From my back office compact course: Susan is interviewing Karin about her job. Help them with their language.
Mouse over but don’t click on the highlighted text in the version you think is correct. If you see “yes” you have got it right.

Susan: What do you do / do you work?
Karin: I’m a team assistant. / I’m team assistant.
Susan: Like you / Do you like the job?
Karin: Yes, I like it. / Yes, I do.
Susan: What exactly are you doing / do you do?
Karin: I coordinate the work of / from the marketing department. It’s really interesting.
Susan: I can imagine. How long do you work / have you been working there?
Karin: Since / For about three and a half years.
Susan: And what have you done/ did you do before your current job?
Karin: I worked / was working as a personal assistant in another company.
Susan: Really? Why did you change jobs / the job?
Karin: Well, I earn more money at / by my current company, for one thing.
Susan: I see. / Of course.
Karin: The job is also a little more interested / interesting.
Susan: How often are you going / do you go on vacation?
Karin: Well, I’m off for two weeks once in a year/ once a year, usually in August.
Susanne: How good / well do you get along with your colleagues?
Karin: Oh, they’re very nice / nicely. But they’re also very busy.
Susanne: What’s the best thing / the best about your job?
Karin: I enjoy using / to use my head. And I’m good at / in organizing.
Susanne: Ok! What do you do / are you doing at the moment?
Karin: We are meeting / meeting us later to plan the next trade fair.
Susanne: What time do you meet / are you meeting?
Karin: This afternoon / Today afternoon at 2.
Susanne: Oh, well, then – don’t let me keep you / hold you from your work.
Karin: That’s OK.  It was fine / nice talking to you.

language focus: grammar refresher business english