Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Snowclone Cometh

(image from On The Scene)

Just bought the box set of seasons 1-4 of the sublime comedy It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Catching up on episodes missed, I just watched the 2008's season 4 finale "The Nightman Cometh" (episode #13, 45). When I saw the title as the episode began, I was struck by this thought: it might be the case that Eugene O'Neill's 1939 play "The Iceman Cometh" is the single most mimicked play title in history. Can you think of a play title that has more homages than this one?

Then I wondered, is this a snowclone? A snowclone is a linguistic construction like a cliché, with a somewhat rigid syntactic pattern, but allows substitutions, with a somewhat recognizable meaning. A classic example is "X is the new Y" like "gray is the new black" or "knitting is the new yoga."

The Snowclone database lists two primary criteria for inclusion (these should be taken to be neither necessary nor sufficient; rather, they are a guide):
  • high number of Google hits
  • significant variation
So, I Googled the query "the *man cometh" and found about 3,390,000 hits. No small number that (oooh, that construction might also be a snowclone...).

The first page of Google hits alone shows 9 variations out of 12 hits. That's a lot of variation.
  • The Meatman Cometh
  • The Tax Man Cometh
  • The Monkey Man Cometh
  • The Dark Man Cometh
  • The Repo Man Cometh
  • The Yogurt Man Cometh
  • The H-Man Cometh
  • The ad man cometh
  • The Con Man Cometh
Like many snowclones, I suspect that the users of this construction rarely know of its origin. I skimmed the first 10 pages of Google hits and found that almost NONE referenced the original play. Might this be history's most successful snowclone?

As a side note, the writers of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia chose their homage wisely. Anyone who watches even a few episodes will note the clear synchronicity with this Wikipedia description of O'Neil's play: "It expresses the playwright's disillusionment with the American ideals of success and aspiration, and suggests that much of human behavior is driven by bitterness, envy and revenge."

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4 comments:

Erin said...

I think that is definitely a contender. People might not be aware of the plot of "The Iceman Cometh" when they make the reference, but the phrasing is idiomatic enough that that might be enough to make it snowcloney. (Ah yes, the good old gray area.)

strixus said...

The Trainman Cometh is a track on one of the Matrix soundtracks.

Chris said...

nice example, thanks!

outerhoard said...

What!? Flanders and Swann's "The Gas Man Cometh" isn't on Google's first page? What is modern culture coming to?

(I bet it's what many of the people using the snowclone had in mind, though.)

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