Boldly going

From a Lands’ End e-mail ad received on July 17:

Subject: Boldly go where no Paintbrush has gone before.

(showing brightly colored broadcloth dress shirts in the Paintbrush line). A play on the Star Trek tag

To boldly go where no man has gone before

(with variants having no one and no person), referring to the exploration of space.

Then it turns out that there are huge numbers of playful variations on the Star Trek line, using the formula

Boldly go where no X has gone before

(some with the infinitive marker to, some not), all conveying X moving into some new territory. So: snowclone-like, but at the edge of the snowcloniverse, along with other playful variations on well-known fixed expressions.

Some examples, starting with two having a connection to space:

To Boldly Go Where No Worm Has Gone Before [on nematodes in space] (link)

Remote Agent: To Boldly Go Where No AU System Has Gone Before [robotic exploration in space] (link)

And then

Mongolia: Boldly Go Where No Investor… (link)

To Boldly Go Where No Gowalla Geek Has Gone Before
What happens when the LBS-addicted leave the relative hustle and bustle of city life for the quiet of the countryside? Do you toss aside Gowalla, Foursquare, Brightkite and the like, only opening them when you venture into town and find a check-in? Or does the location-based game take on an entirely different meaning when you’ve entered the virgin territory, the land where no Gowalla geek has gone before? (link)

Boldly Go Where No iPad has Gone Before. The MyPadLife Let’s Users Take their iPad to Places Never Thought Possible. (link)

Just in the first five pages of googling on {“boldly go where no”}, I got the following additional items after no:

robot, TV, NGO, build system, game thread, browser, play [a Klingon “Christmas Carol”], Canadian, dog, fan, tourist, Tv show, Excel spreadsheet. Potato Head, Adams student, mayor, federal political leader, fleet, production application, peep, salesman, investor, microbe, beer, phones

plus two more distant variations:

boldly go where no one wants to go, boldly go where no one has watched before

This is familiar territory. Here’s what I had to say last year (in “The figs of fear”) about the templates

The FRUIT-PL of N-SG;  DET N-SG of Lost Dreams

Should we call them snowclone patterns?

I think not, unless we’re willing to extend the term snowclone to all sorts of playful allusions to some model fixed expression, as the Language Loggers have argued over the years, with reference to riffs on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (here) and a variety of other expressions (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, among other places). Word play that takes off on titles (of books, films, tv shows, rock bands, whatever), quotations, proverbs, clichés, idioms, and so on is all over the place, and folding such examples in with clear examples of snowclones pretty much reduces the notion of snowclone to vacuity.

There’s no question that the line between snowclones and playful allusions is not always clear, that the status of particular cases can change over time, that this status can be different for different people, and so on. But I’d like to hold to a distinction between the cases that involve conventionalization of a template (in snowclones) and those that involve more creativity, in play on a model (as in “the figs of fear”); see my brief “Natural history of snowclones” discussion.

Not long after that I looked at the variations in

“get the government out of my watercress!!”, “the right to carry watercress openly”, “take back watercress!”, “don’t tread on my watercress!!”, “watercress possession protected by the Second Amendment”

and soon after that posted on playful allusions in porn titles and on the template Make X Not War. Not long after that (on 11/18/10) James Harbeck posted on ADS-L about

A new internet “meme” being passed around [based on "tons of fucking sequins", link here]. Assuming its popularity is sufficiently widespread, expect to see a little fad for “tons of… fuckin’ X” come and go.

David Bowie questioned whether this was a snowclone pattern, and I seconded his dubiety, citing my two most recent postings on playful variations/allusions (linked to above).

Then last month I came across the headline

Don’t shoot the cucumber

on an Economist (June 4th-June 10th) story about the E. coli outbreak in Hamburg (and elsewhere) — a play on “Don’t shoot the messenger”. You can google up lots of other variations on this expression.

Note: The Economist is famously given to word play in its titles: playful allusions, puns (“Water good idea”, on an article about harvesting drinking water from fog — an imperfect pun on “What a good idea” that works better in British English than American), and, especially, perfect puns embedded in fixed expressions (“Parallel bars”, on barriers to parallel programming; “Pipe dreams”, on proposals for plugging leaks in the water supply). All these, and more, are in the same issue as “Don’t shoot the cucumber”. The Economist is definitely a “ludic locale”.

4 Responses to “Boldly going”

  1. Ben Zimmer Says:

    And then there’s this, from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “In those days men were real men, women were real women, small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before – and thus was the Empire forged.”

    Lots of examples of “to boldly split infinitives” on Google, not all alluding to the Adams quote.

  2. chryss Says:

    Also, there’s “to boldly grow” with or without “where no X has grown before”, and a scholarly article entitled “To Boldly Grow: Some Celluloid Bonsai”.

    Ben just gave me a flash of Douglas Adams nostalgia.

  3. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words Says:

    [...] Zwicky explores boldly going, discusses a few unsatisfactory portmanteaus, and how even euphemistic exclamations can be [...]

  4. Burlesques, parodies, playful allusions « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    [...] Boldly going (link): playful allusions (see “The Figs of [...]

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