The figs of fear

Following up on the New Yorker cartoon theme for this Fourth of July weekend: an inventive fruiterer as drawn by W.B. Park (in the May 17 issue of the magazine):

We’re in formulaic-language territory here, with a series of variations on the title The Grapes of Wrath (by John Steinbeck, who got the phrase from Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”; Howe, in turn, was quoting the book of Revelation in the Christian Bible), all of a form borrowed from the model


with the first three variants (the oranges of indecision, the figs of fear, the kumquats of longing) following the model further, by having a (singular) abstract noun as the NP,


but with the last variant using a plural NP lost dreams.

That last variant crosses the template of The Grapes of Wrath with another template,

DET N-SG of Lost Dreams

(where DET is The, A(n), or zero), as seen in a collection of titles. Here’s a small sampling of Ns instantiating that template:

Archive, Avenue, Book, Cavern, City, Clinic, Culture, Field, Highway, House, Island, Isle, Land, Landscape, Port, Pyre, Room, Sea, Ship, Street

(Some of these have further allusions to titles of the form

N-SG of N-PL

notably to Field of DreamsSea of Dreams, and Street of Dreams, but perhaps also to City of Angels, Ship of Fools, and maybe others.)

All these templates are derived from the model. 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.

4 Responses to “The figs of fear”

  1. Varying formulas « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] think not. As I said in my “Figs of Fear” posting, Word play that takes off on titles (of books, films, tv shows, rock bands, whatever), quotations, […]

  2. Boldly going « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 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 […]

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

    […] The figs of fear (link): playful allusions; quote: All these templates are derived from the model. Should we call them […]

  4. The fruits of abstraction « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] John Steinbeck, who got it from Julia Ward Howe, who took it from the book of Revelation). See my posting from 2010 on a New Yorker cartoon with an inventive fruiterer (selling not only the Grapes of Wrath, but also […]

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