New snowclone days

Things have been quiet on the snowclone front on the net for a while. The Snowclones Database has been in abeyance (since 1/28/13), and little has been posted on Language Log or here. But then came my recent posting on the snowclone Think Of The Xs, and a bit before that, the introduction of a snowclone discussion on ADS-L. Dan Goncharoff on 4/12/16:

Discussion of Clinton e-mails led Obama to say, “there’s classified, and then there’s classified. Has anyone ever traced this formation back into history?

Tracing snowclones back in history turns out to involve all the complexities of tracing the history of some word or fixed expression, plus a lot more. More on this later.

But back to There’s X And Then There’s X. The major item here is a posting to ADS-L by Larry Horn on 10/8/12:

There’s X and there’s X (snow)clone …or more exactly “There’s X and there’s X, and this is (one of) the latter”.

Announcing the Sunday Night Football game, here is Al Michaels on Drew Brees breaking Johnny Unitas’s 52 year old record by throwing a touchdown pass in a 48th consecutive game:

“Drew Brees setting one of those records for the ages…There are records and then there are *records*. This falls into the latter category.”

I’ve heard this a lot, and even say it myself on occasion (e.g. “There are bad debate performances and (then) there are bad debate performances, and this is definitely one of the latter.”) Michaels did put some extra stress on the second “records”, but I don’t think it’s obligatory; just putting it second seems (in the context of the snowclone) to present the second instantiation as a more extreme value along some scale of signficance.

On ADS-L recently, Ben Zimmer cited this posting and then tracked down further discussion in English usage forums.

From alt.usage.english in 2000. a query from the poster sankyun on 11/30/00:

I came across an expression such as “There are poor people and then there are poor people.” What does this mean? There are a lot of poor people?

Some responses:

From R J Valentine to sankyun 11/30/00:

No.  It means that some people are a lot poorer than other people who might be considered poor.

From Lars Eighner to sankyun 11/30/00:

No.  It means there are two kinds of poor people, some of them perhaps more genuine/poor/? than others. Usually person A makes some generalization about <something> (poor people in this case). Person B says, “Yes, but there are <something> and then there are <something>.”

Person B means, the generalization may be true of some <something>, but is not true of an exceptional group of <something>. Example:

A:  Poor people could get jobs and better themselves.
B:  There are poor people and then there are *poor* people.

(B probably means, some people are too poor to be able to find a job or to work.)

From R. Fontana to sankyun 12/1/00

No. This is a common formula, “There’s X and then there’s X” or “There are X and then there are X”. The speaker is suggesting that the category X contains some members who are more characteristically Y, where Y is some appropriate quality, than other members. In your example, the speaker is pointing out, perhaps, that some people described as “poor” are not poor when you consider them alongside other people who are described as “poor” who are much poorer than members of the first group.

And from Evan Kirshenbaum following up on R. Fontana 12/1/00

“I wept because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet”.

Note that the “then there are Xes” can be positive, as well: “there are geniuses and then there are geniuses”, implying that some are so smart that they stand out even when compared to other geniuses. Note also that the phrase can be used either to state that the person/object being described is *exceptionally* X (even compared to other Xes, it’s X) or only *borderline* X (other Xes are better examples). In any case, it’s usually used to deny some claim about a particular member of a class.

So in

A: Old houses have gas stoves.
B: Well, there’s old and then there’s old.

B could either be stating that, while A is correct in general, the house isn’t really old enough for the rule to apply (while granting that it is, technically “old”) *or* B could be stating that, while A is correct in general, the house is so old that different rules apply. In the former case, I’d expect the house to have an electric stove. In the latter, perhaps a coal or wood stove.

Then from English Language & Usage Stack Exchange in 2011, on the meaning of this quote in the movie Casino Royale (2006):

Vesper Lynd: There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets; this is the latter. And I need you looking like a man who belongs at that table.

Query from Udayan 7/8/11:

Here what does the line “There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets” mean?

From Guffa to Udayan:

The latter in the expression is not always better, but it’s always “more”. You could say “There are bad days, and there are bad days“, where the latter would be really really bad days.

From psmears to Udayan:

It means that there are ordinary, run-of-the mill dinner jackets, and then there are special, well-cut, expensive dinner jackets, of the sort that a millionaire, master criminal or international secret agent would wear.

The idiom can be used for other things too:

I’ve tried pizza and I don’t really like it.

Ah, but there’s pizza, and there’s pizza. Don’t write it off until you’ve tried pizza from Mario’s…

There were other, more complex answers, referring to various rhetorical figures with technical names.

Then from Ben Zimmer himself:

One variant of the snowclone shows up in so-called contrastive focus reduplication (aka lexical cloning). Here are two examples from Ghomeshi et al.’s “SALAD-salad Paper,” suggesting that the reduplicated “X-X” form can fill either slot in the “There’s __ and (then) there’s ___” template.

“Wonder Years” S2E2 (1988): There’s LOGIC-logic and then there’s 12-year-old-in-love logic.

“Virtual Sexuality” (1999): There’s cool-geeky and there’s GEEKY-geeky.

[Large corpus of examples available here.]

Tracing snowclones. Three crucial things about snowclones: one, they are patterns, with variable elements in them (There’s X And There’s X), so that simple text searches will not do for tracing them; and two, they have semantic/pragmatic content of their own, so that it’s not enough to find instances of the pattern; instead, you have to assess how the patterns are being used. And three, snowclones are not just distinguishable patterns, but conventionalized ones; mere variations on other patterns should not count. All this makes the task of uncovering snowclone history very very difficult, but not impossible.

From my 2006 abstract “The natural history of snowclones”:

The cliché templates known (since 2004) as snowclones … have two-part histories, a first phase in which a fixed model gains currency [over alternative ways of framing an idea], a second in which variations are played on the model, sometimes leading to a second fixing, a crystallization of these playful allusions into a snowclone.

(Neither fixing is bound to happen. People can go on for millennia formulating an idea in lots of different ways, without coming to a conventional formula for this purpose. And a formula can persist for millennia, with lots of playful variations, without developing into a pattern with specific slots for elaboration and semantics/pragmatics all of its own.)

You can see how much of a task it might be to trace these developments in reverse.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: