* is what a(n) * calls a(n) *

A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.

– Sir Humphrey Appleby, ‘Yes, Minister’

Searching the web for variations on the “* is what a * calls a *” snowclone turns up things like

  • A cynic is what a romantic calls a realist
  • A pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist
  • a cult is what a big religion calls a small religion
  • A stable is what a pimp calls a group of women that prostitute for him
  • a Squid is what a dumb Jarhead calls a sailor
  • A Hottie is what a racing drivers calls a fast lap
  • a hypothesis is what a scientist calls a theory
  • a “deli water bottle” is what a New Yorker calls a bottle of water purchased in a deli
  • a player is what a woman calls a guy who doesn’t want to go out with her
  • a “flea” is what a surgeon calls a pediatrician-in-training
  • a calorie is what a physicist calls a kilocalorie
  • a pressure ulcer is what a doctor calls a pressure sore
  • A bulkhead is what a sailor calls a wall on a ship
  • a jarpie is what an Aussie calls a saffie

I love the way these open up more questions. A Jarhead is a marine, but what’s a saffie?

Of course the web also turns up some staggeringly stupid examples, including A pessimist is what a realist calls an optimist, if I recall the quote correctly. Wuh?

Given my investigation into * is the new * last year, I naturally wondered how I’d go about graphing these. A quick experiment with Graphviz gives me a couple of alternative approaches.

A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist

Even just wondering how to map these three-way relationships (in which all three parts might be re-used) gives some interesting choices. So far, I think B works better than A. You learn more from it. To tell me which two people call the realist a cynic using A, you’d have to read all the labeled edges. B is much easier. I’m sure I’m missing some obvious alternative approaches here though.

8 replies on “* is what a(n) * calls a(n) *”

  1. A saffie or saffer is an Aussie contraction of South African as the South become Sth African and then degrades into saffie. You know how Aussies are good at talking and not really moving their lips.
    Jarpie comes from South Africans ability to to say Ja at every opportunity but you probably knew that.

    And I like B better too.

  2. Some of these are too literal to be considered snowclones, I think. There is a difference in tone between “a player is what a woman calls a guy who doesn’t want to go out with her” and “a calorie is what a physicist calls a kilocalorie.” The latter is a simple factual; the former, more facetious? tongue-in-cheek? attempts at cleverness? Most of the other examples are translations of specialized jargon, as is the “kilocalorie” one. I think the facetiousness is obligatory to make the phrase a snowclone. So I think the “cynic”, “cult”, and “player” examples do match this definition.

  3. Thanks Erin (for anyone who didn’t spot it, Erin is behind snowclones.org). I agree that most of these examples are not strictly snowclones, but that the general form of ‘an X is what a Y calls a Z’ is a snowclone. One which I hope makes it on to your queue.

  4. a hypothesis is what a scientist calls a theory

    Only if they don’t know the difference.

  5. Or, a magitian is what a psychologist calls a cognitive scientist…..

    Not sure which way this research is heading :O

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