Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The two cultures of snowclonology

It is clear that the number of riffs on C.P. Snow's Two Cultures essay -- Timothy Gowers on "the two cultures of mathematics," Peter Norvig on "the two cultures of statistical learning," Zadie Smith on the "two cultures of novel-writing" (well OK it wasn't titled that but it should have been), Language Log on the "two cultures of interruption research" and so on -- is sufficient to make "the two cultures of X" a Snowclone in both obvious senses. It is time, therefore, for snowclonology to have two cultures. What should these be? Perhaps there should be one culture that primarily collects and mocks snowclones, and another that studies the underlying grammar -- if that's the right term -- of each snowclone, such as, e.g., the observation that in a two-cultures essay it is always the second culture that the author ends up advocating for?

(PS how many words do the Eskimos have for C.P. Snow?)

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