Cliche Velocity

by F.

Browsing around the blogosphere today I came across at least three references to a line in an episode of The Simpsons: “I, for one, welcome our new ant overlords,” uttered by Kent Brockman in Deep Space Homer.

The Language Log has some data on similar constructions, such as “I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords,” “I, for one, welcome our new parrot overlords,” and so on. But what struck me was that phrases like this probably become cliched faster than ever before merely because the sheer volume of communication is greater than ever. Accordingly, I propose a metric called Cliche Velocity, or CV:

  • The cliche velocity of a phrase P is the time it takes for P to go from being fresh to being cliched.

So, for instance “Whaaaassuuuup?” had a fairly high CV, but I imagine that the mean CV is increasing as the number of blogs, web pages, videos, and so on increases. Had the “Whaaaassuuuuup” thing started, say, yesterday, I speculate its CV would by now be quite close to the speed of light. Is it harder than ever to avoid cliches? Maybe.

The Language Log folks have a name for this kind of cliche frame: snowclones. A nice explanation, with examples, is here. Cliches are tricky, though. At one moment, you’re riding the wave of trendiness with your “Black is the new pink” or “I don’t even know how to pronounce DNA.” The next moment, the wave has crashed and you’re rolling in the spume with sand in your swimsuit.