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A foreign student asked me (her teacher) what THRILLA WITH VANILLA meant. I haven't the slightest idea and when I go to Google, the only reference is the Romney-Obama debate, as though the expression was just invented for this purpose. Can anyone help define this (preferably out of this political context)?

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Are you sure they didn't mean "Thrilla in Manila" … the Ali vs. Frazier boxing match? – Taj Moore May 24 '12 at 21:23
@tajmo: It's also possible that "Thrilla with Vanilla" is a loose pun on "Thrilla in Manila". That seems likely if the only refernce to this phrase is in the context of the debate. Maybe the "with Vanilla" part is a refernce to skin colours of the participants? – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner May 24 '12 at 21:42

Thrilla with Vanilla is certainly a play on words based on the Ali-Frazier Thrilla in Manilla which followed the Ali-Foreman Rumble in the Jungle.

You have picked up the use by Jonah Goldberg in National Review in 2011: he seems to be suggesting an Obama-Romney debate would be dull because of Romney lacks personality. It may also suggest at least one of the individuals has white skin.

It has been used before, in the promotion of a March 2002 celebrity boxing match involving Rob Van Winkle (previously known as Vanilla Ice).

The less distorted Thrilla in Vanilla seems to be more common: for example it was used in 2009 to describe the Texas gubernatorial race, a US Senate hearing unlikely to produce disagreements and as a title of an adult film as well as being used for various food and drink concoctions.

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One of Mohammed Ali's many unapprecaited contributions to the English Language. – T.E.D. May 25 '12 at 13:15

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