What is it called when you change the nouns in an idiom. As an example if I were an artic explorer I might say "Tent Sweet Tent," after comming in from a long day in the cold. The idiom is "Home Sweet Home" but has been changed. Is there a word that would be used to explain that a standard idiom has been changed to mean the same thing but in a different instance. Are there just too few idioms that can be modified in this way to merit a discriptive general reference.

  • No, there's no special term for that. Idioms are, well, idiomatic, in that they vary a lot in how frozen parts of them are (not just nouns). For instance, if you change bucket to its synonym pail in the idiom kick the bucket 'die', it's no longer an idiom and it doesn't mean 'die'. But it's the context, repetition, and structure X Sweet X that identify that idiom, and the Xs can be swapped at will, as long as they remain identical and fit a context. Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 17:11
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    Ed and Mai automatically made note of the mangled idiom to add it to other choice Towsonisms, such as "Easy as shooting apples in a barrel". But realistically, Towsonism has no currency whatsoever, so I guess you'll just have to settle for mangled idiom. Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 17:36
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    There is snowclone, a templatized phrase, which is at least close to what you're looking for.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 18:33
  • I would call it "riffing on an idiom," where riffing is derived from the noun riff meaning "a distinct variation: TAKE," according to Merriam-Webster.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 18:34
  • @FumbleFingers Sounds like a Towsonism is similar to a Spoonerism, only it switches words in a phrase instead of sounds in a word (or set of words). For instance, I learned "running around like a head with its chicken cut off" and "killing two stones with one bird" growing up.
    – Paul Rowe
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 19:38

1 Answer 1


I would call it adaptation:


1 The action or process of adapting or being adapted:


Eskimos might prefer an adaptation to igloo sweet igloo.

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