I didn't know how to phrase my title to make it meaningful to anyone, and I can't really explain it now, so I shall use an example:

The opening phrase on the DSGB website is "It's counting, Jim, but not as we know it". This comes from the Star Trek quote "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it". What is it called when someone does this (mainly for comedic effect)?

  • +2 if I could! :)
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 23:48
  • 6
    The phenomenon of snowclones is closely related. Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 7:03

6 Answers 6


Isn't it called a trope, when something is recognized widely enough that even with slight alterations, the reader will still recognize the original quote?

Take "Got Milk?" for instance. You can replace milk with just about any noun and people will still recognize it as an allusion to the original.

  • I think the difference here is that no-one was famously quoted saying "got milk?". I'm not really aware of the phrase, could you give some examples of use (I'm not from N America, despite my last tag for this question, "humor" being the one the site chose as the main one; I originally added 3 tags, "quotations", "humour" and "humor", in that order).
    – mudri
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 9:14
  • It was from a advertisement put out by a coalition of dairy producers. However, it doesn't matter if the quote is attributed to a specific person or not, a "trope" is more generalized than that. I will however say that the one weakness in my answer is that the word I suggested, "trope" refers to the quote being modified, not the act of creating variations on the original. As far as I know, there's no verb form of trope. Tropetize? We could coin it right here on Stack.
    – Dennis
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 22:31

You could call it making a reference (or allusion) to the original phrase. This is more general, though, and doesn't only apply to situations where comedic effect is intended.

  • I did not see your comment in time, and more-or-less repeated half of it :-)
    – prash
    Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 23:47
  • It applies to many things, most of which are not what the OP was asking about. Too general, I think.
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 0:12
  • I think reference/allusion is the closest answer so far. It doesn't exactly describe the practice, but maybe we just don't have a word for it. If you say "to reference Spock on Star Trek, 'it's counting, Jim, but not as we know it'", people will probably know what you mean. Indeed, you could probably put in any vaguely-related infinitive and people would work out what you mean. I will not mark this as an answer yet, maybe tomorrow.
    – mudri
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 8:38

Looked up sources from Peter Taylor's link and in my mind, Snowclones is the correct term for these new meme-clichés or rhetorical tropes (since both these terms fall short; many of the now modified original quotes weren't memes, or at least they don't have to be. They might become memes from snowcloning them, ie. "catch on", but this is after the fact. This also means that you must agree with that they don't have to already be in popular culture, as mentioned by Daniel. Again, they might become part of pop culture. Their use may be rhetorical, but it's not a property of them. Trope doesn't describe this new phenomenon distinctly.)

Snowcloning is the process.

If you're afraid terming them Snowclones is confusing, you will just have to write it out more logically as "modified catch-phrase" or something like that.

It's one form of reference humor, where the speaker counts on the audience having heard a quote, seen a film, or similar.


I think you will frequently hear it referred to as a play on a quote.


An allusion is more general: it need not be funny. "Pop culture references" is what most people would call them -- if what is referred to is part of "pop culture".

I tried to see if people have described such things as "allusive puns". Apparently, some have.

  • I disagree: pop culture is a nonessential part of the example. It just has to be a recognized quote.
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 23:49
  • @drɱ65 δ: I have modified my answer accordingly.
    – prash
    Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 0:08
  • How do you know that the usage of allusive pun was referring to what the OP wants to identify?
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 0:11
  • @drɱ65 δ: E.g., some X are more equal than others, which can be found with an amazing variety of values of $X$. Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 0:19
  • books.google.com/books?id=k55AAQAAIAAJ&q=%22allusive+pun%22 I guess that people who use this phrase expect it to be interpreted compositionally, as I did. I'd be equally comfortable with "punning allusion" for the same phenomenon.
    – prash
    Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 0:58

I would refer to this as paraphrasing:

par·a·phrase   [par-uh-freyz]
1. a restatement of a text or passage giving the meaning in another form, as for clearness; rewording.
2. the act or process of restating or rewording.

verb (used with object)
3. to render the meaning of in a paraphrase: to paraphrase a technical paper for lay readers.


Paraphrasing in the more comical sense used in the question is where a certain sentence structure is re-used in a way that the original source is still recognisable.

For example:

To paraphrase Spock from Star Trek: "It's counting, Jim, but not as we know it".

When certain phrases are paraphrased often in this way, it often gives rise to a meme.

  • 1
    The question doesn't involve restating the meaning of a prior quote in different words -- which is what "paraphrasing" means -- but rather, re-using a trope in a different context, with a completely different meaning. "Trope" and "allusion" are both useful, here, but I don't think the questions is worded carefully enough to distinguish between which word would be more accurate. If it's any consolation, "paraphrase" was my first inclination, too. Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 4:26
  • Yes, I thought that as I was writing it, and almost didn't provide an answer because of it. I don't think paraphrase is exactly the correct term, at least in terms of definitions, but it's definitely the one I would use in such a situation.
    – Loquacity
    Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 5:58
  • As it happens, I thought it was "paraphrasing" at first, then I looked it up and Wikipedia said that it was basically stating what a quotation implies. The quotation being talked about is separated from the paraphrasing by a phrase such as "that is", or "meaning that". Possibly people misuse the word.
    – mudri
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 8:23

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