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A bit of Language Log-ish geekery

I was looking at a Python tutorial and came across the phrase, dictionaries, tuples, and lists (oh my!). I've seen this X and Y and Z, oh my snowclone [thanks, trochee for the reference I couldn't remember] pattern before, but this time I was struck with curiosity about just how prevalent it is. Google says very, which I find interesting. It originates with The Wizard of Oz, which I suppose everyone and/or her mom has seen, but the number of references by Google alone leads me to believe the phrasing has transcended its origin to become idiomatic. When I read it I often think of it as a strange movie reference, while presumably other people don't even realize (and thus don't intend) for it to be such a reference. What is it about this phrasing that makes it so useful to people? It seems a pretty simplistic writer's trick to get the reader excited about a three-item lists by inserting an exclamation like "oh my" right into it, which also makes me think of it as becoming idiomatic. People don't write it for style, but because it's a natural progression of a three-item list in their heads. Hmm.

Do you think of The Wizard of Oz when you hear X and Y and Z, oh my?


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 23rd, 2005 10:59 pm (UTC)
Do you think of The Wizard of Oz when you hear X and Y and Z, oh my?

Jun. 23rd, 2005 11:10 pm (UTC)
Jun. 23rd, 2005 11:20 pm (UTC)
yep. try asking someone ten years younger, next!
Jun. 23rd, 2005 11:25 pm (UTC)
Good point. I don't think there are enough of that demographic on my friends list. :)
Jun. 23rd, 2005 11:30 pm (UTC)
I'll ask my kids. It'll be interesting. They've seen the movie but it's been years. Still, I think they'll know.
Jun. 23rd, 2005 11:29 pm (UTC)
yes, I do think of the Wizard, but I also recognize the snowclone you point out.

and I think I've seen it in other places like the python manual; I just can't point it out. To me it has rhythmic constraints beyond three item lists: in the python example you give, dictionaries must be the first item:

  1. *lists, tuples, and dictionaries (oh my!)

  2. *tuples, lists and dictionaries (oh my!)

  3. ?tuples, dictionaries, and lists (oh my!)

  4. *lists, dictionaries, and tuples (oh my!)

It appears that the constraints are to meet the syllable stress patterns:
SssSssS oh my


  1. FOO-foo and FOO and foo-FOO (oh my!)

  2. FOO-foo and FOO-foo and FOO (oh my!)

  3. *FOO and FOO and FOO (oh my!)

  4. *foo-FOO and FOO and FOO (oh my!)

  5. *foo-FOO and FOO-foo and FOO (oh my!)

  6. *foo-FOO-foo, FOO foo and FOO (oh my!)

of course, English being stress-timed, you can fudge: dictionaries can (with some fudging) be treated as a three-syllable dactyl.

does anybody else have these constraints on the syllable structure of this snowclone?

Jun. 23rd, 2005 11:44 pm (UTC)
Snowclones were what I was thinking of, but damned if I could remember that.

My only constraint is that the final item must be a single syllable, so "tuples, dictionaries, and lists" would be okay for me. Among the top of my Google results, the "ss and ss and s" syllable pattern (ignoring stress for the moment) is most frequent, followed by "ss and ss and ss". My cursory analysis shows that the more specialized the subject material becomes, the more commonly the more-than-two-syllable words like "dictionaries" are found, in the unacceptable-to-me third (or even second) position. E.g., Cursors, and Text, and HTML.... Oh My!, Blogs and social networks and wikis, oh my!.
Jun. 23rd, 2005 11:56 pm (UTC)
heh, good googling!
HTML is really bad in that last slot. and the last one could be rescued, too: wikis and networks and blogs, oh my!, at least to within my constraints. (and dropping "social", which might be unsatisfying.

I wonder if the correlation you're seeing is really: the more specialist, the more tin-eared the writer.
Jun. 24th, 2005 12:01 am (UTC)
HTML is really bad in that last slot. and the last one could be rescued, too: wikis and networks and blogs, oh my!, at least to within my constraints. (and dropping "social", which might be unsatisfying.


I wonder if the correlation you're seeing is really: the more specialist, the more tin-eared the writer.

Yeah, I think you're right.
Jun. 24th, 2005 12:05 am (UTC)
HTML is really bad in that last slot.
then again, maybe if you pronounce it /tUml/ ...

Jun. 24th, 2005 12:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, I thought there might be something to the visual representation there, too, since HTML looks like a one-syllable word.

Have you heard it pronounced /tUml/? That seems like a stretch.
Jun. 24th, 2005 01:00 am (UTC)
no, I was just being silly. I agree about the visual representation though -- i was wondering the same thing.
Jun. 24th, 2005 02:50 pm (UTC)
Great Minds Think Like trochee. ;)
Jun. 24th, 2005 02:31 pm (UTC)
1) Is the Wizard of Oz really the first time it happened? It's quite possible that to some extent the phrasing was around prior, and with the popularity of the movie was moved into the mainstream.

2) I agree that the stressing and number of syllables matters. In my opinion if you're trying to mimic the OZ version, the stressed syllable needs to start first, and two syllable words (or those that can be pronounced as such) work best.

3) Unrelated question: Casey wanted to know the origins of the word Caucasion (he was filling out a survey) and how it came to be used so prevelently as a catch-all for light skin. Anyone know?

Jun. 24th, 2005 02:59 pm (UTC)
1. I considered that also. I poked around a little to see if anything about the etymology popped up, but I didnt find anything other than references to the film.

3. The Online Etymology Dictionary says Caucasian was "applied to the 'white' race 1795 (in Germany) by German anthropologist Johann Blumenbach, because their supposed ancestral homeland lay there [the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black and Caspian seas]."
Jun. 24th, 2005 12:45 am (UTC)
I also think of Tuples, which is often of the form 255.255.255...thus...oh my.

Lions and Tigers and bear, oh my.

Host: In The Wizard of Oz, the lion wanted courage and the tin man wanted a heart. What did the scarecrow want?

Lynde: He wanted the tin man to notice him.
Jun. 24th, 2005 03:00 pm (UTC)
Meta! I like it.

*groan* ;)
Jun. 24th, 2005 07:11 pm (UTC)
I know I"m a litle late in the commenting game but the x, y, and z oh my pattern is absolutly and only a wizard of oz reference in my mind
Jun. 24th, 2005 08:04 pm (UTC)
It's never too late to provide more data! :)
Jun. 25th, 2005 10:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, data!!!

Oh, but I love the term snowclone...good to know!
Jun. 25th, 2005 06:33 am (UTC)
I asked the kids and they absolutely knew it was the wizard of oz. They said all the kids at school would know too.
Jun. 26th, 2005 09:19 pm (UTC)
Sweet. I thought that might be the case. There is already enough time between when the movie came out and when any of us was born, or even when our parents were born, that the quote and the movie are inextricably bound.
Jun. 27th, 2005 02:53 am (UTC)
Absolutely. I even asked it all cagey like. I said, "If I said Moutain Dew, Dr. Pepper and Coke, Oh My. What do you think of."

Yeah. All over it.
Jun. 27th, 2005 03:13 pm (UTC)
Perfect! Thanks. :)
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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