The cliché: Uniting news reports from across the east coast, Weather.com declared this weekend's storm, "a snowtober to remember." Yet as the weather (sort of) raged outside this weekend, monumental debate raged within the walls of the Twitterverse -- the "great debate of our time" some called it. Just what should we call this storm? Silly suggestions abounded but one heavyweight hashtag, #snowtober, beat out the others for twitter dominance and an eventual spread to news reports. Why "snowtober" over "octsnowber" or "snowlloween"? It's likely because it had more linguistic appeal than awkward alternatives, as well as some heavy-hitting media backers like The Weather Channel. But first a look at ...
... Where it's from: The need for a clever storm name hearkens back at least to 2009's east coast "snowpocalypse." The main characteristics of this storm were its early date and its coincidence with Halloween, so with that in mind, people on twitter put forward several options playing on those themes. There were several early advocates for "Snoctober," most notably from The Boston Globe's Boston.com editor Ron Agrella who advocated the hashtag in the early hours of the storm. Meanwhile, NBC's Washington meteorologist Tom Kierein was using "Snowlloween" and CBS News and The Atlantic Wire went with "Octsnowber." Many were operating with the #snowtober hashtag already, but the first real media heavyweight to advocate for it was in some ways the biggest heavyweight of all on a story like this one: The Weather Channel's Twitter account made an executive decision Friday: "We're going with the hashtag
#snowtober for this significant October nor'easter. Please tweet about this storm using #snowtober. Thanks!" This, it seems, was a turning point. A day later, even Boston.com shifted gears to say they'd switched over to the #snowtober tag, and a cliché was born. (Update: SnOMG, Check out Ben Zimmer's semi-exhaustive and fun history of "snow" puns from last year for a bit more of the history.)
Why it's catching on: Most immediately, this seems to be a story of media power and influence. To look at why one phrase beat out another, it makes sense to see who its champions were. The Weather Channel has 204,639 followers (compared to Boston.com's 43,819) so by sheer numbers, The Weather Channel has more sway. Furthermore, The Weather Channel owns stories like these since they impact people across a wide range of locales and its meteorologists can thus give better overall storm coverage than any one local media outlet.
Why else: But one also has to ask why The Weather Channel and others picked Snowtober over the other options. It's not nearly as silly as Snoctober or as festive as Snowlloween but according to David Crystal, a prominent linguist who studies the internet, the choice isn't surprising at all. "Snowtober retains the long vowel of snow and avoids awkward consonant clusters," he tells The Atlantic Wire. Snoctober changes the "vowel quality," of the word snow, he says, which is arguably the more important of the two words mashed up. Octsnowber has four consonents in a row. And furthermore, "English doesn't like infixed blends of the Octsnowber type, but prefers blends like brunch, in which the beginning of one word is attached to the end of another," Crystal says. Proponents of all these hashtags probably weren't thinking on such an analytic level, but beyond just media influence, snowtober probably ended up the winner because it satisfied the greatest number of people with an ear for phrase-making.