What happens in metafilter…

Inspired by this Language Log post discussing what Mark Liberman describes as “a nice negative specimen of the phrasal template ‘What happens in X stays in X‘” [see also this 2004 roundup from Tenser, said the Tensor], I’ve spent a little time searching the Metafilter archives for applications on the site of what I’ve found myself thinking of as “the Vegas snowclone”.

I came up with a healthy crop of results spanning from very late 2003 on up to the present, most of which fall roughly into one (or more, but I’m keeping it simple) of a few loose semantic and structural categories as seen below.

X, not X

Mark’s LLog post specifically noted a variant of the phrase negating the guarantee (or command?) of the tourism board’s phrasing. A few of these “What happens in X, [not] stays in X” examples popped up:

X, Y

There are also a few examples of folks intentionally breaking the template at the midpoint for rhetorical affect, resulting in “What happens in X, Y” plays on the original snowclone. (There may be examples of “Z, stays in X” to be found as well, but searching for them would be difficult given that all the words in the original phrase other than “happens”, “stay[s]”, and X are very common tokens that the mefi search engine disregards as stop words to prevent the search from melting the site.)


Two commenters on the LLog post that inspired this search mentioned military uses of the template (from well before the Vegas slogan rolled out circa 2004), incuding “TDY” and “deployment” as values of X. A couple more military-related cites show up on mefi:

  • It was a coming saying while in the military – What happens on TDY stays on TDY. And that was years before the vegas thing.
  • I think I first heard it as whit NAVY sit NAVY. Probably in the 1960s
  • On obscuring GI’s faces in photographs: “What happens on tour stays on tour” would be the biggest reason for the face-hiding.
  • On military solidarity: The lesson here: What happens in the military stays in the military…or else.


Several threads, all of them in Ask Metafilter, discuss in some sense or another the Vegas slogan:

  • A whole Ask Metafilter thread about the application of the snowclone in Mexico, with comments speculating about the templates origina and citing values for X that include “Cabo”, “Tijuana”, “europe”, “Newport, RI”, “on the road”, “NAVY”, and “TDY” example.
  • Another AskMe, looking for an exegesis of a What Happens in Vegas… tourism ad.
  • Askme inquring inter alia about the film “What Happens in Vegas” and the origin of the phrase.
  • From the previous thread, a comment on the actual Vegas slogan’s history: There was some legal scuffling over trademarking the phrase, as variations of What Happens in X Stays in X has been part of many local vernaculars and even trademarked by others prior to LVCVA’s campaign, which launched in 2004.


A number of comments invoke the slogan specifically in reference to Las Vegas itself, though often in service of a tangent or an ironic contrast to the presumed intent of the tourism board.

  • On vacationing in Vegas: In short, go for the spectacle and remember that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. [This is from December 22, 2003, and is the earliest cite on Mefi.]
  • On gay marriage in Vegas: Everything else is legal there. And it would make for some great “What happens here, stays here,” ads.
  • On hiding a body and…not getting caught by CSI?: Las Vegas: What Happens Here Stays Here, my ass….
  • On Thomas Kinkade heckling Siegfried and Roy: Yeah, I thought what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
  • On legal prostitution as a way to lose one’s virginity: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
  • A scathing, sarcastic invocation: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, amirite??? What the bitch doesn’t know won’t hurt her? Guess marriage no longer means what I thought it meant.
  • On…Elvis, sort of: this guy lives in pahrump, nv; that’s just outside what happens, stays in vegas. [This one is a bit odd, structurally; while it’s a clear allusion to the slogan/meme, the first “in X” in the template is elided.]

Geographic Location

The template has been applied in a variety of contexts to geographic locations other than Vegas, in both neutral and critical contexts.

  • On banning gay marriage in Texas: “What happens in Crawford, stays in Crawford.” And another the next day in the same thread.
  • On Aussie/Iraqi kickbacks: What happens in Iraq, stays in Iraq.
  • On Bush’s purported G8 drinking: What happens in Heiligendamm stays in Heiligendamm.
  • On development in Saudi Arabia: Don’t you need something particularly alluring to sustain yourself, like, I don’t know, casinos? I can see it now: What happens in Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Musaed Economic City stays in Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Musaed Economic City.

US overseas black ops, etc

US operations off the mainland or in foreign territory seem to be ripe targets for ironic snowcloning:

  • On secret prisons: What happens in Djibouti stays in Djibouti
  • On overseas torture: Hey, what happens in Brown-person-istan stays in Brown-person-istan.
  • On Gauntanamo: What happens in Gitmo stays in Gitmo.
  • On tacky radio show merch: The Limbaugh link is scary. “What happens at Gitmo stays at Gitmo!” Jesus H. Christ. [The shirt in question.]


On several occasions, users have applied the snowclone to issues of internet privacy, permnanency, and collisions with the outside world.

  • On not taking net arguments off-line: I wouldn’t worry too much about my involvement in your personal life. What happens on the web, stays on the web as far as I’m concerned.
  • On some “blogtopian wankery”:I normally don’t like sounding as though I’m coming down on the side of those who say that what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet, but in this case, I’ve got to try really, really hard to get myself to give a shit.
  • On real-life vs. on-line interactions: There is a clean break between the deliberate trolls and normal people in that the former believe there is a bright line between RL and OL and that what happens OL stays OL; normal people (rightly IMO) draw no such distinction.
  • On mailing-list privacy: The Second Rule is – what happens in MetaFram stays in MetaFram: you may quote yourself in another forum, but PLEASE do not quote somebody else’s comments here unless they clearly permit you to.
  • On the net’s long memory: That being said, when will the kids learn that what happens online stays online? Vegas allusion aside, anything they say will haunt them forever.
  • See post title: Title of an askme searching for a specific candid sex video: What happens on the internet stays on the internet.


The snowclone has been applied to Metafilter itself or to events related to the site, especially in the context of real-world gatherings of members, some of which (including the wedding of a prolific long-time user) took place in Vegas proper.

  • A meetup organization thread: MeFi Meetup Update: Vegas Meetup suffers from lack of attendance. I’d say that what happens in vegas stays in vegas, but in this case it seems nothing happened.
  • Of a pending Vegas meetup: Will there be pictures, or does what happens in Vegas stay in Vegas?
  • On meetups, again: Remember, what happens at MeFi meetup stays at MeFi meetup.
  • On crashing a meetup: What happens in Metafilter, Stays in Metafilter.
  • On meetups, again: Other than that, my lips are sealed. What happens on a MeFi Meetup stays at the MeFi Meetup.
  • On cross-site interactions: I thought what happens on Metafilter stays on Metafilter. Like Las Vegas, only without the boos, women, and gambling.
  • On a mefite’s trip to London: What happens in England with ludwig_van stays in England.
  • On real-life get togethers: secure in the knowledge that our esteemed Torontonian mefites clearly comprehend that what happens at Meet-up stays at Meet-up.
  • On in-jokes (in a, warning, very long and slow-loading thread): What happens in Sans quoi stays in Sans quoi.

Horrible puns

No comment.

  • On Vagus Nerve Stimulation treatment: What happens in vagus, stays in vagus.
  • On primate research: Suffice to say what happens in Las Bonobos stays in Las Bonobos.


  • On the perils of boardgames: Never make the mistake of playing Risk on a get-away weekend in a cabin somewhere and thinking what happens on the Risk Board stays on the Risk Board.
  • On violence research: The research on this suggests that there is not a clear delineation between abstracted violence and actual violence. That is, you can’t draw a line in the sand and say what happens on that side, stays on that side.
  • On disclosing sex gossip: From my experiences in such contexts, there is a certain expectation that unless specifically and explicitly made clear otherwise, ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’
  • On adultury in Europe: what happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors.
  • On radio kook Art Bell’s trailer: What happens between Art and the Yeti in the Airstream stays in The Airstream
  • On kitty litter management: EUREKA!!!—what happens in the garage, stays in the garage!
  • On a metaphysical principle, in a short story: I thought what happens in P/Virse stays in P/Virse.

Author: Josh Millard

I manage and help moderate the community website MetaFilter, where I go by "cortex"; in my spare time I get up to all sorts of creative nerdery on the internet and in Portland, Oregon.

5 thoughts on “What happens in metafilter…”

  1. Ah, excellent!

    And what you say in chatfilter, stays in chatfilter.

    That’s exactly the sort of thing that I think qualifies as a specimen of the snowclone yet which is very hard to search for by normal means. The more generalized form there could represented like so…

    What V in X stay[s] in X

    …where V is some sort of verb phrase of which “happens” is only the canonical form. It’s hard to search for here because, as I mentioned in the blurb of the “X, Y” section above, there’s not a lot for a search to latch onto, if I don’t have a specific idea of what X will be, because all I have to go on are the words “what”, “in”, and “stay[s]”.

    I may exploit my access to the mefi db to do a more structured string search at some point so I can do a proper digging-about for the ordered “what * in *[,] stay[s] *” template, but even then I’m sure there’s variants I’ll miss.

  2. A minor thing I had meant to emphasize but forgot: there’s an interesting variety in the “Mefi-related” section in how folks deal with choosing X for “meetup”. Three variants, in order:

    1. What happens on a MeFi Meetup stays at the MeFi Meetup
    2. what happens at MeFi meetup stays at MeFi meetup
    3. what happens at Meet-up stays at Meet-up

    Now, “meetup” is (in normal use on metafilter) a common noun that takes an article. So form (1) is the only unimpeachably grammatical of the three.

    But Vegas, of course, takes no article and is a proper noun, and so (2) and (3) hew more closely to the strict form of the snowclone template itself, even if they require a bit of stretching from conventional use of “meetup”.

    So it’s interesting to see examples of people making that decision in either direction.

    Also interesting is the use of two different prepositions in (1): on, and then at. I’d say I normally go to a meetup and spend time at it, but I suppose someone could consider a meetup like a field trip and thus something you can go on. Especially so if it involves travel or a group excursion, I suppose.

    (Most meetups generally focus on group libation.)

  3. OMFG! But….but… I thought I was a “snowflake” a precious snowflake! Not a snowclone. Urgh!

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