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In English, I sometimes hear a phrase like green is the new black. Literally, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. What does it mean when someone says X is the new Y, when this makes no sense when taken literally?

Googling "is the new" gives plenty of examples:

I've found definitions online for specific examples, such as the new black, but overall I don't understand what X is the new Y means, and I can't find it explained anywhere.

What does X is the new Y mean?

As far as I'm aware, this phrase exists only in English.

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    I think it started in fashion, where people would say "____ is the new black", referring to how black clothes were considered a popular thing in fashion, and they wanted to convey that something new is popular. From there, it's been modified more and more. I would write an answer, but I have no good sources to cite on the history of this. Whatever the history, I'd say the general meaning is that X now has the popularity/interest/benefits of Y. – childofsoong Mar 10 '16 at 1:00
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    Possible duplicate of Meaning of "Orange is the new black" – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 10 '16 at 18:12
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    I think this question is a much better/more general statement than the proposed duplicate, so I'd like to leave it open and close the other as a duplicate of this one. I think this one would be easier for learners to find because of all the different examples linked in it. – ColleenV Mar 10 '16 at 19:11
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This started for referring to a new trend or fashion overtaking an old one. So for instance:

Comedy is the new Rock'n'Roll

The idea would be that things you might have previously associated with being a Rock'n'Roll musician (money, fame, fans, attention) are now things that you get with comedy. So rather than aspire to be a rock star and practice an instrument, one might consider studying comedy to have that kind of success.

It's a sort of funny way of saying that, and the kind of person who "tells you what's cool and what isn't" in this way is an easy target for mockery. So the construct has been picked up in ever-more-absurd ways, as people try and twist it further.

Imagine if you and your friends are trying to make a recipe, and it called for butter and you only have olive oil. You might make the substitution, excusing it by saying "Everyone knows olive oil is the new butter". This doesn't mean that you think butter is out of style and no one "cool" uses it any more--you're making a joke by acting as if you believed that.

At this point, most all usages are for humorous effect.

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The phrase

X is the new Y

is used to show a changing of the guard. In order for the phrase to work Y needs to have an established value and be recognised as a standard or established benchmark, and there needs to be the expectation that newness is a good quality.

Last season's colour was blue.
This season, purple is the new blue.

The term may have it's roots in the fashion industry where styles change every season.

America is full of newness and new things, what was in yesterday is out tomorrow.
The possible result of being a relatively young country with high aspirations and an openness to change.

A related question is here: Meaning of Orange is the New Black

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