Is there a word to describe suddenly becoming aware of a new word?
March 29, 2005 6:17 PM   Subscribe

You learn a new word, and suddenly you see that word everywhere. Or you have a new experience, and suddenly it seems the media is filled with other people talking about that same experience. Is there a word for this phenomenon?
posted by Badmichelle to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by quadog at 6:22 PM on March 29, 2005

Coincidence? Synchronicity? Thread about this at Monkeyfilter.
posted by stray at 6:24 PM on March 29, 2005

Perhaps zeitgeist?
posted by quadog at 6:28 PM on March 29, 2005

The St. Paul Pioneer Press in my hometown has dubbed it the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.
posted by GaelFC at 6:31 PM on March 29, 2005

Earlier thread
posted by Wolfdog at 6:48 PM on March 29, 2005

There's a discussion in a (the only) good book by Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game. Basically, the main characters determine that they have influence in the world based on who repeats the things they've said in their presence.

So, if you look at it one way: You're experiencing how much influence you have on your personal context.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:17 PM on March 29, 2005

I think it may be an effect of salience. but yeah, I've definetly experianced this.

I think the zeitgeist might be part of it, like the word is cropping up everywhere because it's new and growing, and becoming a part of the zeitgeist. But I don't think that's what the poster was talking about.

It's like, it comes up all the time without any since that it really is more frequent.
posted by delmoi at 7:53 PM on March 29, 2005

Wow, I just heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon the other day, and now it's cropping up everywhere!
posted by kindall at 8:04 PM on March 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Other than synchronicity, which doesn't perfectly fit, I don't think there's a specific word for this.

Generally, I think it falls into the category of a cognitive fallacy or bias. Our brains are evolved to detect patterns; often we see them were they don't even exist (paraeidolia). Depending on the specific circumstances of the experience, one could see it as one of dozens of such fallacies -- e.g. the recency effect, whereby recent stimuli effect your conclusions more than older stimuli, or the representativeness heuristic, where we judge the similarity (or the inverse) of items based on prima facie qualities; or at the very least, selective perception, not to mention confirmation bias.

Note that coincidence per se is a self-deception. The word for that is apophenia. See the Face on Mars; the Randomness of Pi; movie soundtracks; and Martin Gardner's almost universally-known list of "coincidences" between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations -- which is often passed around as factual, but was actually compiled by Gardner as a way of demonstrating fallacious attribution of coincidence. The latter has especially in common with your question the quality that the more coincidences are listed, the more "eerie" they seem -- proving what, exactly, is never clear. What it seems to prove to me is that we are hard-wired for patterns, and they actually stimulate us psychologically as a reinforcement mechanism. Similarly, the more you see what you just noticed, the more of an interesting effect it is -- but you're just tuned in to your own pattern-recognition subroutines.

I have this thing that drives me crazy. I'm driving along, minding my own business, watching traffic, listening to the radio -- and abruptly, for no rational reason, my eyes jump up and perfectly read a street name that has a personal meaning. In one case it's the E-W Chicago street where an old girlfriend lives; driving N-S on Western Avenue, to work or clients, this would happen to me so often it drove me batty. I didn't want to be reminded on a daily basis. The more I tried not to do it, the more my brain "made" me do it. Another time I've noticed it is in a completely different community where I used to drive; my eyes would be drawn to the street sign bearing the name of the street (a President) where I currently receive my mail. My brain completely knows exactly where I am and what speed I'm going to manage this involuntary yet perfectly focused instant of recognition.
posted by dhartung at 8:46 PM on March 29, 2005 [2 favorites]

We have always used the word "scotoma" to refer to this, but that's more of a metaphor than a precise definition of what you're describing. It's a pretty good metaphor, though.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:57 PM on March 29, 2005

Roger Penrose. "The Emperor Has No Clothes." We live in a quantumly-ly "determined" world wherein meaning and our perception of it live in a deterministic relationship far more complex than we can yet perceive. That your paying attention to the world around you had something to do with your those data being made available to you...

Or, Parallel Universes Theory.
posted by rleamon at 9:02 PM on March 29, 2005

I thought it was called "Plate of Shrimp".
posted by matildaben at 9:24 PM on March 29, 2005

Response by poster: This is the first time I've posted a question to AskMefi. I can see why people like it so much -- this is great information.

I was hoping there was an obvious, instantly recognizable answer to this, though (like "deja-vu"). There should be.
posted by Badmichelle at 9:33 PM on March 29, 2005

One form of this is called reticular activation. Scroll down to the last two paragraphs to read a layperson's explanation of the term.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:45 PM on March 29, 2005

this happened to me with the word 'paradigm'
posted by Mach5 at 10:19 PM on March 29, 2005

Actually, I'm with matildaben. Among my friends, it's called "plate of shrimp."

Not the answer you were looking for, I know. But an affirmation that it's wide enough spread.
posted by Gucky at 11:22 PM on March 29, 2005

The Cocktail Party Effect?
posted by the cuban at 1:34 AM on March 30, 2005

Perhaps its just a glitch in the matrix ...
posted by ajbattrick at 5:14 AM on March 30, 2005

Sometimes, it's really just a meme. Right after 9/11, it seemed like people just couldn't stop using the phrase "wrap my head around this" to mean "fully comprehend". Can't say I've heard one person use it this year.
posted by 4easypayments at 7:42 AM on March 30, 2005

I agree with dhartung. I think it's a quirk of our perceptual filtering abilities. Back when I was afraid of flying, every time I had to fly I would suddenly notice all kinds of news stories, videos, or movies having to do with airplanes or plane crashes. Happened every time. But I'm pretty sure the frequencey was the same as ever -- only my filter had changed.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:07 AM on March 30, 2005

"Salience" is good. Specifically, it refers to what's going on in your mind that makes this experience possible. When you learn a new word, that word is salient in your mind, making you more likely to notice it elsewhere.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:39 AM on March 30, 2005

Wow, I just heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon the other day, and now it's cropping up everywhere!
posted by kindall at 8:04 PM PST on March 29 [!]

Meta-Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
posted by jikel_morten at 8:42 AM on March 30, 2005

Confirmation bias?
posted by kenko at 9:26 AM on March 30, 2005

posted by softlord at 1:51 PM on April 2, 2005

There's a character in Sin City named Manute. I watched the Sin City movie on Saturday, and heard the name. It was the first time I'd noticed witnessing that name since I read the Sin City graphic novels years ago. Later that night, I was watching television, and somebody on a program mentioned the basketball player Manute Bol, whose name I have not remembered hearing in years, either.

Twice in one day. Twice in .. two or three hours, in fact!

I'll assume dhartung's statement that it's an effect of mental filtering is true. From now on, I'll be on the lookout for every mention of the name "Manute". If I hear it again in the next few days, I'll report back to this thread, and we'll have some (anecdotal) evidence.
posted by Hildago at 4:34 PM on April 4, 2005

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