You probably discussed this question with your friends yesterday, too.
January 24, 2007 8:10 AM   Subscribe

What's the term (if there is one) for a previously-unfamiliar concept that you suddenly encounter all over the place for no apparent reason?

For example, I recently had this experience with the Neti Pot, a strange contraption I'd never heard of until my singing teacher mentioned it. The next day at work my coworkers were talking about them, and a few days later one of my favorite bloggers mentioned them. Neti Pots did not suddenly became trendy or newsworthy that week, and none of the sources have any connection to each other, so these incidents seem to be completely unrelated.
My parents call this kind of thing a "bader meinhof," but I think it's because Dad had this experience after the first time he heard about the German group by that name. I can't find any instances on the net of other people using "bader meinhof" in this way.
So, does it have a name? If so, what is it?
Please note, I'm not saying that these experiences have any cause or significance. I don't see them as omens. There's no need to discuss that side of the issue. I just want a way to describe the experience more succinctly than this question and more universally than my parents' personal term. Thanks!
posted by vytae to Writing & Language (38 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
posted by GregW at 8:15 AM on January 24, 2007

I don't think 'meme' is it. I think vytae is referring to the phenomenon where you ignore concepts you're unfamiliar with, and then, having been exposed once, you begin to notice that concept more and more.

But I have nothing useful to add.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:20 AM on January 24, 2007

Response by poster: GregW: I thought about "meme," but it doesn't quite encompass what I'm getting at here. I would describe this experience as a single person running into the same meme repeatedly in a short period of time, soon after first encountering it - not because the meme is any more common in surrounding culture than it was previously, but just randomly.
posted by vytae at 8:21 AM on January 24, 2007

It's a kind of cognitive bias, though I'm not sure which one. Perhaps selective perception.
posted by adamrice at 8:23 AM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: spaceman_spiff: I guess I'm not sure whether ignoring the concept has anything to do with it. I know a lot of people who buy new cars suddenly notice the same model everywhere they go. In that case it's because they were ignoring those cars until the model had some personal significance for them. On the other hand, for the events I'm thinking of, the person would probably swear that they'd never heard of the idea in question before. Are they right? I don't know.
posted by vytae at 8:24 AM on January 24, 2007

Synchronicity, or confirmation bias.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:24 AM on January 24, 2007

(Like owenkun said.)
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:25 AM on January 24, 2007

Response by poster: I like this idea of cognitive bias, but I'm looking for a term that allows for the possibility that the person is not just noticing the meme more often, but actually encountering it more often in that short period of time. (Or maybe I'm crazy to think that's even possible.)
posted by vytae at 8:29 AM on January 24, 2007

This happens often with words: I'll read an unfamiliar word in a book, look it up in a dictionary, and then begin to see this word everywhere, just because it's in my mind. I think this may also be related to some obsessions with number coincidences, which is discussed at the end of the skepdic article on the Law of Truly Large Numbers, without mentioning a satisfactory term for the phenomenon.
posted by muddgirl at 8:31 AM on January 24, 2007

Response by poster: Ooh, synchronicity is good. It's broader than what I want, but I would definitely say that this experience is a kind of synchronicity. Anybody got anything more specific?
posted by vytae at 8:32 AM on January 24, 2007

Synchronicity has been in use for a long time to describe this phenomenon, and was the first thing that jumped to my mind when I saw your question. It can happen with concepts, words, objects, or events. I think if you use the word to talk about what happens with neti pots or Bader Meinhof, most people will understand what you mean.
posted by Miko at 8:38 AM on January 24, 2007

I think of those as Baader-Meinhof as well because that's how the local paper refers to it in their "bulletin board".
posted by cabingirl at 8:42 AM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by thinkpiece at 8:45 AM on January 24, 2007

You could try the term "morphic resonance", but be careful if you're talking to someone who might thing that you actually believe in psuedoscience.
posted by teleskiving at 8:46 AM on January 24, 2007

Kind of related to the 100 monkeys idea/myth
posted by edgeways at 8:48 AM on January 24, 2007

Response by poster: cabingirl: That link was perfect! Thank you. Mom and Dad probably read the same paper as you - I bet they picked the term up there, not from having the experience with the Baader-Meinhof meme itself. Perhaps twin-citians simply need to spread the local term.
posted by vytae at 8:49 AM on January 24, 2007

Previously. Personally, I like the term "Diegogarcity" (described there), because it's specific to this situation, unlike "synchronicity," "meme," etc.
posted by languagehat at 8:54 AM on January 24, 2007

This comes up quite often on AskMe. Here's the first thread I could dig up from last year (which links this one), which suggests Apophenia, but I don't think thats quite right. Notably, the thread also refers to Baader-Meinhof, so it seems unlikely your Dad coined the same term indepedently for the same phenomenon (that would be a hell of a coincidence!).

Personally, I think coincidence is a fair word for it, but I think Baader-Meinhof is going to be the most specific you'll find, based on previous AskMes.
posted by MetaMonkey at 8:56 AM on January 24, 2007

Response by poster: And finally, languagehat to the rescue. My search skills are usually pretty good, but I had no idea what terms to use for this one. While I go read through the previous answers, would you mind telling me how you found that one? I can always use some new searching tricks.
posted by vytae at 8:58 AM on January 24, 2007

I remembered the term diegogarcity and figured there wouldn't be many other threads for the search to pull up!
posted by languagehat at 8:59 AM on January 24, 2007

Response by poster: Well that makes me feel better, I guess. I would have had to know the answer to my question to find it asked previously. :)
posted by vytae at 9:04 AM on January 24, 2007

Great excerpt from cabingirl's site.

Despite science's cries that a world as complex as ours invites frequent coincidences, observation tells us that such an explanation is inadequate. Observation shows us that Baader-Meinhof strikes with blurring accuracy, and too frequently to be explained away so easily. But over the centuries, observation has also shown us that observation itself is highly flawed, and not to be trusted.

posted by Miko at 9:05 AM on January 24, 2007

I know I've heard "scotoma" used in this context, but I can't find a cite.
posted by danb at 9:15 AM on January 24, 2007

Response by poster: I just found another askme thread on the subject, in case anybody wants more info.
posted by vytae at 9:19 AM on January 24, 2007

Seems like every time this comes up someone brings in "plate of shrimp."
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:28 AM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

The next day at work my coworkers were talking about them, and a few days later one of my favorite bloggers mentioned them. Neti Pots did not suddenly became trendy or newsworthy that week, and none of the sources have any connection to each other, so these incidents seem to be completely unrelated.
Weren't Neti pots featured on a recent episode of The Office? It's possible that all these completely unrelated people merely watched one of the most popular US broadcast television shows. That would make the concept a meme and not diegorarcicexpialadocious.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:33 AM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: infinitewindow: the neti pot thing actually happened to me about a year ago, so no, I don't think it was due to The Office.

I'm starting to feel bad for re-asking a question that has been asked so many times already. I want you all to know that I searched my little heart out before posting. I guess there's no need to rehash the comments in previous threads, though, so I'd call this one solved. That is, unless anybody's got recent news on one term or another being officially accepted in some way. (OED, maybe?)
posted by vytae at 9:44 AM on January 24, 2007

Like infinitewindow, I think that many cases of Diegogarcity can be attributed to Common Cause where the Cause itself is unknown.
posted by vacapinta at 9:45 AM on January 24, 2007

Neti pots came to my attention through Six Feet Under. George (James Cromwell) used one and it became a point of contention between him and Ruth. I imagine that had something to do with them coming to some renown (though those episodes played a few years ago, so no direct connection to your recent experience).
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:47 AM on January 24, 2007

Response by poster: I've spent most of the last week thinking this thing was called a "hoffer mein bottom" until I finally remembered to ask my mom what her term was. I have zero knowledge of German, but as pseudo-engli-german it sounds like a pretty hilarious request. </marginally related>
posted by vytae at 9:54 AM on January 24, 2007

posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:09 AM on January 24, 2007

Also of possible interest: Google Trends query for "Neti Pot". Doesn't show a spike right around now in this case, but its a fun tool for looking at this kind of thing.
posted by teleskiving at 10:33 AM on January 24, 2007

I just noticed that Minneapolis (which is the posters profile indicates they are) is the 6th city from the top for the "neti pot" query according to the Google Trends page. The top city is Madison, WI. It's a nice coincidence, at least.
posted by teleskiving at 10:40 AM on January 24, 2007

Do I keep seeing this question on AskMe, or is my brain just looking for patterns again?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:18 AM on January 24, 2007

I wonder if this is related to the fact that every time I catch a TV show I hardly ever see, it's always the same damn episode? Like, how many times do I need to see the "Cheeseburger Picnic" episode of Trailer Park Boys???
posted by loiseau at 1:59 PM on January 24, 2007

Further support for the idea that we NOTICE terms/concepts, etc. more once we learn them, rather than that we coincidentally start hearing about them more once we've learned them - I never knew the term for this phenomenon until I read this thread last week. This weekend, though, I watched Munich for the second time, and this time I noticed a reference to Baader-Meinhoff (the group, not the phenomenon) in the subtitles. The first time I saw the movie I completely missed the reference, but it was there all along.
posted by Amizu at 10:20 AM on January 29, 2007

And now, it comes full circle--a post on the blue leads to a 2001 blog post on the phenomenon.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:58 PM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

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