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I found the term ‘weapons of mass distraction’ in the article titled “Social Networking in the 1600s” in the Sunday Review section of June 22 New York Times, which begins with;

“Social networks stand accused of being enemies of productivity. According to one popular infographic circulating online, the use of Facebook, Twitter and other such sites at work costs the American economy $650 billion each year. Our attention spans are atrophying, our test scores declining, all because of these “weapons of mass distraction.”

Though ‘weapons of mass distraction’ appears in quote in the above statement, this is obviously a play of word with ‘weapons of mass destruction.’

As I thought ‘weapons of mass distraction’ a smart and punchy word I’d like to use, I consulted both Cambridge and Oxford English dictionaries. They carry ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ but not ‘weapons of mass distraction.’

Whilst Google Ngram shows that ‘weapons of mass distraction’ emerged around 1970 and its usage has been shooting up since 1997, but its currency is still at 0.00000015% level.

Does the term ‘weapons of mass distraction’ pass as an established set of word to be easily understood among English speaking community without adding “quote, unquote” in conversation when we are referring to mass-media, social networking media and entertainment contents on mobile phones?

  • Reminds me of “fritterware”, software that you forever tweak and tweak and tweak, and waste infinite time on. – tchrist Jun 23 '13 at 0:44
  • @tchrist Yeah, that sort of software development can drive you bananas. – Gnawme Jun 23 '13 at 2:50
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    Does the term ‘weapons of mass distraction’ pass as an established set of word to be easily understood among English speaking community without adding “quote, unquote” in conversation? I would think a “quote, unquote” is unnecessary – not because this phrase is "established," but because the root phrase that it parodies (i.e., "weapons of mass destruction") is immediately recognizable. – J.R. Jun 23 '13 at 3:20
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    The Google Ngram search for "weapons of mass distraction" turns up examples 1970 and later, but context shows that these early examples are misspellings of "weapons of mass destruction". The spike in 1997 is cooincident with the release of the film titled "Weapons Of Mass Distraction" directed by Stephen Surjik. – MetaEd Jun 23 '13 at 8:04
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"Weapons of mass distraction" is an increasingly common play on words. It is common enough in my experience that I would accept it with or without the quotes; there is no hard and fast rule governing that.

It could be used to apply to anything distracting, and is not a metonym for anything in particular. It is, as you pointed out, commonly used to refer to either TV shows or internet sites. This entry from 1992 uses it (sarcastically) in the context of a news show:

Stanton worried that even CBS News might become an instrument of mass distraction.

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    Weapon of mass distraction is the most suitable term to today’s TV media which is inundated with zany shows of cheap comedians in Japan. They rely on cheap talent and low production cost. I’d like to use Weapon of mass distraction whenever I’m referring to Japanese mass, particularly media. – Yoichi Oishi Jun 23 '13 at 3:20
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    I would point out that you're worrying about using a phrase unless it has already been well recognized and accepted, but consider this: The first person who wrote or said "weapons of mass distraction" was not concerned about that. That person was being creative, and that creativity is what gave the phrase value. That person made a decision to use that phrase based on the fact that it was not known. That person knew that the original phrase was well known, and knew that people would therefore easily recognize the "play on words" he or she was creating. – John M. Landsberg Jun 23 '13 at 7:24
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    @YoichiOishi - "Japan is being inundated by weapons of mass distraction" sounds like a great lead for an article, but I would expect further context/clarity so that people would know specifically what you're referring to - TV, internet, comic books - or all of the above. The phrase does not convey any of them in particular. – Lynn Jun 23 '13 at 10:52
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"Weapons of mass distraction" would be best understood as a turn of phrase or a witticism - a clever arrangement of words on the part of the writer which makes sense used in a particular context. It is not a phrase that, taken by itself, holds any fixed meaning for English speakers, nor is it likely to appear in any dictionary.

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