I am looking for a word or phrase for an unremarkable event that occurs with uncanny frequency.

To give a specific example, one might be seeing a random shopper drop their bag every time you enter a certain grocery store. Similarly, one might find that a certain movie is on TV far more frequently than they would expect.

I suppose it's sort of like déjà vu, the uncanny feeling that something has happened before, except that the something actually did happen and it's uncanny because it happened again when it was unremarkable and occurred at a much higher frequency than expected.

Although I'm aware that there are aspects of psychology that would explain this, such as confirmation bias, I'm more interested in a word that would describe the event itself in relation to it seeming uncanny.

Does such a word or phrase exist?

  • I might just call it typical
    – Jim
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 6:18
  • Men in Black is always playing on TV in hotel rooms!
    – ScotM
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 6:20
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    By an unfailing coincidence, the man who wrongs us is a villain, and the man who does us a kindness is a saint. Henry S. Haskins src: quotes.yourdictionary.com/unfailing
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 6:32
  • 1
    You may be interested in a cognitive bias called the frequency illusion, but more commonly known colloquially as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It works like this: Suppose you roll a die several times each day. You begin to suspect that the die is more likely to land on '5' than on any of the other numbers. As the days go by, you note with increasing interest and excitement each new time that the die lands on 5, recording those times in your memory, and forgetting the less intriguing instances where you roll a different number. Before long you've convinced yourself that the die is loaded.
    – jake-low
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 6:56
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    @andhrimnir This is certainly fascinating and would explain it, but wasn't really what I was going for. I'm looking for a word that describes the event. I've edited the question to clarify this. Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 8:03

5 Answers 5


If I understand correctly, you're looking for a phrase that describes a surprisingly frequent, but mundane event.

The underlying assumption of this answer is that it is perceived as frequent. Thus, under the umbrella of cognitive bias, it would be called an illusory correlation event.

more on cognitive bias


Agreeing with andhrimnir, the fact that we imagine an event, like a random shopper dropping a grocery bag, as more frequent than it really is would be called the frequency illusion:

n. The tendency to notice instances of a particular phenomenon once one starts to look for it, and to therefore believe erroneously that the phenomenon occurs frequently.

It is related to the "purchase illusion": when you buy a new car (or dress) you suddenly start noticing that everyone else already has one.

Seeing Men in Black on the tube in a hotel room would not be frequency illusion, because it is on one of those free channels that plays old popular movies over and over again.

  • Sorry about that, he must have posted his comment while I was putting my answer together.
    – ScotM
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 7:55
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    I'm looking for a phrase for the event, rather than the process of the event. I've edited the question to clarify. Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 8:04

Back in the Navy, we had a phrase: "The 50/50/90 rule". It had a more negative connotation but it meant that given a 50/50 chance of two possible outcomes, the worst would occur 90% of the time. I'm sure that our belief in this was a case of "confirmation bias", but we had a name for what wiser people told us was not happening.

  • Serendipitous, e.g., The shopper in front of me dropped her bag serendipitously, as had so many before her.
  • "Weird", e.g., As I entered the store, the shopper in front of me weirdly dropped her bag, an increasingly frequent occurrence.
  • "Prophetic", e.g., Prophetically, the shopper in front of me dropped her bag just as I had seen in a dream.

Are there any connection between the events?

In that case perhaps synchronicity?

  • 2
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    – MetaEd
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 17:26

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