1. You're watching TV or something, and you hear a word1 that you've never heard before.
  2. You look up the meaning of this word.
  3. This new word is suddenly popping up everywhere!

    • You're now seeing the word on social media
    • People you know are now saying it
    • It suddenly seems like its popping up everywhere but didn't even exist a day ago!

Is there a word for that?

1 "word" - it can be a word or a phrase (etc.)


This sounds like a combination of the "Recency Illusion" and the "Frequency Illusion" (terms coined by the linguist Arnold Zwicky). The Recency Illusion is how it seems like the word didn't exist before you noticed it, even though in reality it may have been around for a while, even for your entire life. The Frequency Illusion is how once you do notice the word, you start seeing it everywhere: you're more likely to remember it now that you've consciously taken note of it.

Further reading:


I don't know how widely known/accepted this is, but this was referred to as "The Joshua Tree Principle" by the writer Robin Williams in The Non-Designer's Design Book:

Many years ago I received a tree identification book for Christmas. I was at my parents’ home, and after all the gifts had been opened I decided to go out and identify the trees in the neighborhood. Before I went out, I read through part of the book. The first tree in the book was the Joshua tree because it took only two clues to identify it. Now, the Joshua tree is a really weird-looking tree and I looked at that picture and said to myself, ‘Oh, we don’t have that kind of tree in northern California. That is a weird looking tree. I would know if I saw that tree, and I’ve never seen one before.’ So I took my book and went outside. My parents lived in a cul-de-sac of six homes. Four of those homes had Joshua trees in the front yard. I had lived in that house for 13 years, and I had never seen a Joshua tree. I took a walk around the block, and there must have been a sale at the nursery when everyone was landscaping their new homes—at least 80 percent of the homes had Joshua trees in the front yards. And I had never seen one before! Once I was conscious of the tree, once I could name it, I saw it everywhere. Which is exactly my point. Once you can name something, you’re conscious of it. You have power over it. You own it. You’re in control.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.