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September 14th, 2012 / 11:04 am
Word Spaces

The octopus in the room, or, Help me name a phenomenon

“The Menace of the Hour” by George Luks (30 January 1899)

For a while now I’ve thought that there should be a name for the following phenomenon. You think of something. And then you immediately realize that someone else has to have already thought of that very thing.

For example. A friend asked me what my Halloween costume is going to be. And I jokingly said that I was going to go as the octopus that was deleted from The Goonies. And that alone might be an example of this phenomenon, although it’s not the best example. But my next thought was: I said, “No, I’ll dress up as a businessperson, but I’ll have eight arms, and I’ll wear a pin that says, ‘OCTOPI WALL STREET.’”

And I knew at once that somebody else has already thought of that (the pun, if not the precise realization). That had to. And…voila!

Art by Justina Kochansky/articulatematter.com. (But shouldn’t it be, “We are the 88%”?)

The best I’ve been able to do so far is to say that these are “obvious ideas”—thoughts that the culture can’t help but think. But that term doesn’t really name the phenomenon that I’m describing (which is the moment of realization). … Any suggestions?

Ideally, someone out there has already thought up a name for this, and while we should be able to come up with our own name, we should then know that what we’ve come up with isn’t original.

Notes: Here’s a link to Justina Kochansky’s 8WS image (12 October 2011). And Dave Gilson has a pretty thoughtful meditation on Octopi Wall Street (in Mother Jones, 6 October 2011). (October, how fitting.)

Gilson writes in his article:

A few days ago, photographer and idea blogger David Friedman tweeted, “Octopi Wall Street. You can have that.”

That’s the earliest example of the pun that I’ve yet found. But I’m willing to bet someone said it on 17 September 2011.

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