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/ (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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  1. micah the hoss

      Deja Vu Once Removed?

  2. Jeff Nagy

      you know how in public bathrooms with the more-old-fashioned kind of electric hand dryer (pre-dyson airblade) someone has always eroded “push button” to “push butt.” that sort of thing. what is it?

  3. NLY

      Emerson spoke of all agencies beyond the will as the Beautiful Necessity, in that they must always somehow seem fated, for their province is not ours. Since it is in the nature of these moments to appear as a kind of cognitive human fate, brought by circumstance out of the unwittingly similar, maybe they are all beautiful necessities.

  4. Daniel Bailey

      last night i realized that all of my poems have already been written by a sri lankan man named gustav gudberger. he was a genius, not because his/my poems are any good, but because he proved me wrong.

  5. A D Jameson

      The one I often see is “push button, receive bacon.” And no matter how many times I see it, it always makes me laugh.

  6. A D Jameson

      Preja Vu?

  7. Nick Evans

      I nominate ‘Menard’. In honor of Pierre Menard of ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’ who considered Menarding the Quixote a worthy artistic goal and not something akin to a disappointing costume idea. It’s also similar to canard, since your claim of having invented the thing will probably be received with skepticism. Or you can just mutter a line from Ecclesiastes to yourself, because someone else already had the idea that someone else has probably already had the idea.

  8. Sean K

      Not trying to ruin your whole thing here but did you know that the plural of “octopus” is more accurately “octopodes” not “octopi.” That is because octopus is from greek instead of latin. It’s a tough distinction since you might be used to the common masculine latin -us ending which is replaced by the -i in the plural. I just like to say octopodes, octopodes, octopodes.

  9. A D Jameson

      I actually did know that, but “octopi” is still perfectly acceptable in English. My American Heritage College Dictionary, for instance, lists it as the plural, as well as “octopuses,” and doesn’t even mention “octopodes”. Which I’ve seen written, but have never in my entire life ever heard anyone say. (Although maybe you’re working to change that?)

      Still, I commend you for your…Octopodes Training:)

  10. A D Jameson

      Interesting, interesting. So how would we use it?

      “Menarding”? (A la Eastwooding?)

      “I just got Menarded?”

      “Dude, that is so Menarded!”

  11. Nick Evans

      I think it’s versatile. You can use it as a verb, as you did, “I’ve got a great idea for a movie, although I might be Menarding an episode of ‘Star Trek.'” Or a noun, “Hey, man, is this a Menard? A car made out of stainless steel. With gull. wing. doors. “

  12. Kyle B. Bjorem

      Nietzsche Vu. Not only has everything you’ve thought been thought before, but you were the one who thought it – and if that depresses you you’re not super, man.

  13. deadgod

      OED offers, for “|| Octopus“, the plural forms “Pl. octopodes [last syllable pronounced ‘eez’], anglicized octopuses.” ‘Octopi’ is not mentioned, as Webster’s, an “American” dictionary, does.

      (The symbol ‘||’ means “not naturalized”, which, here, I don’t understand. It’s not used of the synonym Octopod. In what way is ‘octopod’ “naturalized” and ‘octopus’ not??)

      Octopus is called a “mod[ern] L[atin]” coinage or adaptation – “modern” meaning ‘later than medieval’ – ; there’s no such word in my classical Latin dictionary (Lewis).

      Similarly, οκτωπους is not a classical Greek word for (our) ‘octopus’; the word οkτωπους occurs first in Plato and means ‘eight feet long, broad or high’ (LSJ). οκταποδης means ‘eight feet long’, and οκταπους does mean ‘eight-footed’; each of these words is an adjective.

      The classical Greek word for ‘octopus’ is (earlier) πουλυποδος, (later) πολυποδος. (That is, the word first appears in the earlier form in Homer (eg. Od V 432), and only centuries later in the later form.) The classical Latin adaptation is (also) polypus, taken directly from (the later) πολυπους. It means, in Greek and the Latin adoption, ‘many foot’. (polypus also means ‘polyp’; Lewis has Horace using it to mean ‘tumor in the nose’.)

      Because the modern English word doesn’t derive from a classical Greek coinage, when πουλυποδος/πολυποδος used to be translated into English – for example, in that book 5 of the Odyssey – , it would be translated as ‘cuttle’ or ‘cuttlefish’, so as not to give the idea that ‘octopus’ sounds or looks like the Homeric (for instance) word.

      So the English word ‘octopus’ is formed from a modern Latin version of a ‘Greek’ word. (My guess would be that the modern Greek οκτωποδα was actually adopted directly from the modern Latin coinage and not formed from classical roots, recognizable as they were.)

      ‘Octopus’ is a ‘Greek’ word in two ways, but only indirectly: it’s not a classical Greek word (though its roots are), and (in my amateur, possibly reckless view) it was a modern Latin coinage (made by modern scholars who knew classical Greek) before it was adopted by modern Greeks.

      (A similar case would be ‘theodicy’, ‘reconciliation of a benevolent, omnipotent god with evil’. The word was coined by Leibniz (in French) from the Greek roots θεος, ‘god’, and δικη, ‘justice’. Is ‘theodicy’ – now an English word – originally a Greek word, a German, a French?)

  14. A D Jameson

      “I know I’ve seen that Impressionist painting before. I’m experiencing Degas Vu.”

      …That has to be totally Menarded.

      And it is!

  15. A D Jameson

      So in other words, it’s as American as octopie.

  16. A D Jameson

      I tried using it below.

  17. deadgod

      In other words, you’re being o cutie pie.

      Edit: I first said “trying to be”, but why vaginaπους around?

  18. A D Jameson

      I thought I already was—!

  19. Amber Sparks

      Not that this help with naming, but just to validate your suspicions: I saw someone in an Occupy march last year with a giant Octopus puppet and a sash that read “Octopi Wall Street.” So, yep.

  20. Taylor Napolsky

      One time I thought to invent colored table salt, so you can easily see how much salt you’ve put on your food.

      Then I Googled it and found plenty of colored table salt brands online. They have it in grocery stores as well.

  21. mimi

      i’ve often thought that in addition to a left-hand turn signal and a right-hand turn signal, a car should have a U-turn signal

  22. K.K.B.

      Isn’t this just zeitgeist? Or the collective unconscious?

      PS. I think you should still go for it if you thought of it. Originality hardly exists. Authenticity’s already happening.

  23. A D Jameson

      I think the zeitgeist and the collective unconscious are related in a formative sense, but it’s still useful to have a term for this specific phenomenon.

      And I definitely agree that originality isn’t all that important, and one should not let this kind of occurrence stop them from doing something they want to do. Although it might give us cause to push our thinking and ideas a little harder… (Google makes it easy to check whether something has already been done.)

  24. A D Jameson

      I only recently learned what kosher salt is.

  25. J. Y. Hopkins

      rereify / rereification / totes re-re

  26. Michael Schiavo

      “Alienated majesty.”

      Here’s the opening paragraph of Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”:

      “I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—- and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.”

  27. deadgod

      Just tried *Usuctopus* in a tweet (usury… octopus… meaning ‘contemporary consolidated banks’). Didn’t carry through; sometimes a push-together isn’t a portmanteauble bauble of gibber-jeauble cobble.

  28. Big Other « BIG OTHER

      […] No, it’s not. It’s an instance of the culture thinking through me. Which is why other people thought it. […]