#523 When you learn a new word and then suddenly start seeing it everywhere

Thanks, universe.

Once in a while you send big blinking signs that everything’s unfolding according to plan. Yes, whether it’s a supersmooth drive home, some eerie deja vu, or a  perfect time showing up on the clock, you drop buzzy little braintwists that always keep us guessing.

Yes, it’s great when you learn a new word and then suddenly start seeing it everywhere. You know how it goes: something weird like coagulate, vexed, or perforated leaps into your temporal lobe and wedges itself there tightly, grabbing a beer, putting its feet up, making itself at home.

But then soon magazine articles are zooming the word up to your eyeballs, your college professor is dropping it in lectures, and you see it hanging strangely coagulate in the middle of a random blog.

“I never knew that word before,” you think. “but now it’s following me around.”

See, the Lords of Language know you well. They gotta repeat things to seal in the learning. So when it happens just enjoy that personal thrill, feel that connection crackle, and smile and nod because you just got a little bit smarter and a lot more


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—Email message—

“Hi Neil! I’ve been slowly maneuvering my way through grad school.  Unfortunately, my boyfriend lives 200 miles away and it’s tough to have him leave Sunday nights and return to work. Tonight, after the boy left, I put aside my work for a little longer and dove into your book.  I felt so much better. Thank you for putting a little more AWESOME into the world, Erica.”

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108 thoughts on “#523 When you learn a new word and then suddenly start seeing it everywhere

      1. Oh. My. Gosh. So . . . I’m watching Cash Cab, and they just NOW had a question about that word. Just now. Like . . . months after you put that post. Seriously. It’s been minutes. My life feels so applicable right now.


      2. I literally just learned what “Schadenfreude” meant the other day in a Psychology class I’m taking, and I didn’t know how to spell it. lol. I guess this article is correct about seeing things everywhere!

  1. Did you know this kind of freaky coincidence is known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? It “occurs when a person, after having learned some (usually obscure) fact, word, phrase, or other item for the first time, encounters that item again, perhaps several times, shortly after having learned it.”

    I find these connections to be awesome as well!

    1. My favorite part of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon was that once I learned what it was, I started seeing the phrase “Baader-Meinhof” EVERYWHERE.


          1. I just learned about the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon while reading the first comment, and now I’ve seen it in several responses to that comment. It’s everywhere!

            1. Damn!!! I looked in the mirror, and guess who was there?!!! Me!!! What a coincidence!!! Blllaaa….

    2. I’m glad you commented here, Gabina.
      I just learned early this morning about the steampunk aesthetic – or rather, learned the word steampunk.
      Then, before 11 AM this same day, I heard the word again from a different person and from a completely disconnected context.
      Very strange…but still, just coincidence.

  2. Oh my gosh, I’ve never recognized the awesomeness of this! I’ve had this happen to me all the time. You’re questioning what a word means, you look it up, you understand the definition, and then it just starts popping up everywhere. When you’re just scanning the newspaper, the word suddenly jumps at you; when a character on a TV show blurts out that ONE word, your ears perk up. Makes you feel so accomplished and smart. :)

  3. Penultimate. Definitely thought it was something more awesome than ultimate. . . but it definitely means “second to last”. And now I see that word everywhere.

    Who is that girl at the bottom of the page? OH WAIT that’s me! =) Thanks again for sharing my story, Neil.


  4. This happens to me all the time with the #34 (hopefully I’m not jynxing it). Now I see it as a good luck sign. I know that when I see it everywhere that means good things are coming.

    *knocks on wood*


  5. I just discovered this blog tonight. I’ve spent the last two hours laughing my head off. Thank you so much, this is making this week of exams so much more bearable.

  6. This is such a very, very true awesome thing. It happens to my sister and I more often than it should… “haberdashery” was one of the most recent. Who knew it was even a real word? My prof mentioned that Harry Truman used to be a haberdasher and next thing you know, my grandma uses it, I spot it on little shop signs, it’s on the wall at East Side Mario’s… small world!

  7. what’s especially funny to me is how memorable the term “baader-meinhof effect” is. just think about it.

  8. This happens to me all the time…and it used to happen during school a lot. I would learn something in school then all of a sudden they would randomly talk about it on a tv show i watch. The characters on my shows would be reading the same book I was or something…the weirdest thing…but awesome nonetheless. I always thought it was so cool.

  9. wow….I have never really thought about that before…. it does happen all the time to me! But a lot of the words I am learning these days are banking or financial terms and working in a bank, I hear them all the time. But its nice to finally say, “hey, I know exactly what you are talking about now.”

  10. it happens to me all the time! you start reading it on the tv, on newspappers, radio, everywhere. Sometimes i think if i didn’t know the word it wouldn’t appear anywhere cause i barely read it before!

  11. The first time I heard of this phenomena was back in the 60’s in a comic strip called “They’ll Do It Every Time”. It used as an example the word “ecology”, which I had never heard before. It still pops up from time to time even today. ;-)

    BTW Galileo – I love octothorpe, the symbol. Use it all the time, now I can call it octothorpe instead of “pound sign”. I wonder what the others are called?!@$%^&*()

  12. It’s awesome too when you realise you’ve been using completely the wrong definition of a word for years, then you find out what it really means and see it everywhere. I’ve aways used “enervate” as if it meant “energise” – but it’s actually the complete opposite. Heaven knows how many other words I’m mxing up…

  13. I remember as a little kid coming across the world ‘feasible.’ Next day at chess club, one of the books we used to give us tips on the game used that word again….and again…and again. My game didn’t really improve that much but my vocab did. Awesome, indeed.

  14. I love this! It reminds me of the time I realized that two of my teachers were married… then I started to notice that other people were noticing and talking to me about it. :S

    I think it’s got something to do with some psychological effect… For example when people say that they look at the clock and it’s ALWAYS 11.11 or something, it’s usually because they only notice and remember when they look at the clock and it’s 11.11, because that’s what’s on their mind all the time. I guess it’s the same thing with seeing a new word everywhere… but that’s AWESOME!

    I love your AWESOME blog! :D


    1. Or like when you get a new car, it seems like EVERYONE has that car now. No more people have it than before, but now you’re on the lookout for it so you see it everywhere. :D

    2. I don’t know if anyone else does this, but I love seeing my “birthday” on the clock. For example, if I were born on October 21 (I’m not, but if I were), I would celebrate at 10:21 AM and PM…or if I weren’t in the USA, I would celebrate at 21:10, or 9:10 PM (obviously, the American date layout of “month-day” works better than the rest of the world’s “day-month” if you were born after the 23rd of any given month).

      The thing is, if I actively try to do it, I usually fail, but if I’m not trying for it, it just spontaneously happens that I’ll look up and see it. It always gives me a warm, happy feeling, and I exclaim to whoever is around, “Hey, look! My birthday!”

      Of course, this is sometimes confusing to random acquaintances, but people who know me usually just shake their heads and smile…:-)

  15. Oh, gosh.
    You’re awesome!
    Although are you planning to stop this lovely trail of awesomeness when you hit a thousand?
    I think you should continue!
    Awesomeness never ends.


  16. I’ve been going through the roughest time yet of my first year of law school -exams, a falling out with a friend, tons of stress. I haven’t had a reason a to smile in two weeks. Then I found this blog yesterday morning, now I can’t stop smiling and thinking of all the little things I love about my day. Thank you!

  17. An occurance like this happened to me last week. I wrote a story on Friday about a shelter dog named Justice. All weekend, I kept seeing the word “justice” – everywhere! I came to work on Monday to discover that Justice was adopted on Saturday. The Universe was truly winking at me and I’m winking back. Yay, Justice!

  18. Quixotic was that word for me in high school.

    Also…. I’m totally going to have to borrow this book from LovelyAnomaly (yay that you featured her!) when she becomes my roommate! :)

  19. Flabbergasted – nothing special about this word, but definitely a feeling that I get when I’m put in a room with a bunch of intellectually frozen adults.

  20. As soon as I read this, it happened to me. The word is ‘polymath’ and I read about it yesterday and literally saw it on the next website I went on to after this. CRAZY.

    The Book of Awesome has the prime spot in my coffee table book collection right now. Hooray!

  21. You know what should be an awesome thing? The Beatles!!!!

    Sorry if you’ve already got a post on them. Heh.

    I loooove your blog, by the way. It really is…


  22. I’m just far too tired to think of words right now. But regardless, awesome post!

    I’ll get back in my game soon…

  23. This happens with other people too? Wow. I always thought it was kinda weird, but today I realise it’s AWESOME.

  24. Pontification. I should get a “word of the day” app. I wonder if there is one. Probably does exist

  25. Penultimate- I swear, at least 3 people I know used it randomly within a few days of each other. And it’s not like it’s normally a common word! :P

  26. Read the book “What a coincidence” great book on how our mind creates these events and how you can actively pursue coincidences.

    Had a girlfriend a while back that I met because of a convoluted string of coincidences. We ended up creating a massive web showing how every event was connected. Cool stuff.

  27. I first came across ‘Pedagogy’ in “Infinite Jest” last summer, then began hanging out with teachers and professors

    1. Just seconds before I received the email saying Awesome had been updated, I overheard a conversation about Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and mentioned I had just written a 500 word “write-up” on Pedagogy. We laughed because I said I was now seeing it everywhere; then I find out it’s an Awesome Thing….brillig!

  28. Oh yeah, that is awesome. I love new vocabulary!

    Here’s a related awesome thing: when a new concept keeps popping up. Like lately I’ve been thinking a lot about patience and how it is something you develop over time, not something you are born with. And as this topic has been on my mind, I see reinforcing tidbits everywhere: in books and magazine I read, on my favorite blogs, on TV sitcoms. It’s like opening your eyes.

  29. Wow, that’s so funny. I made jello shots yesterday and kept using the word coagulate not even sure if I was using it right. I just looked it up and happily discovered that I was! And to see it in your vlog just now really proves that new words really do follow you around!

  30. “Justin Bieber” is what I learned and now can’t avoid. I’m pretty sure it’s made me dumber, though. And, I’ve started to contemplate suicide.

  31. I remember when Rush Limbaugh started using misnomer all the time. Then I started hearing it all the time. And since Rush used it wrong everone else did also. They thought it was synonymous with misconception or something. He would say stuff like “Democrats can’t help America. That is a misnomer.”

  32. Zeitgeist… I heard someone a while back describe Jon Stewart as “in tune with the zeitgeist”. Now I hear it all the time… so it seems.

  33. I have that very same thing with the word ‘shibboleth’. I’ve even started using it as my computer password. Do I need counselling?

    And ‘schadenfreude’, what’s the deal with that? And why is it all my friends seem to be taking pleasure in the discomfort it causes me.

  34. I just found you today. (Thank you postsecret!) I’ve had a rough couple of days, and now I’m all giggly! Thank you! :D

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