Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

I don't claim to have a very vast vocabulary and there are tons of words I don't know. In fact, I hear words all the time and I think, "What does that mean?" I often ask my mom because she's really smart and lots of times she knows and can educate me. Other times she knows, but isn't able to articulate it (something I understand because that happens to me all the time!).

The other day I completely stumped my mom, though. I asked her what the word "doppelgänger" means. She said, "Doppelgänger?! I've never heard of such a word." Well, then I was determined to learn what it meant so that I could find out once and for all (since I've heard it many times), and to also prove to my mom that it IS in fact a real word and not something I cooked up in my head. :) I wasn't quite sure how to spell it, but I just started phonetically spelling it into Google and Google quickly guessed what I was trying to say and finished the word for me. (I love how Google does that because it's made searching so much easier when I don't really know what I'm looking for!) Anyway, this is what I found:

Doppelgänger: Someone who looks like someone else, or a ghost who looks like a living person. (Click HERE for more of the interesting origin behind the word.)

As soon as I found the definition I wasted no time in emailing it to my mom (who had already gone to bed). The next morning I said, "See, I'm not crazy; it really IS a word!" My mom told me that she had no doubt that it was a word, it just wasn't one that she was familiar with. Oftentimes when I learn a new word or become familiar with something relatively obscure I start hearing it/seeing it pop up all over the place. I told my mom, "You mark my words… you'll start hearing that word more often!"

It was only a few days later when we did hear the word doppelgänger while watching Good Morning America. I said, "I told you we would hear it!" They were sharing a story about a photographer who had done a project capturing photos of people with their doppelgängers. It was very interesting because none of the people were related, and yet they all looked so much alike. Some of them looked like they could even be twins. I thought the women in this first picture looked so much alike it was uncanny:

On Monday I heard doppelgänger again, used by Kermit the Frog of all people (or I suppose I should say "characters")! He was being interviewed on Live with Kelly and Michael about the upcoming Muppets Most Wanted movie. My mom was at the grocery store at the time, so I told Chandra to hit record on the TV so that I could show it to my mom when she got home (thank you, DVR!). My mom loves Kermit, so I couldn't wait to have her hear Kermit use the word the word "doppelgänger." She got a big kick out of it.
I knew that there had to be a word for this phenomenon of starting to hear a word/name/song all the time once you become familiar with it. I went to Google (Google… how did I ever get by without it?!) and entered "the phenomenon of starting to hear something all of the time once you become familiar with it" and I got my answer. This phenomenon is referred to as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. I read a few interesting articles on it, and this is what I found out:

Baader-Meinhof is the phenomenon where one happens upon some obscure piece of information––often an unfamiliar word or name––and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly. Most people seem to have experienced the phenomenon at least a few times in their lives, and many people encounter it with such regularity that they anticipate it upon the introduction of new information. (I know that this is true, hence the reason I said, "You mark my words, you'll hear that word again very soon" to my mom.)

An example of when the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon: Your friend told you about that obscure bluegrass-electro-punk band yesterday morning. That afternoon, you ran across one of their albums at a garage sale. Wait a minute… that’s them in that Doritos commercial, too! Coincidence or conspiracy?

The term was coined by a commenter on the St. Paul Pioneer Press online discussion board, after hearing the name of the German left-wing militant group Baader-Meinhof twice in 24 hours. The phrase became popular on the newspaper’s boards.

They say that everyone has someone out there that looks like them. I still haven't found my doppelgänger, but I think it would be pretty cool. Perhaps my doppelgänger would be found if I were famous and had an easily recognizable face. The man pictured below (on the right) looks an awful lot like President Obama, doesn't he?
Another word I've being curious about is "boondoggle." I've heard it semi-frequently lately and every I do I wonder what it means. I always fully intend on looking it up, but then forget when I'm finally on my computer. Here's another example of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon… My friend Sienna sent me an email a few weeks ago and used that word.  I thought it was pretty ironic since it's one of those mysterious words I've been meaning to look up. 

Boondoggle is one of those words that have several different meanings and can either be a noun or a verb. Here are some of boondoggle's meanings:
  • a braided leather cord worn as a decoration especially by Boy Scouts
  • to deceive or attempt to deceive
  • to do work of little value merely to keep or look busy
  • work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value
  • a project funded by the federal government out of political favoritism that is of no real value to the community or the nation
  • to do work of little or no practical value merely to keep or look busy
Now that I've mentioned two words that are new (to me) you'll have to leave me a comment if you hear either of them and experience the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon in the relatively near future!


jadell said...

That is so funny to mentioned Doppelgänger today. Just two days ago I was listening to a podcast of This American Life--which is an NPR radio show, and that day's whole show was about that word! What a funny coincidence. :)


Ronja said...

Since Doppelgänger is a german word I do hear it often, it is used just in the described meaning. I noticed that phenomen when I tried to get pregnant for the first time and saw pregnant ladies everywhere, and recently when we looked for a new car and I saw that exact modell everywhere :)

Joseph & Annette said...

Well, I just learned a lot! I had never heard either of those words or of that phenomenon, although I have experienced it! Keep educating me.

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