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Did You Know This Was 'A Thing?'

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Joel Kramer, flickr Creative Commons
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Since when was “a thing,” you know, a thing?

The phrase “a thing” has recently come to mean something not just real but relevant to the lives of certain people—probably not us. It is usually uttered at the discovery of this new, well, thing. This usage is not just another form of shorthand. It’s also an indication of how little we actually know about other people’s lives.

“Who even knew that was a thing?” people might ask about everything from Bronies to balloon porn. And while we may discover these things through various online media, to attribute “a thing” to the Internet isn’t quite right. We’re just as likely to run across such exotica in long-form radio reporting or on the millions of cable channels that glut the dial.

The surprise that gives rise to “a thing” may come from how easy it is to fall into only paying attention to what interests us. After all, in a nation of 300 million on a planet of 6 billion, we should probably not be surprised at the panoply of human quirks.

Our solipsism may be a side-effect of our ignorance, but that we still marvel that the unexpected is “even a thing” also points to how ignorance of others actually flows from our expectation of conformity to the mundane.