Archive for the ‘Illusions’ Category

The Threat Illusion

May 26, 2022

More from the annals of selective attention and confirmation bias, now in the journal Psychological Science.

The umbrella phenomenon is the Frequency Illusion: if your attention is drawn to some phenomenon, it’s likely to appear to you to be very frequent, all around you. Then in the special case of the Out-Group Illusion, in which your attention is drawn to a phenomenon associated with a group you don’t belong to (which then appears to you to be characteristic of that group and especially frequent there). Now in the even more special case of what I’ll call the Threat Illusion, in which your attention is keenly drawn to a phenomenon associated with an out-group you perceive as being threatening to you (which then appears to be not only characteristic of that group but extraordinarily frequent there).

A Frequency Illusion cartoon (under the more colorful label of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, a name based on one example of the effect, the sudden omnipresence of the Baader-Meinhof Gang’s name):


The mirror of the manatee

August 5, 2021

In today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro — Wayno’s title: “The Mammal in the Mirror” (a play on the song title “Man in the Mirror”) — a manatee primps at his vanity, yielding the vanity + manatee portmanteau vanatee, and crossing genders as well as words (masculine manatee — “Man in the Mirror”, addressing himself as handsome, bristly body — at a conventionally highly feminine item of furniture, a vanity table, for applying makeup in the bedroom):

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

I’ll start with the two contributors to the portmanteau and follow them where they lead, which is many surprising places.


A small moment of lexicographic fame

March 20, 2019

Announced yesterday on Language Log, in a piece by Ben Zimmer entitled: “Frequency illusion” in the OED. It begins:

The latest batch of updates to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary includes a term that originated right here on Language Log, in a 2005 post by Arnold Zwicky. The term is frequency illusion, first attested in Arnold’s classic post, “Just Between Dr. Language and I.” Here is the OED treatment, an addition to the main entry for frequency:

frequency illusion n. a quirk of perception whereby a phenomenon to which one is newly alert suddenly seems ubiquitous.


On the journalism watch

August 30, 2018

Two recent magazine articles of linguistic interest: from the Atlantic issue for September 2018, “Your Lying Mind” by Ben Yagoda, about cognitive biases; and in the New Yorker‘s 9/3/18 issue “The Mystery of People Who Speak Dozens of Languages: What can hyperpolyglots teach the rest of us?” (on-line title; “Maltese for Beginners” in print) by Judith Thurman.


Interview with a supremo

December 7, 2016

On the SNAP.PA site (PA is the Press Association in London) yesterday, a piece by Thomas Hornall, “After you learn a new fact it appears everywhere again and again – here’s why”, about the frequency illusion, a selective attention phenomenon closely related to confirmation bias — on which, see this Gary Larson Far Side cartoon (from the Sex Mahoney website on 12/6/11):


The curious morphology of Canada

December 28, 2014

Ann Burlingham writes from Canada to report two non-standard verb forms she found there:



And she asked: are Canadians regularizing verbs faster than USAns?

Well no, but she’s noticing the verb forms more when she’s away from home (western New York state): a version of the Local Color Illusion.