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Jack Smith

Do we have the right word for Mrs. Burkart's phenomenon? Well, yes--and no

May 04, 1987|JACK SMITH

My search for an elusive word in behalf of Marcia Burkart has been abundantly rewarded.

She had said that the word she wanted describes the following experience:

"Shortly after learning about a new person, place or idea, seeing the name of that person, place or idea everywhere. The name jumps out at you from magazines, books and newspapers, and you think, how could I have been so unaware of this before. . . ?"

Indeed that is a common experience, and I assumed, like Mrs. Burkart, that there must be a word for it.

Several readers have come up with words or phrases that come close.

Laurie Baccus-Crawford of Whittier suggests selective perception , which she attributes to Marshall McLuhan, who gave us "the medium is the message."

She explains: "Our perception of the world is somewhat limited by what we are familiar with; therefore, we often 'tune out' the unfamiliar. When we become familiar with a word, person, place or idea, it seems to be everywhere. Actually, it was there all along, but our selective perception kept us from paying attention to it."

Helen Amado of Chatsworth suggests apres vu , which means "seen afterwards," and is the opposite of deja vu .

Joel Bailey coins neo-cognassociation. Bailey describes his own experience of buying a 1967 Mustang, then finding that old Mustangs jumped out at him all over town.

Martin K. Zitter, Pasadena financial consultant, writes: "Your word is neoubiquitous. "

"Neoubiquitous " is also nominated by Paul Kearns of Costa Mesa.

"Heightened awareness ," suggests Deirdre A. Dooley of Santa Monica.

Superior Court Commissioner Milton L. Most suggests "omnipresent," which is ubiquitous enough, but not neo.

Isadore Nicholson of San Diego nominates "perseveration," which he found in Theodore Bernstein's Reverse Dictionary under recurrence . . . "recurrence in the mind of the same thought, experience, etc."

Dee Leif of San Clemente says, "We call it 'the 24-hour coincidence.' "

Most of those are tantalizingly close; still, they won't quite do.

More than a dozen readers, however, suggested a word which, it seems to me, may be right.

It is synchronicity , a word generally attributed to the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.

Doris Achterkirchen of North Hollywood defines synchronicity as "a meaningful coincidence of outer and inner events that are not themselves causally connected."

She adds: "I think it has evolved to mean the unexpected awareness of a word or event after one has once heard it."

Kathleen A. Dahms of Long Beach says Jung coined the word to describe "the meaningful coincidence or equivalence of a psychic and a physical state or event which have no causal relationship in one another."

Ksenia Friden of Santa Barbara writes: "The word you are looking for is synchronicity . It describes the phenomenon of having one's awareness triggered by outside events, people, headlines, et cetera, in response to an inner psychological development."

Kay Herron, a certified graphologist, thinks she has a perfect illustration of synchronicity in my recent comment (in connection with the search for this elusive word) about one of my own favorite words-- serendipity , which means the discovery of some unexpected treasure while one is looking for something else.

"Two months ago," she writes, 'I was invited to speak at the New Age Bible Center in Santa Monica on May 24. I chose as my title 'Unexpected Love--Serendipity." The caller was dubious about the word serendipity , as she said no one would know what it means. And now here we have Jack Smith writing a serendipitous column in advance of my talk, which is synchronicity in action."

Heinie Shaw of Hermosa Beach reports an example of serendipity: "As I pursued a workroom project this morning, it occurred to me that there is a homey and frequent example of serendipity: the search for a needed tool or part that is unsuccessful, but uncovers the object of last week's search."

This phenomenon causes Mrs. Shaw to describe yet another phenomenon which, like synchronicity, needs a descriptive word. "When that object was laid away, it was located in an appropriate spot, the product of elegant logic. Why then is it not possible to reproduce that logical process when the gadget is needed? This is more than failure to recall the act of putting it away; it is failure to reproduce an entire sensible thought process. There ought to be a word for this."

There probably is, since my files are a massive example of it. Let us say I want to file a magazine article by Carl Sagan on our attempts to communicate with other planets. Do I file it under planets, or universe, or science, or astronomy, or communications, or Sagan? Or something equally logical?

Whatever I decide to file it under, I can be sure that I will never be able to remember how I filed it, or even that I did file it, and it will be lost forever except when, serendipitously, I find it while looking for something else.

Kathleen Dahms, by the way, offers as her favorite word the simple word yes . "What word makes more people happy or offers more hope?"

I once suggested here that yes was the most useful and beautiful word in the language, that it opened the doors to our sweetest experiences. But I was rudely reminded by a reader that no is just as useful and critical a word, if not more so.

Perhaps, in the context of our times, it is.

But who wants to go through life just saying no?

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