frequency illusion
n. The tendency to notice instances of a particular phenomenon once one starts to look for it, and to therefore believe erroneously that the phenomenon occurs frequently.

Example Citations:
The word issues bothers a fair number of people, including reader David Devore, who recently sent me a link to a language complaint in the Times of London — along with the warning, "watch out for escaping steam." And indeed, the Times letter writer was at the boiling point. "In the media, in the pub, at the bus stop," fulminated G.B., "no one ever refers to their 'problems'; they only have 'issues.'"

Mr. B. is a victim of the Frequency Illusion, to use the term coined by linguist Arnold Zwicky. He's listening for issues, so he hears the word often, and imagines that it's everywhere.
—Jan Freeman, "The issue with issues," The Boston Globe, June 28, 2009

Crystal does an excellent job exposing these illusions in Txtng, even if he doesn't designate them as such. And people seem to be listening. On his blog, Crystal notes that British media coverage has fairly addressed the book's six main points. The first three map precisely to the Zwickyan trifecta of illusions:

  • Text messages aren't full of abbreviations — typically less than ten percent of the words use them. [Frequency Illusion]
  • These abbreviations aren't a new language — they've been around for decades. [Recency Illusion]
  • They aren't just used by kids — adults of all ages and institutions are the leading texters these days. [Adolescent Illusion]
—Ben Zimmer via Dennis G. Jerz, "Shattering the illusions of texting," Jerz's Literacy Weblog, September 21, 2008

Earliest Citation:
Another selective attention effect...is the Frequency Illusion: once you've noticed a phenomenon, you think it happens a whole lot, even "all the time". Your estimates of frequency are likely to be skewed by your noticing nearly every occurrence that comes past you. People who are reflective about language — professional linguists, people who set themselves up as authorities on language, and ordinary people who are simply interested in language — are especially prone to the Frequency Illusion.
—Arnold Zwicky, "Just between Dr. Language and I," Language Log, August 7, 2005

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