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The "Frequency Illusion", introduced here in 2005, has made the big time in today's SMBC:

The aftercomic:

The mouseover title: ""I found out about 'lant' on the lovely podcast, Lexicon Valley, by the always-brilliant John McWhorter."

Arnold Zwicky's original quote (from "Just between Dr. Language and I", 8/7/2005):

Another selective attention effect, which tends to accompany the Recency Illusion, 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.

Update — By popular demand, the OED entries for lant:

lant, n.1 [not updated since 1901]:

Now rare.

Urine, esp. state uring used for various industrial purposes, chamber-lye.

1611   R. Cotgrave Dict. French & Eng. Tongues   Vrine, vrine, lant, stale, chamber-lye.
1640   H. Glapthorne Wit in Constable ii. sig. Dii   Your nose by its complexion does betray Your frequent drinking country Ale with lant in't.
a1661   W. Brereton Trav. (1844) 106   The linen do so strongly taste and smell of lant and other noisome savours, as that [etc.].

lant, v. [also not updated since 1901]

trans. To mingle with ‘lant’.

1630   Tincker of Turvey Ded. Ep. sig. A 3   I haue drunke double-lanted Ale, and single-lanted, but neuer gulp'd downe such Hypocrenean Liquor in all my life.
1662   M. W. Marriage Broaker v. i. 73   My Hostess takings will be very small, Although her lanted ale be nere so strong.
1674   J. Wright Mock-Thyestes in tr. Seneca Thyestes 134   Dead drunk with double lanted Ale.
1691   J. Ray N. Country Words in Coll. Eng. Words (ed. 2) 42   To Leint Ale, to put Urine into it to make it strong.


  1. martin schwartz said,

    May 23, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

    Oy, I see lant in Wiktionary with an Indo-European etymolgy, even.
    I noted the frequency 'illusion" when I was young; not sure it was an allusion, but that thought entails matters of synchronicity too complex to duscuss seriously. Hey, how do I start a new post on Language Log?
    Martin Schwartz

  2. Christian Weisgerber said,

    May 23, 2018 @ 4:26 pm

    That Wiktionary entry for ¹lant has to be a hoax, right? Can somebody with access to the OED check?

    [(myl) See above.]

  3. Narmitaj said,

    May 23, 2018 @ 6:21 pm

    This evening I had the Frequency Illusion (well, two hits) with an artist I can't remember hearing of before – Philip Guston, a mate of Jackson Pollock. First he showed up in a brand new BBC4 documentary series about American art by Waldemar Januszczak. Not long after it ended I turned over and caught a few moments of a hastily scheduled repeat of a 2014 BBC2 documentary about Philip Roth in honour of his death, presented by Alan Yentob, and was presented with Guston's illustrations of Roth's The Breast. I look forward to hearing more about him in the coming days!

  4. David Morris said,

    May 23, 2018 @ 7:38 pm

    I first thought that the writer was taking the piss by making up a word and definition.

    Is this the origin of the slang 'piss' for beer and the phrase 'on the piss'? I have read somewhere that the idea actually dates back to shamans eating magic mushrooms, and everyone else, well, taking the piss.

  5. bks said,

    May 23, 2018 @ 7:59 pm

    I learned the word "cunctative" yesterday, and have yet to see it in the wild.

  6. Troy S. said,

    May 23, 2018 @ 9:41 pm

    Any student of Roman history should at least be familiar with the name of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, the savior of Rome from the ravages of Hannibal. He earned his surname Cunctator for his, em, cunctative guerrilla tactics.

  7. Viseguy said,

    May 23, 2018 @ 10:27 pm

    I'll take my ale weak, thank you very much.

    I learned [a target="_blank" href=""]dord[/a] today, from Philip Gove via Herbert C. Morton's [a target="_blank href=""]The Story of Webster's Third[/a]. No sightings yet.

  8. Viseguy said,

    May 23, 2018 @ 10:29 pm

    Whoops, confused BB code with HTML. Should have been:

    I learned dord today, from Philip Gove via Herbert C. Morton's The Story of Webster's Third.

  9. Danny said,

    May 23, 2018 @ 11:06 pm

    That's actually a useful word, for us Orthodox Jews. Part of the morning service is reading the ritual of making the incense in the Temple, which includes (Talmud Bavli Keritot 6a, Artscroll translation):

    Why is Cyprus wine used? So that the onycha could be soaked in it, to make it pungent. Even though urine is more suitable for that, nevertheless they do not bring urine into the Temple out of respect.

    My prayer book (Birnbaum) is so horrified by the u-word that it just transliterates:

    Though mei raglayim might have been good for that purpose…

    Had they just known about "lant" no one would have been offended. Propriety through obscurity!

  10. martin schwartz said,

    May 23, 2018 @ 11:23 pm

    I too thought of the passage mentioned by Danny on using
    Cyprus wine instead of urine to make the incense pungent,
    and remember Birnbaum's euphemism mey raglayim 'water of the feet/legs'. By the way, the passage also has the trace of a work song of those who prepared incense: "Chop it, chop it, chop it fine…".
    A woman with whom I went to India in the late 1980s brought back some incense, and I could swear it smelled of urine.
    In my last comments I made some typos: duscuss for discuss, and
    allusion for illusion. It seems that lant is a real word, but I don't know
    about lanting beer; there seeems to be some slight testimony, but I haven't looked closely. I haven't heard lant yet. That was a funny cartoon! So how do I start a new Language Log?
    Martin Schwartz

  11. Ursa Major said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 4:54 am

    @David Morris

    The OED defines piss as "Alcoholic drink; esp. drink which is regarded as weak or unpalatable alcohol. … Sometimes (esp. in Austral. and N.Z. use): spec. beer."

    Their earliest quotation is from 1925, so presumably it's unlikely to be a reference to an obscure and probably obsolete process of adding urine to beer (latest quotation for lant (v.) is 1787). Their "weak or unpalatable" definition surely reveals the etymology as well.

  12. richardelguru said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 5:55 am

    'I learned the word "cunctative" yesterday, and have yet to see it in the wild.'

    It's just taking its time to appear.

    BTE OT, but cartoony:

  13. richardelguru said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 5:58 am

    That worked REALLY well on several fronts:

    BTW OT, but cartoony

  14. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 6:38 am

    Yesterday I did see something on Facebook about an attempts to treat an eye infection with aged urine (*shudder*), not using the word lant. A friend had posted it on May 21.

  15. Ralph Hickok said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 7:05 am

    @Jerry Friedman:
    There's a branch of alternative medicine called "urine therapy," which seems to have a long history:

  16. Frédéric Grosshans said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 8:41 am

    I notice this frequency effect regularly since I’m reading the Language Log regularly. It leads me to notice aspects of my own language (French) which I could swear were totally inexistent not so long ago. For example, I was really sceptical about some merging of the French nasals discussed in the comments recently, thinking “no one speaks like that !”, but I have now started to notice people “speaking like that”. More interestingly, I now sometimes wonder more about how people speak than what they say, and notice evolution of French, even some which do not seem directly related to Language Log‘s post (“liaisons” becoming universal plural markers, even when they “”shouldn’t” be here, apparition of invariable verbs in some informal contexts). So all that is maybe just a different effect, a “linguistic exposure effect”

  17. tbell1 said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 9:38 am

    I always enjoy the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon

  18. jpiitula said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 9:50 am

    Frédéric, they might have just started to speak like that when they read about it in Language Log. It's called the Language Log effect.

    Yesterday I happened to see (on another forum) that someone used "semicola" as the plural of "semicolon". How can I resist it if I ever need to talk about semicola again?

  19. ajay said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 10:05 am

    Pedants must immediately begin asserting (just as they do with "data" and "dice") that "Coca-Cola" is only the plural form and the singular, Coca-Colon, should properly be used.

  20. RP said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 10:42 am

    The interesting thing is, regarding the noun's OED definition, "urine, esp. state urine used for various industrial purposes" – I wouldn't really have associated the phrase "industrial purposes" with the production of alcohol (even though food and drink production certainly is industrial, and now much more so than in the 17th century) – but at least one of the citations clearly involves lant being added to beer.

    More interesting still, the verb's definition in the OED ("To mingle with ‘lant’") doesn't sound like it has anything specifically to do with drinks (unlike the Wiktionary definition) and yet all four citations show it being used in that way.

  21. Ben Zimmer said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 2:23 pm

    The Zwickyan illusions of Frequency and Recency previously hit the big time in discussions of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

  22. the Viking Diva said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 2:30 pm

    It's working on me… maybe 'lant' includes coffee too?

  23. RP said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 2:45 pm

    It's interesting that, in the page linked to by Ben Zimmer, "Baader-Meinhof" is stated to be "pronounced badder mainhoff". That's certainly not how it's pronounced in German, nor is it how I'd pronounce it when speaking English (but perhaps I'm unusual in that respect?). Oxford Dictionaries gives /ˌbɑːdəˈmʌɪnhɒf/, which is how I'd say it, and the only way I can remember hearing it.

  24. CuConnacht said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 5:22 pm

    Stale urine develops ammonia. It wouldn't make ale strong, in the sense of more potent/alcoholic, but it might make it taste stronger.

    I believe it used to be used for cleaning new wool.

  25. Stephen Goranson said,

    May 25, 2018 @ 3:34 am

    I mentioned lant in my review of Qumran Revisited in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research:
    "Stacey suggests that lant (stale urine) might have been used at Qumran in processing wool and compares a 'scroll jar' and a lant jar from Yorkshire circa 1900 (p. 56). For someone who scolded de Vaux for using the word 'scriptorium,' a term that had been used in earlier contexts (e.g., Gardiner 1938: 175), that is far afield to go for a comparandum."

  26. F said,

    May 25, 2018 @ 4:47 am

    I do like the misprint "state urine". Conjures up all sorts of unsavoury images.

  27. Thomas Rees said,

    May 25, 2018 @ 5:26 pm

    I have the impression that the phenomenon is pronounced /bædɹˈmeɪnhɒf/ in (US) English, whilst the Rote Armee Fraktion remains /ˌbɑːdəˈmʌɪnhɒf/.

  28. RP said,

    May 25, 2018 @ 7:46 pm

    It didn't really occur to me that the phenomenon and the organisation would be pronounced differently. Given that the phenomenon was apparently named after the organisation, it's not obvious why this should be so. One must assume the phenomenon was popularised by people who were unaware of the established or orthodox pronunciation of the thing it was named after. Presumably, the phenomenon did not operate to its fullest extent in these people's case, as the frequency with which they subsequently heard the term spoken was insufficient.

  29. David Marjanović said,

    May 26, 2018 @ 8:40 am

    Also, English does have -hofe as in Inhofe, so there's no phonological reason for using LOT instead of GOAT in -hof, German [hoːf].

  30. Thomas Rees said,

    May 26, 2018 @ 2:56 pm

    @David Marjanović:
    You’re right, of course. It’s /ˈbaːdər ˈmainhoːf/. I shouldn’t have copy-and-pasted.

  31. RP said,

    May 27, 2018 @ 6:00 am

    I copy-and-pasted Oxford Dictionaries' transcription of the English pronunciation. I didn't mean that this was identical to the native German pronunciation.
    Judging from the statement in the article quoted ("pronounced badder mainhoff"), both English pronunciations are with "hoff" (LOT) for whatever reason.

  32. CGHill said,

    May 27, 2018 @ 6:58 pm

    "Thank you for all those cards and letters,
    You folks out there in Television Lant."

    (The Lemon Sisters, in Stan Freberg's "Wun'erful, Wun'erful!")

  33. Are you prone to the frequency illusion? | Kate's Crate said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 12:09 am

    […] a more humorous take on the frequency illusion, check out this recent post from the same […]

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