A not-pointless flash-mob?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue May 3 21:33:44 UTC 2011

"... the operation also provided a rare burst of communal good
feeling that some celebrated with flash-mob demonstrations at ground
zero, the White House and Times Square, among other places."

Alessandra Stanley, "The TV Watch", NYTimes, today, section F.

A well-worn term, but not in the OED* and defined by Wikipedia as "a
group of people who assemble suddenly in a
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_place>public place, perform an
unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then
disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire."

One might argue about the pointedness of Sunday night's flash mobs.

* Except s.v. "reason, n.1" --
      2003    Boston Sunday Globe (Metropolitan ed.) 16 Nov.
b7/2   The 'flash mob' phenomenon, where hundreds of people
gather..and disperse quickly, seemingly without reason.

Confusable (e.g. in GBooks) with an older meaning for "flash mob", a
mob of "sporting men" (more accurately, I think, underworld
denizens).  This meaning also apparently is not in the OED as a phrase.

1)   An intriguing possible Australian antecedent?
[They] could descry a long dark line of moving objects at a
considerable distance on the plain, but whether horses, cattle, or
even a troop of emu, they were unable to make out with certainty.

"Let's back her up quietly ... She and Charley witll head them; it's
no use bustin' our horses.  This is rather a flash mob, but they'll
be all right when they're wheeled once or twice."
So a stampede, a mob that arose "in a flash"?

In The squatter's dream: a story of Australian life, by Rolf
Boldrewood.  London, Macmillan and co., etc., 1892.    [Publisher and
date from Harvard; text from GBooks.]

2)  Ambiguous?
Nice is crowded for the approaching Carnival ... The streets are
choked with a horrible flash mob. This place is a combination of
Rosherville, Margate, with a strong smack of parlickly Marseilles ...
Depends on how disreputable Rosherville and Margate were circa 1900.

In Old diaries, 1881-1901, by Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower.  London :
J. Murray, 1902.  [Publisher and date from Harvard; text from GBooks.]

3)  Modern sense seems to have arisen in 2003.  [GBooks, simple
search only for "flash-mob", quoted.  I have not looked in
newspapers.]  Or perhaps 2002, if someone knows Dutch.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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