The pointless flash-mob

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 4 20:05:42 UTC 2011

I said that the connection was "non-trivial", but I did not mean to imply a
direct link. In fact Rheingold's original term "smart mob" is probably more
accurate, as modern "flash mobs" are pre-arranged and choreographed. There
is nothing spontaneous about them.

The "Flash Mob" description from the Australian site seems to be somewhat
inaccurate--I did a bit more digging and a closer reading of GB sources
suggests something different than a spontaneous revolutionary conflagration
of deported female criminals (although there was that too).

Wiki, as I mentioned, has "flash mob" both in English and Dutch--and likely
in other languages that don't insist on a calque replacing every English
expression (e.g., Russian--as opposed to French). OED has no flash-mob entry
for /any/ meaning as Joel says, AFAICT. On the other hand, the omission is
much more criminal ;-) --"flash" in the sense related to "criminals" in
general or the criminal slang is not in OED either. The sources are
plentiful--there are several hits for Australian use circa 1840-1890, but
that was derived from English/Welsh usage and there are some sprinklings in
GB that show that. But there is also a cluster of 1875-1913 "flash" and
"flash mob" references to Parisian criminals (or perhaps a broader class of
French criminals)--as Joel's Sir Gowan citation demonstrates (it's a fairly
weak example--others are much more on point). So there is continues mention
of "flash" in connection to criminals for nearly a century prior to WWI, in
diverse contexts, and a slightly shorter period identifying the respective
criminal dialect as "flash". I'll let OED people figure out the connection
to other senses of "flash".

Flash memory was original coinage for solid-state memory (as opposed to
mechanical "hard drives"). As Joel points out, OED has both "flash memory"
(1988) and "flash drive" (1992) in Additions (2010) and, I'm sure, both can
be antedated at least by a few months. I could quibble with the lemmas
too--"flash drive" is a storage device, not a "drive" (the entry for drive
n. 6.c is already indirect, sending the reader to "disk drive") and flash
memory can also be defined a bit differently. But this is really just
nitpicking--at this point, someone in a hurry will just say, "Give me the
drive!" when he wants someone else to pass him a flash/thumb/pen/keychain


On Wed, May 4, 2011 at 11:52 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:

> At 5/4/2011 08:25 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> >What possible connection is there between "flash mob" and criminal
> "flash"?
> I personally did not intend any such connection.  When I mentioned
> the criminal "flash", it was only to point out that that kind of
> "flash mob" also was not in the OED and was not to be confused with the
> modern.
> >Without real evidence, any relationship between current and 150-year-old
> >"flash mobs" must be considered coincidental.
> >
> >If "flash drives" existed in 2003 (you plug in 'em briefly and then yank
> 'em
> >out), I'd think that has a closer semantic connection.
> I assume the modern "flash" is derived rather from the sudden
> appearance and disappearance -- "in a flash".  (Which phrase, I see,
> goes back to much before Bill Wasik -- to Bacon and Milton.)
>      The OED does have "flash drive" from 1992, when "The
> Conner/Intel *flash drives are set for release".  But, to the best of
> my recollection, the initial meaning was a device that used "flash
> memory" (non-volatile), not something that was necessarily quickly
> removable.  "fFash memory" -- "Computing[:] a type of non-volatile
> memory in which data can be written or erased only in blocks (rather
> than individual bytes or words), used in storage media such as memory
> cards or USB flash drives."
>      1988    N.Y. Times 23 Mar. d6/1   A memory chip that retains
> its memory without electrical power yet remains fast and cheap...
> *Flash memories and ferroelectric memories..offer promise.
>      Although it was not soon cheap enough to replace RAM:
>      1994    What PC? Oct. 144/2   Flash memory is expensive,
> however, which is why computers don't simply use it rather than Ram.
> [This is from a draft addition July 2010; the mention of USB, from
> which devices are detachable, dates from later than these two
> quotations; that is, from c1995 (OED, s.v. "U").]
> Joel
> >Of course, the fact that I know little of flash-drive history is deeply
> >shaming to me.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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