The word “thing” can mean so many, well, things at once that it seems almost deceptively simple. After all, those five letters are so vague but can describe literally any noun. Even so, the Oxford English Dictionary just gave the old word a new meaning.
It’s far from the most complicated word in English, but “thing” already had 38 definitions before this new addition. Those ranged from “a matter with which one is concerned” (“things have changed”) to “a love affair, a romance” (“have a thing for you”).
You probably use its newest meaning all the time, but now it’s getting some official recognition. The latest definition is “a genuine or established phenomenon or practice.” Yes, as in, “this definition is finally a thing.”
According to the dictionary, that usage first appeared in a West Wing script. In the episode “And It’s Surely to Their Credit” in 2000, Donna says: “Did you know ‘leaf peeping’ was a thing?” The phrase picked up over time, and you probably hear (or say) it every day.
Show enthusiasts have been quick to point out that The West Wing used “a thing” even earlier, like in the 1999 episode “Mr. Willis of Ohio” when Sam says “so this is gonna be a thing.” But that usage is slightly different, likely meant more as in “an issue.”
This isn’t the first word to get a new definition over time. “Woke” as an adjective is among the more than 1,200 new entries Oxford just added to its dictionaries. New words, like “unclick” and “hygge” also made the cut.
We’re just glad we have the Oxford stamp of approval to make “thing” a thing.