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flash mob

noun [countable]

a large group of people who suddenly gather in a public place, do something for a short time, and quickly go away again

flash mob

verb [transitive]

flash mobbing

noun [countable/uncountable]

flash mobber also flash mobster

noun [countable]

'Watch out: flash mobs are coming to a store near you. "The bizarre phenomenon, which began in the US earlier this year, is a gathering of hundreds of strangers, organised over the Internet [and by text messaging], who then descend on a chosen location to perform pointless acts" …'

The Guardian 13th February 2003

'You have been flash mobbed. Random acts of pointlessness – this summer's latest craze – are sweeping across America and Europe.'

telegraph.co.uk 10th August 2003

'In June, flash-mobbers crowded into a Manhattan Macy's and surrounded a large oriental rug.'

South Bend Tribune 11th August 2003

The flash mob phenomenon has swept across major cities in Europe and America during the summer of 2003. The idea is that a large group of people receive a communication, usually via the Internet or email, and respond by gathering in a pre-determined location. They then briefly perform some mildly humorous act and quickly disperse, the whole thing intended to be some kind of practical joke.

the first major flash mob event took place in June 2003, when in Macy's department store in New York, around 100 people gathered around a rug in the 9th floor carpet department

The first major flash mob event took place in June 2003, when in Macy's department store in New York, around 100 people gathered around a rug in the 9th floor carpet department. Many other non-violent flashmobbing events have subsequently followed: for instance in Dortmund, a mob descended on a department store and everyone ate a banana. In San Francisco, hundreds of people danced round in circles in a childlike fashion. The first flash mob in London took place in Soho on 8th August, when more than three hundred individuals gathered inexplicably at a sofa shop.

At times the gatherings have attracted as many reporters as participants, but this substantial media coverage has accelerated use of the term. Flash mob now occurs as both a noun compound, a verb, usually in passive form as illustrated in the second quote above, and a related participle adjective flash mobbed. Flash mobbing is an uncountable noun used to refer to the general concept or process, and as a countable noun, it refers to an individual event. The terms flash mobber and flash mobster have been coined to describe the perpetrators.

Background – flash mob

Origins of the coining flash mob are thought to relate to the term flash crowd, which was the title of a 1973 science fiction short story by author Larry Niven. The story talked about the idea of instantaneous transportation to any location on earth, with the consequence that tens of thousands of people worldwide could flock to the scene of any interesting or newsworthy event. The term flash crowd is also used in Internet contexts to describe the situation where a website suddenly and unexpectedly attracts a surge of interest from large numbers of people.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 22nd August 2003.

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