Stop the presses

Update: hb and Robbie P say it isn’t so.

Like a thunderbolt out of the blue, it hits me: Not so much, as in “Is Thomas Friedman a genius? Eh…not so much” is a new joke meme! See, it’s a joke that you use the English phrase indicating a reduction in degree when discussing a matter where it’s commonly assumed that there is no possibility for variations in degree, only in kind. I think that this meme has been perpetrated perhaps by Jon Stewart, where he uses it as a Jewish joke about excessive equivocation where the speaker has an obvious unequivocal opinion. I can’t remember the exact material, but it’s something like, “Do I think he’s a douchebag? Eh. ‘Perhaps’. Do I think he’s a ‘decent person’? Eh. Not so much.”

(This makes sense, too, because I’m thinking in particular of the Jon Stewart show immediately after his Crossfire appearance, which many people would have watched and remembered).

Here is the example that alerted me. The idea here is that the ugly roller mice do not appear to be ergonomic at all. It is my contention that this man, this blogger, has watched Jon Stewart and, consciously or unconsciously, picked up the “not so much” joke meme.

Further, I was myself aware of the joke meme because I have exhibited a tendency to use this joke, even though I don’t regularly watch Jon Stewart (although I did watch the post-Crossfire show). I now believe that I got it indirectly from from Hayden B., an avid Stewart viewer. I have in turn transmitted it, although perhaps in a weaker concentration, to Amy T. This indicates that “not so much” is a joke meme, rather than simply a habituated imitation of Jon Stewart, because then only the direct regular viewers would be affected. The etiology seems to be that certain primary carriers, like Hayden and perhaps the blogger, contracted the meme directly from the media source and then transmitted it to secondary carriers with a basic receptivity. The all-important stage in the proliferation is the passage of the meme to the tertiary carriers, who may have never directly witnessed a Stewart “not so much” incident.

My thesis, then, is that “Not so much” is a linguistic and humoristic meme operating at such a basic level in our language and transmitted to such a circumscribed crowd that its emergence and proliferation has passed virtually unnoticed. Until now.

Moreover, I will venture the following conjectures: 1) The overall extent of transmission will be limited by the relatively small population of people with receptivity to the humor and the insularity of the subpopulations of same. 2) The relative weakness of the infection in tertiary carriers will prevent further transmission, thus linking the continued viability of the meme to the persistence /humoristic promiscuity of the primary carriers. 3) Primary carriers are likely to be “media junkies” with high susceptibility to memes in general; thus, more recently acquired memes will tend to edge out older memes 4) Eventually, the primary carriers will forget about the “not so much” joke meme and the secondary carriers will be disappointed to find their attempts at hip humor rebuffed as “lame” 5) The meme may have reached its peak exposure and may already be in the process of recession and disappearance entirely 6) Jon Stewart’s continued media presence may have the ability to periodically resurrect the meme for short bursts of renewed activity 7) A careful linguistic epidemiological study in newspapers/magazines and on the web of 2004-2005 might reveal a pronounced spike in incongruous usages of “not so much” that would support the Jon Stewart “Not So Much” Joke Meme Hypothesis.

Am I employed yet? Eh. Not so much.