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pareidolia, n.

Frequency (in current use): 
Origin: A borrowing from German. Etymon: German Pareidolien.
Etymology: Originally, as plural noun < German Pareidolien, plural (1863; singular Pareidolie  ) < para-  para- prefix1   + ancient Greek εἴδωλον  eidolon n.   + German -ien  -ia suffix2.
Subsequently reinterpreted as a singular noun; compare -ia suffix1.

  The perception of recognizable patterns or images, in random or vague arrangements of shapes, lines, colours, etc. Also in extended use. Sometimes used as a count noun with plural agreement.

1962   J. Hoenig & M. W. Hamilton tr. K. T. Jaspers Gen. Psychopathol. i. 65   There are three types of illusions (illusions due to inattentiveness, illusions due to affect and pareidolia [Ger. Pareidolien]).
1975   J. B. Davidoff Differences in Visual Perception v. 196   This condition is called pareidolia and has various causes, some of which are physical in origin.
1980   H. Marshall tr. C. Scharfetter Gen. Psychopathol. xi. 143   Pareidolia is seeing images in a poorly structured visual field, e.g. in old walls, clouds, wallpaper, carpets.
1992   B. L. Beyerstein in B. L. Beyerstein & D. F. Beyerstein Write Stuff ix. 194   The putative sign-trait correlations of all extant schools [of handwriting interpretation]..were derived from unvalidated free associations—pareidolia triggered by crude resemblances between script configurations and the various human attributes they supposedly indicate.
2004   Santa Fe (New Mexico) Reporter 5 May 50/3   To distinguish authentic breakthroughs from mere pareidolias, strike a balance between skepticism and open-mindedness.
2012   Daily Tel. 3 Sept. 24/2   People were convinced they had seen him [sc. Spring-heeled Jack], yet it is now roundly considered to have been the result of mass hysteria, pareidolia, sensationalist media reporting and hoaxes.

1962—2012(Hide quotations)


This is a new entry (OED Third Edition, June 2018).

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