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When Did "a Thing" Become a Thing?

Lots of things are things now. For example, micro braids for hair are now a thing. At a certain point in time, they transitioned from not a thing to a thing.

But when did a thing become a thing? That is: when did it become popular to describe an emerging, popular trend as "a thing"? Alexander Stern writes at the New York Times:

Speakers and writers of American English have recently taken to identifying a staggering and constantly changing array of trends, events, memes, products, lifestyle choices and phenomena of nearly every kind with a single label — a thing. In conversation, mention of a surprising fad, behavior or event is now often met with the question, “Is that actually a thing?” Or “When did that become a thing?” Or “How is that even a thing?” Calling something “a thing” is, in this sense, itself a thing.

The linguists at the University of Pennsylvania's Language Log have been able to trace the expression back to 2002:

I don't have time this morning for a serious search, but on a quick scan, the first possible example that I've found is in a web forum query from November of 2002:

What actually 'is' a flame?  is it the em radiation emitted by burning gas? Or what? Is a flame actually a 'thing'.

Anything can become a thing. But, specifically, what things would you like to see become things?

-via Ace of Spades HQ

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Paul Reiser on the 90's sitcom "Mad About You" said the expression several times during the show's run. Parenthetically, I believe he is also the person to have invented the phrase "Not so much," as in "You enjoying the picnic?" "Ehh...not so much."
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