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Inception Inception

by on 18 December 2014
in
with some comments, maybe.

I just—noticed is the wrong word—registered something today: the word ‘inception’ has acquired another meaning. Take that, prescriptivists.

I was reading an otherwise-irrelevant paper, titled “QR Inception”1, about how it’s possible to embed different kinds of barcodes in each other. The title refers to the film Inception, which, for the three people who haven’t seen it, is a film involving the construction of several layers of dreams within dreams.

The title of the film actually refers to the end goal of this elaborate construction, specifically the implantation of an idea in the dreamer’s head, a process called “inception” in the world of the film. This isn’t far off from the traditional meaning, “an act, process, or instance of beginning.” However, the most memorable part of the film is the nested pile of dreams.

As a result, you’ll often hear a construction involving some number of nested <thing> referred to as “<thing>ception” or “<thing> inception” (as in the previously-mentioned paper). So after four-and-a-half years—a long time, for a meme—it occurred to me that I really have a hard time thinking of it as a film reference at this point. It’s just another use of the word. I don’t have to think, “oh, the film Inception” anymore to get the meaning. The first usage is even pervasive enough that Wiktionary has an entry for it, dating from March of this year. This might not be significant; I don’t know if deletionist culture is as strong on Wiktionary as it is in Wikipedia.

You might be rolling your eyes right now, thinking, “duh, every Internet-savvy porpoise knows this,” but step back a moment and think about it. Initially, it was clearly a reference. Then it was a meme. Now it’s getting to the point where it is just another meaning of the word. A film and an Internet meme changed a word dating back to the 15th century2. How cool is that?

  1. a Dabrowski, Adrian, Katharina Krombholz, Johanna Ullrich, and Edgar R. Weippl. “QR Inception: Barcode-in-Barcode Attacks.” SPSM ’14 3-10. doi:10.1145/2666620.2666624.
  2. a According to Merriam-Webster’s, it was first used as a (Middle) English word in the 1400s. It’s actually imported from Latin, so really it’s even older.
Creative Commons License Inception Inception by Jonathan David Page is licensed under a CC-by-sa 4.0 International License .