The History of Fads


Author: Josua Burns



In my job as an English Language teacher I work with children, which is something that is as intensely rewarding as it is frustrating. For every breakthrough moment* where the child understands something that they had previously found difficult, there is another where they make you want to give up*, shave your head and find a life of peace as a Buddhist monk in Tibet.
For me personally, one of the most difficult things to deal with is ‘fads’. A fad is something that becomes wildly popular very quickly for a period of time before mysteriously disappearing forever. Among the children in my classes there are two fads at the minute, ‘the bottle flip challenge’ and ‘dabbing’.

These two fads are interrelated -for maximum approval from your peers both should be done, one following the other. The bottle flip challenge is where you have a bottle about a quarter full of water and you have to throw it so it flips in mid air, landing upright. Upon the completion of this challenge the child then ‘dabs’ where the head is lowered in a quick, jerky movement while both arms are thrust, in parallel, into the air like a strange mixture between a salute* and an electric shock.
However, dabbing can be done independently of the bottle flip as a celebration of success. This means that, at times, when everyone feels they have succeeded in something, class has to stop for a few seconds while all the children spasm. With some children the desire to dab overcomes them so frequently that they are in danger of getting a cramp in their neck or some other dabbing related injury.

Fads, however, are definitely nothing new. In fact, in the Ancient World it seems that they might have had fads just like us. It can be difficult to say for sure because fads by their nature don’t stand the test of time but, according to one source, the difference in architectural style between buildings in Rome built in different years demonstrates that fashion was a part of the society. With fashion there is always the temptation to push the boundaries* so it is probable that they did have fads. Moving through the years, there is more proof of what we would today consider ‘fads’.

In Elizabethan England there was a fad among the noble class of “melancholia” where it became fashionable to be sad. Part of this was due to the times they lived in that were full of disease and war but also being seen as sad meant you were perceived as a deeper, more intelligent individual.

In France from 1795-1799 the fads became even more ridiculous with people from the aristocracy becoming very exaggerated in their manner and their clothes. They would wear clothes modelled on the Ancient Greeks accompanied by wigs, large hats, very strong perfume and lots of jewellery. It was with the Internet, however, that fads have become more overpowering. With such easy access to the rest of the world in the last ten years there have been a huge number of fads from viral videos to ‘planking’ (lying rigid on top of things) to the mannequin challenge to the Harlem shake.

As a teacher it can be difficult to deal with fads, their juvenility* and pointlessness make them instantly annoying. There are three approaches you can take. The first is to completely ignore it -something that is quite difficult to do if the fad directly interferes with class. The second option is to ban it which only results in unhappy children and an unhappy teacher. The third is to use it. I’m willing to bet that in physics classes around the world the science behind the bottle flip challenge has been extensively studied or in my classes, if they get a question right, I sometimes let them attempt the bottle flip challenge to win points for their team.

In the end the most important thing to realise is that it’s human nature, not to take it too seriously and that, as someone on the Internet said, ‘this too shall pass and be replaced by something equally as irritating.’


Breakthrought moment: the moment of claritu or understanding
Give up: stop doing something before completion
Salute: for example, an army soldier greeting an officer
Push the boundaries: do something new or daring
Juvenility: youth or childish in a bad way

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