Alexander Stern at the The Stone (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.
It would be easy to call this a curiosity of the language and leave it at that. Linguistic trends come and go. Why has “That really gets my goat” survived for so long when we have pretty much given up “You know your onions”? One could, on the other hand, consider the use of “a thing” a symptom of an entire generation’s linguistic sloth, general inarticulateness and penchant for cutesy, empty, half-ironic formulations that create a self-satisfied barrier preventing any form of genuine engagement with the world around them.
I don’t want to do either. My assumption is that language and experience mutually influence each other. Language not only captures experience, it conditions it. It sets expectations for experience and gives shape to it as it happens. What might register as inarticulateness can reflect a different way of understanding and experiencing the world.