Oh gosh, my inner sociologist is coming out to play, and I think this one NEEDS to go in my Future Essays notebook!
As a pop culture reference, the words have a specific culture meaning. The only meaning they have is the meaning everyone knows (strictly speaking not true, but we’ll get to that).
As echolalia, however, the words are also my meaning.
Marshall McLuhan wrote about this idea that “the medium is the message,” and I think that this is a really important concept when it comes to autism, and specifically when it comes to autistic behavior.
There’s so much more to it than this, but simplified, let’s say that what this means is that any type of message picks up additional meaning from the medium by which it is transmitted.
The same scene captured in photo, audio, and video, is going to inherently influence the message by changing how you interact with it, and thereby how you respond to it.
Behavior is a medium. Behavior adds meaning to messages. Behavior changes how you perceive a message, and thereby how you respond to the message.
Normally this behavior is “conforming to society” - that’s what pop culture essentially is. Shared conformity. Echolalia, however, is deviance from that shared conformity. It deliberate departure from the common meaning that everyone knows. My behavior - my echolalia - changes the meaning of the message.
Therein lies the fundamental difference. A pop-culture reference is the meaning everyone knows. Echolalia is what you add to it.