Humpback Whales

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. In this batch: revealing punctuation, the color of that damned dress, and a whale that’s not a fail.

black site

“It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”

Spencer Ackerman, “The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site,’” The Guardian, February 24, 2015

The black sites run by the CIA are essentially secret prisons, “generally outside of U.S. territory and legal jurisdiction,” and “used by the U.S. government in its War on Terror.” In 2006, George W. Bush acknowledged the existence of black sites.

The “domestic” black site referred to in The Guardian article is an “off-the-books interrogation compound” run by the Chicago police department. Americans brought inside the “nondescript warehouse” are rendered unfindable by family or attorneys.


“But it’s also as if a kind of micro-punctuation has emerged: tiny marks in the smallest of spaces that suddenly tell us more about the person on the other end than the words themselves (or, at least, we think they do).”

Jessica Bennett, “When Your Punctuation Says It All (!),” The New York Times, February 27, 2015

Micro-punctuation refers to punctuation used in tiny digital spaces, such as text messages, tweets, etc., rendered even more meaningful and revealing because of the limited amount of space. For instance, a text ending with a period instead of an exclamation point might prompt the reply: “U mad bro?”

Micro-punctuation might be influenced by microexpression, a fleeting and involuntary facial expression that’s supposed to expose true thoughts and emotions. Some argue that certain microexpressions reveal when someone is lying.

Purkinje effect

“At first the dress debacle seemed like it would never be explained, but something called the Purkinje effect may help shed some light on what’s driving the difference of opinion over what color the dress is.”

Connor Sheets, “What color is this dress? The ‘Purkinje effect’ may explain white & gold vs. black & blue debate,”, February 26, 2015

The Purkinje effect basically says that in low light our eyes shift toward the blue end of the spectrum. In other words, in some light levels, the dress in question looks blue and black, and in others it looks white and gold.

The Purkinje effect is named for Czech anatomist and physiologist Jan Evangelista Purkyně.

Slurpee surf

“After months of deep freeze, Massachusetts photographer Jonathan Nimerfroh captured the chilling beauty when the ocean waves turned to slush. Nimerfroh calls the shot a ‘Slurpee surf.’”

Chuck Hickey, “Photographer captures ‘Slurpee surf’ from Massachusetts shoreline,” CW2, February 27, 2015

Slurpee surf is a nickname a Massachusetts photographer Jonathan Nimerfroh gave slushy waves he saw hitting the Nantucket shoreline. (If waves crash on a shore and they’re half-frozen, do they make a sound? No.)

While the Slurpee is the 7-Eleven brand name of a frozen fruit-flavored drink, a slushy or slushie is the generic name.

whale fall

“A whale fall is the dead body of a single, giant organism. In the darkest depths, it too hosts a thriving ecosystem.”

Deb Chachra, “Zombie Bone-Eating, Harem-Keeping Worms,” Primer Stories, February 2015

A whale fall (not to be confused with the fail whale) is “a whale carcass that has fallen to the seafloor,” and at depths of over 6,000 feet, can “create complex localized ecosystems that supply sustenance to deep-sea organisms for decades.”

Some deep-sea creatures sustained by whale falls are hagfish, which burrow “face-first into dead flesh”; sleeper sharks; and annelid worms.

[Photo via Flickr, “Humpback Whales,” CC BY 2.0 by Christopher Michel]


Adopt-a-Word Un-Birthday Sale

by Angela Tung on February 27, 2015

Happy birthday!

We say it’s our birthday! Well, sort of.

You may remember back in February 2012 when Wordnik turned one. But wait a minute, you might be thinking, hasn’t Wordnik been around longer than that? It has.

We were incorporated on Leap Day 2008, which means that technically we have a birthday only once every four years. But! technicalities, schmechnicalities, we’re celebrating this weekend anyway with an Adopt-a-Word “un-birthday” sale.

In October, we announced Wordnik’s new not-for-profit status. As part of that effort, and to help keep Wordnik ad-free, we’re offering an Adopt a Word program, in which you can “own” a word for a whole year.

For this weekend only, we’re running an un-birthday sale: adopt a word for just $29 ($29 for February 29, get it?). That’s almost half off the original price, but please note this is for a limited time only: from today, Friday, February 27 through Sunday, March 1 at midnight PST.

As for those “early adopters” who paid full price, you have our thanks and gratitude. You’ll also be getting a special “artist” certificate and indication of your special Early Adopter status on your word page(s). Membership has its privileges. :)

Since our initial roundup of adopted words, even more words have found loving homes. Bot-master and Wordnik friend Darius Kazemi very appropriately adopted bot. Blogger Felix Jung bought blog; copywriter Katie Sweeney acquired copywriter; and namer Anthony Shore snagged name.

On the grammarly front, Jan “Throw Grammar from the Train” Freeman picked up idiolect. Susan Rooks, aka the Grammar Goddess, got Grammar and Grammarian. Meanwhile, Grammar YUNiversity will be taking very good care of grammar (lower case) this year.

Some adopters got all literary, like Dr. Mardy Grothe who opted for metaphor; poem_exe who picked poem; and Edward Banatt who, after much deliberation, selected the Joycean monomyth.

Then there were the words we just liked, such as WOTY runner-up bae, a word before all else for Huy Hong. We’re not sure which we love more, fritinancy the word or Fritinancy the person. We loved being reminded of the wonderful word compersion, “the feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another; contrasted with jealousy,” when adopter Winnie Lim tweeted it on, very fittingly, Valentine’s Day.

Have we inspired you to adopt your own word? We hope so! Remember, our un-birthday $29 sale runs through this Sunday. Get your words while they’re hot!


Word Buzz Wednesday: da sao chu; hole punch cloud; jigaboo

February 25, 2015

It’s Wednesday, and that means two things: the week is halfway over and it’s time for Word Buzz Wednesday! This week: Spring Festival cleaning; a freaky cloud-formation; and a fauxpology about a racist word. da sao chu “One of the biggest Lunar New Year traditions in China — besides the red envelopes and parades — […]

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Like billy-o! Our Favorite Words of Downton Abbey, Season 5

February 23, 2015

Another season of Downton Abbey is ending, which means another batch of our favorite Downton Abbey words. The fifth season (or series, the British way) takes place in 1924. Vladimir Lenin has died, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was performed for the first time, and Calvin Coolidge was elected President of the U.S. Meanwhile, over in […]

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Word Buzz Wednesday: Beck’ed, Brownbacking, measles party

February 18, 2015

Happy Wednesday! It’s time for the latest buzzworthy words that caught our eye. This week: a Beck-worthy eponym, a new Jon Stewart-ism, and a party you definitely don’t want to go to. Beck’ed “Kanye West has been ‘BECK’ed’!” Yaron Steinbuch, “Kanye’s free NYC concert gets ‘BECK’d’,” The New York Post, February 13, 2015 To be […]

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Happy Mardi Gras! Everyone Loves Parade Words

February 17, 2015

Happy Fat Tuesday! This is your last chance before Lent to partake in revelry and debauchery — or if you don’t practice Lent, just another excuse to revel and debauch. Today’s post is more festive than depraved as we delve into nine parade words, from the disapproving — and noisy — French, to secret New […]

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The Best of Jon Stewart Words

February 12, 2015

We didn’t want to believe it but it’s true: Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show. While it’s been a while since we’ve covered the most trusted man in America for our Word Soup column, we still have vivid memories of our favorite Stewart-isms, from words in the news, to original portmanteaus, to guest-coined neologisms. […]

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