Word Buzz Wednesday: defeat device, kaiten-zushi, stralimitata

Tokyo-Kaiten sushi, Japan (2010)

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: a cheating apparatus, brewery-inspired sushi, and papal exuberance.

Burning Mouth Syndrome

“The symptoms of Burning Mouth Syndrome are pretty much summed up by the name. The cause is still a mystery. So is the fact that the syndrome stops whenever you fall asleep.”

Esther Inglis-Arkell, “Burning Mouth Syndrome Is Real, But We Don’t Know Why,” io9, September 28, 2015

Burning Mouth Syndrome, not to be confused with Burning Man Syndrome (which, by the way, does not involve getting naked and making art in the desert), is a condition in which “your nerves turn against you,” says io9, “insisting that something painful is happening to you, even when nothing’s wrong.” As a result, sufferers feel a burning pain in the lips, tongue, and gums — sometimes for years — and only get a respite during sleep. Some patients also experience a metallic taste and a “crawling sensation” in the mouth (eek!).

Burning Mouth Syndrome is often treated with antidepressants and antianxiety medication with the aim of reducing nerve activity.

defeat device

The company admitted that it had programmed 11 million of its diesel cars…to cheat on their emissions tests, using something called a ‘defeat device.’”

Kevin Roose, “The Volkswagen ‘Dieselgate’ scandal is a new low in corporate malfeasance,” Fusion, September 23, 2015

Last week it was piggate, this week it’s the much more serious Dieselgate. In this latest scandal, Volkswagen used a defeat device to reprogram their diesel vehicles’ software to allow them to pass nitrogen oxide emissions tests by temporarily switching them into “low-emission mode.” After the tests, says Fusion, the cars went back to “pumping out up to 40 times as many pollutants as the law allowed, while appearing to stay under the legal limit.”

Why? Cost, fuel efficiency, and driving performance, says Green Car Reports. Diesels are apparently cheaper to build than gas hybrid-electric vehicles. Moreover, hybrids and electric cars are sometimes thought to be “slow, unpleasant to drive, and strange-looking.”

The term defeat device originated in the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1963 Clean Air Act.


“Introduced in the late 1950s, ‘kaiten-zushi’ restaurants feature a revolving belt with small plates of sushi. Diners can grab whatever passes them and looks appetizing; the bill is tallied by the number of stacked, empty plates (often color-coded to represent different prices).”

Dan Frommer, “A Japanese sushi chain is getting rid of its conveyer belts,” Quartz, September 27, 2015

Kaiten translates from Japanese as revolving or rotating, and zushi means, well, sushi. The kaiten-zushi system was developed by Yoshiaki Shiraishi, a former sushi chef who was inspired by “beer bottles on conveyor belts at a brewery.”


“The source of the odor was the chickens that men wearing aprons and shower caps were slaughtering by the dozen under bare bulbs on a makeshift stage taking up 50 feet of sidewalk for the ritual offering of kapparot.”

Nathan Tempey, “Activists & Hasidic Jews Face Off At Ritual Chicken Slaughter,” Gothamist, September 22, 2015

Kapparot, also spelled kaparot, is a custom practiced by some Jews before Yom Kippur. In the custom, says the Jewish Virtual Library, “the sins of a person are symbolically transferred to a fowl,” which is “held above the person’s head and swung in a circle three times” as the person recites a prayer. The hen or rooster is then handed off “to have its throat slit as a reminder that death could be nigh and he should repent,” says Gothamist.

In New York recently, animal activists clashed with Hasidic Jews over the ritual.


“He struggled for a moment to find the right word to capture his stop in New York. According to the Associated Press, he just ended up inventing a new one: stralimitata.”

Jaime Fuller, “Pope Francis Forced to Invent New Word to Describe His Trip to New York,” New York Magazine, September 28, 2015

Stralimitata translates from Italian as something like “beyond all limits.” The New York Times chose to eschew this papal neologism and provide their own far less exuberant translation, “a bit exuberant.”

A brief history of lavatory language

Winter Outhouse

Thomas Crapper, born on this day in 1836, is often credited with the invention of  the flush toilet. However, according to Nick Valéry at More Intelligent Life, that honor officially belongs to Alexander Cummings, a watchmaker “who was granted the first patent for a flush toilet in 1775,” more than 60 years before Crapper was born.

While, as Snopes says, Crapper “didn’t have much to do” with the development of flush toilets (and the nickname crapper may come from his name emblazoned on his plumbing products, or it may simply come from the word crap), he certainly popularized them, which is a good enough excuse for us to explore a brief history of toilet language.

Privy is a very old word for what we’d call the bathroom, with it earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) from 1225. The word privy comes from the Old French privé, “intimate friendly; a private place.”

No matter how friendly, privies were often outside, and so chamber pots were used instead. A chamber pot was sometimes referred to as a potty, which we now use to refer to a child’s “training” toilet or as a childish way of saying you gotta go.

By 1579, we had gained the euphemism little house, which referred to “a room or building used as a toilet,” says the OED, especially “one without plumbing or situated outside.” Outhouse, mainly used in American English, is from about 1819.

By the early 18th-century, sailors were using head to refer to the latrine, which was located in the bow, or head, of the ship. John came later, possibly around 1735, when in a Harvard University publication, the men’s room is referred to as cuzjohn, short for “cousin john.”

Why cousin? Perhaps because it’s a term of familiarity and intimacy. Why john? There’s some speculation that john comes from Sir John Harington, who designed a flush toilet for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth, although the Online Etymology Dictionary says john is simply an alteration of another toilet term, jakes. Why jakes? The OED suggests (unsatisfyingly) that jakes comes from the proper name.

Water closet, or W.C., is from 1736 while earth closet, a lavatory in which dirt or earth used to cover excrement, is from 1863. Slang for earth closet is dunny, which might come from the Australian convict cant term, dunnekin, or cesspit.

Some lavatory lexicon originated with different meanings, such as, well, lavatory. Originating in the 14th century, the word first meant “a vessel for washing,” says the OED. By 1656, it referred to a place for washing, and finally by the 20th century, the meaning we use today.

The bathroom began in 1780 as a place for bathing and became a polite way to refer to the lavatory in early 20th-century America, which apparently “confused British travelers,” so says the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Ladies’ room (1825) began as a shortening of ladies’ cloakroom while restroom (1856), says the OED, was a place for “rest and relaxation,” especially in a “public building or workplace.” It’s unclear when these terms came to mean lavatory although we’d venture a guess it was the early half the 20th century.

Women’s room is from 1918 while men’s room is slightly later, from 1929. The euphemisms little boys’ room and little girls’ room are from the 1930s. The OED’s earliest citation for little girls’ room is from John O’Hara’s novel, Butterfield 8:

The women’s toilet (as distinguished from the ladies’ room in a speakeasy, the johnny at school, the little girls’ room at a party in an apartment, and the wash-my-hands on a train) was clean enough.

There are a couple of theories about the origins of the British English loo, which is from about 1922. One is that it comes from a French term picked up by British soldiers during World War I, lieux d’aisances, which translates as “place of ease.” Another says it’s a pun on Waterloo, which is “based on water closet.” (For even more on loo, check out this great post from Anatoly Liberman.)

Throne arose around the same time as loo. The OED’s earliest citation of throne meaning toilet is from James Joyce’s Ulysses: “With beaded mitre and with crozier, stalled upon his throne, widower of a widowed see, with upstiffed omophorion, with clotted hinderparts.”

The dainty U.S. moniker powder room came about in the late 1920s. While it might seem logical that this sense would originate from the earlier British English meaning of a room where one would have one’s wigs powdered, a gap of 139 years and the Atlantic Ocean makes a direct connection seem doubtful.

Honeypot is 1940s military slang for a makeshift toilet. Another honey word for this not-so-sweet business is honey bucket, North American slang used especially in Canada and Alaska. Also used in Alaska is nushnik, which comes from the Russian nužnik, “latrine, toilet.”

Another U.S. regional term is biffy, which the American Heritage says is from the Upper Midwest but also, at least according to some of our pals on Twitter, used in parts of Ontario, Canada. Biffy might be an alteration of privy, or else, as word taster James Harbeck says, it could come from bivouac, a temporary encampment, by way of bivvy.

Netty, which is from North East England, might be short for the Italian gabbinetti, toilets, or, more likely, an alteration of “necessary.” A necessarium once referred to a privy in a monastery and is now is humorous way to refer to the toilet. Commode comes from the French word for “convenient,” while the far less elegant can might be short for piss-can.

Thunderbox, a portable commode, is presumably named for the sounds that might emanate from there. Khazi might come from the Italian casa, “house,” by way of the Cockney carsey or karzy. Cludgie, also kludgie, is Scots and might be a blend of closet and lodge. Finally, kybo, a Scouting term for an outhouse, is an acronym that stands for either Keep Your Bowels Open or Keep Your Bowels Operating.

Have any other lavatory language to share? Add them to this list!

Word Buzz Wednesday: flow theory, piggate, Slamboni

Hinds' Radical Corn remover. Sure to remedy the corn, root and branch. (front)

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: flow’s up, dude; yet another -gate; and if a Zamboni and Dalek had a thirsty baby.

flow theory

“Rogers developed Ocean Therapy with psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory in mind.”

Matt Skenazy, “Can Surfing Reprogram the Veteran’s Brain?” Outside, September 15, 2015

In psychology, flow refers to a “heightened state of consciousness,” while flow theory is the idea that “the physical exertion and intense focus required to surf” can produce a flow state, which floods the brain with “neurochemicals like anandamide and serotonin, the same substances found in antidepressants,” and alters the balance of “epinephrine and dopamine to the levels achieved during meditation.”


Guevedoces are also sometimes called ‘machihembras’ meaning ‘first a woman, then a man’.”

Michael Mosely, “Growing a penis at 12: the ‘Guevedoce’ boys of the Dominican Republic,” The Telegraph, September 20, 2015

Guevedoce translates from Spanish as “penis at twelve,” and refers to children in the remote Dominican Republic village of Salinas who are born resembling females but at puberty develop a penis and testicles. Occurring in one in 90 boys, Guevedoce is caused by an enzyme deficiency and is thought to have been allowed to persist through generations due to the villagers’ isolation.


“#Piggate was trending on social media Monday after the Daily Mail published a bizarre claim that British Prime Minister David Cameron put ‘a private part of his anatomy’ into a dead pig’s mouth during a student initiation ceremony at the University of Oxford.”

Jane Onyanga-Omara, “Twitter lampoons David Cameron over #piggate claim,” USA Today, September 21, 2015

Piggate joins a long line of -gate compounds that refer to something scandalous or controversial. Another recent -gate is Deflategate (also known as Ballghazi), in which Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were accused of deflating footballs in an attempt to improve grip. In 2007, the Patriots were embroiled in another cheating scandal dubbed Spygate, in which a video assistant was caught “illegally videotaping Jets coaches’ defensive signal.”

Piggate is eerily similar to an episode of the British series, Black Mirror, in which a fictional prime minister is forced to perform porcine fornication on live television in order to save a kidnapped princess.

rose gold

“Christina Warren, writing at Mashable, wondered whether Apple had opted for the appellation of ‘rose gold’ as a way to avoid using the overtly girly ‘p’ word. ‘I’m just going to say it: it’s pink,’ she wrote.’”

Rebecca Mead, “The Semiotics of ‘Rose Gold,’” The New Yorker, September 14, 2015

In jewelry making, says The New Yorker, rose gold refers to “an alloy of gold to which copper has been added,” and while the phone is new, the color has been around for a while. Since 1708 to be exact, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary.


“When the ‘Slambonis’ first debuted, it was estimated that using them saved about 10 minutes of play for each interrupted game.”

Michelle Young, “Cities 101: The US Open Tennis Court ‘Slamboni’ Crew Dry Up Courts After Rain,” Untapped Cities, September 10, 2015

The Slamboni, a blend of the slam of Grand Slam and Zamboni, is a machine designed to (sloooowly) vacuum up excess water from tennis courts. The term has been in use since at least 2004, according to Barry Popik. The Zamboni, which resurfaces ice in an ice rink, is named for its inventor, Frank J. Zamboni.

Word Buzz Wednesday: fetal microchimerism, Frankenvirus, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: a fetus after my own heart; a monster of a virus; and a troellau tafod of a Welsh town name.

compulsive decluttering

“Unlike hoarding, which was officially reclassified as a disorder in 2013, compulsive decluttering doesn’t appear as its own entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM); instead, it’s typically considered a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

Leslie Garrett, “The Opposite of Hoarding,” The Atlantic, September 7, 2015

Compulsive decluttering, as the title of the article says, is the opposite of hoarding and more than just “tidying up.”

Some of those afflicted go as far as to “eschew lamps” and live in “semi-darkness.” One psychologist describes her patients as “jittery and irritable,” and “not comfortable until everything in [her office] is in order.” Some patients say that “if they see things that should be thrown out” they experience a “tightness in their chest,” alleviated only “by getting rid of the offending objects.”

It’s suggested that the affliction often goes undiagnosed due at least in part to the recent rise of the decluttering movement.

fetal microchimerism

Fetal microchimerism has been found in a number of mammal species, including dogs, mice and cows. It’s likely that fetal cells have been a part of maternal life for tens of millions of years.”

Carl Zimmer, “A Pregnancy Souvenir: Cells That Are Not Your Own,” The New York Times, September 10, 2015

Discovered in the 1990s, fetal microchimerism refers to when fetal cells “escape from the uterus and spread through a mother’s body.” Scientists named the phenomenon after the chimera, a fire-breathing lion-goat-dragon combo-monster from Greek myth.

So what happens to these fetal cells? While some eventually disappear, some travel to the heart and become heart tissue. Others end up in the brain. Recent studies have found that microchimerism affects women’s health one way or another, either driving cancer (fetal cells are often found in tumors) or protecting women from the disease.

(H/t Edward Banatt.)


“The virus is called Mollivirus sibericum, which means soft Siberian virus, but lay observers have quickly dubbed it ‘Frankenvirus’.”

Marcus Strom, “Prehistoric ‘Frankenvirus’ Mollivirus sibericum uncovered in Siberian permafrost,” The Sydney Morning Herald, September 9, 2015

This giant virus, which had “lain frozen under the Siberian tundra for 30,000 years,” was recently revived by scientists. Mollivirus sibericum is a “monster” compared to other viruses: it has 523 genetic proteins as opposed to the flu virus’s paltry 11.

However, unlike the flu virus, the Frankenvirus isn’t harmful to humans or animals, although the fact that it could be “easily revived from prehistoric permafrost should be of concern in [the] context of global warming,” scientists say.

The prefix Franken- comes from Frankenstein, synonymous with Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, a kind of golem made up of different body parts. While Frankenvirus uses Franken- to suggest bigness, the prefix is often used to imply a mishmash of unlike elements. For example, Frankenfood refers to genetically modified food; frankenword, a blend or portmanteau; and Frankenstorm, otherwise known as Hurricane or Superstorm Sandy, a devastating “winter storm hybrid.”

Homo naledi

“That gap was all that separated them from the bones of a new species of ancient human, or hominin, which the team named Homo naledi after a local word for ‘star.’”

Ed Yong, “6 Tiny Cavers, 15 Odd Skeletons, and 1 Amazing New Species of Ancient Human,” The Atlantic, September 10, 2015

Homo naledi is “a creature with a baffling mosaic of features,” says science writer Ed Yong. Some of these features are “remarkably similar to modern humans” while others are more like those of apes.

What’s astonishing about this recent find is the magnitude: about 1,550 fossil fragments belonging to at least 15 skeletons. Finding one complete skeleton of a new human species “would be hitting the paleoanthropological jackpot,” while finding 15 of is the equivalent of “nuking the jackpot from orbit.”

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgoger ychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Wales was recently one of the warmest places in the U.K. but the presenter for Channel 4 News executed the pronunciation of the tongue-twister town like a boss.”

Jessica Durando, “Weatherman pronounces tongue-twister U.K. town,” USA Today, September 10, 2015

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a town on the Welsh island of Anglesey, was once known as the shorter Llanfairpwllgwyngyll but, according to travel maven Rick Steves, was lengthened as a joke in the 1880s in an attempt to attract tourists. The name translates as “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the red cave.”

While Llanfair PG, as it’s often shortened, is the longest town name in Europe, says Steves, it’s not the longest in the world. That honor belongs to a town in Thailand: Krungthepmahanakornamornratanakosinmahintarayutthayamahadilokphopnop- paratrajathaniburiromudomrajaniwesmahasatharnamornphimarnavatarnsathitsakkattiyavisanukamprasit.

Finally, don’t forget about our Kickstarter campaign! Won’t you help us find a million missing words?

Kicking off our Kickstarter: Let the word hunt begin!


As you may know, Wordnik became a not-for-profit last year, and shortly afterwards, we launched our Adopt a Word program. Today we’re excited to announce we’re expanding our efforts through our Kickstarter campaign, Let’s Add a Million Missing Words to the Dictionary.

You’ve probably noticed that many words, especially neologisms, technical terms, jargon, and slang, are still missing from most standard dictionaries, and that it takes a long time for new words to be added. While Oxford’s online dictionary is updated regularly, the more traditional Oxford English Dictionary is another story. For instance, twerk, which Miley Cyrus popularized in in 2013, dates all the back to 1820 but was only added to the OED this past June.

In fact, a 2010 study published in the journal Science estimated that as much as 52% of the unique words of English are missing from major dictionaries!

Wordnik is different. We think every word should be lookupable. We believe that users of English are the best judges as to whether any particular word belongs in their vocabulary, and that examples of real use by real people are the best evidence to drive those decisions.

With this Kickstarter, we hope to give each and every one of these missing words a good home on the Internet.

How? First, we’ll find the words! We have lists of hundreds of thousands of words that have been looked up on Wordnik that we don’t have good data for. We’ll start with those.

Next, instead of taking a long time to write definitions for these words, we’ll look for definitions that have already been written — not in dictionaries, but by journalists and writers who found a cool word, and wanted to explain it to their readers. We call these “free-range-definition examples” (FRDs, or “Freds”).

Here’s a good example of a FRD, for the word echoborg, from a recent article in the BBC: “Sophia is an ‘echoborg’ – a living, breathing person who has temporarily given themselves over to become a robot’s mouthpiece.”

We already have thousands of these FRDs labeled and can use them as a training set to drive machine learning to find many, many more.

We’ll also update Wordnik so that any time a word is looked up that we’ve never seen before, we’ll kick off a search to find more data about it. We won’t limit ourselves to words that are more frequent than one-in-a-billion, either. If a word exists at all, we’ll show you what we can!

Of course all of this takes time, people-power, and your help. And there are so many ways you can do so!

  • RANDOM BACKER: For one measly greenback, you can be a random word adopter. We’ll add your name to a “random sponsor” list that will display one random sponsor’s name every time someone clicks the “Random Word” link at Wordnik.com. We’ll also choose one random backer to receive all the other under-$500 rewards!
  • WE ❤️ STICKERS BACKER: At $10, we’ll send you a complete set of Wordnik stickers, plus a sticker conferring membership in the Semicolon Appreciation Society. We’ll also add a “Backer” badge to your Wordnik profile page.
  • ADOPT A WORD:  For $25, we’ll list you as the proud adopter of your word for a year, and send you a full set of Wordnik stickers, plus special word adoption stickers and a downloadable commemorative adoption certificate. We’ll tweet about your adoption to Wordnik’s wordy followers, and we’ll also add an “Adopter” badge to your Wordnik profile page. Words are first-come, first-served, so back early!
  • YOU DESERVE A MEDAL!: Seriously. For helping Wordnik and adopting a word, backers at the $45 level will get an honest-to-goodness backer medal, plus all the Adopt a Word rewards!
  • OOH, POSTER: For $75, we’ll send you an 18×24 poster featuring a selection of the new words added to Wordnik! What will it look like? We don’t know! But we’ll be sending regular updates to backers at this level to get your input on the design! (Extra $15 shipping for international backers) [Limited reward: only 500]
  • NOMINATE A WORD: Want to suggest a specific missing word? At the $100 level, we’ll add your candidate to our research list and update it (data permitting) in the first batch. You’ll also be able to record the audio pronunciation for your word! Of course, you’ll also get all the $25-level adopter perks, and your Wordnik user page will show a “Nominator” badge! [Limited reward: only 1000]
  • WORDSMITH: For $250, not only can you suggest a specific missing word and record the audio pronunciation, we’ll also include the example sentence of your choice and link to its source. (Great for writers!) And we’ll make your word one of our words of the day for 2016, through the Wordnik site, our email list, and Twitter. You’ll also be the adopter of record for your word for TWO years, and get the full set of $25 adopter perks. (Your Wordnik user badge will read “Wordsmith”.) [Limited reward: only 45]
  • WORD-OF-THE-DAY TAKEOVER! At the $1000 level, you choose our words of the day for a whole week. Yep, choose any seven words you want (with the examples of your choice!), and we’ll send them out to thousands of word-hungry recipients! {Limited reward: only 12]
  • FOREVER ADOPTION: For $5000, adopt the word of your choice … FOREVER. We’re only making ten slots available! Obviously you’ll get all the other adoption perks, and your Wordnik user badge will read “Patron”. [Limited reward: only 10]
  • NEOLOGISM FOR YOU: Looking for a word that just doesn’t exist? At the $7500 level, we will create one for you to your specifications! Obviously you’ll get all the other adoption perks, and your Wordnik user badge will read “Neologist”. [Limited reward: only 5]
  • SPONSOR A LETTER: For $10,000, your name will appear on every word beginning with the letter you sponsor! Letters will be first-come, first-served. (The letter S has already been sponsored.) [Limited reward: only 25]

To learn more, check out our Kickstarter page and video starring our fearless founder Erin McKean. We hope you join us in helping to find those million missing words.

Word Buzz Wednesday: Denali, gadget allergy, superhenge

Mt. McKinley

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: go tell it on Denali; allergic to tech; Stonehenge on steroids.

Cambrian explosion

“But ‘from the human point of view,’ The Economist notes, ‘the significance of the Cambrian explosion is that homo sapiens wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t happened.’”

What caused the Cambrian explosion, ‘biology’s Big Bang’? The Economist explores,” The Week, August 28, 2015

The Cambrian explosion is essentially “biology’s Big Bang,” says Andrew Parker, a life science professor at London’s Natural History Museum. While no one knows why it happened, a few theories include: a sharp increase in water oxygen levels, new nutrients due to melting glaciers, and — the old evolutionary standby — a “catastrophic explosion.”

As for the name Cambrian, that comes from the Cambrian period, the “first geological period of the Paleozoic Era.” Cambria is the Latin name for Wales — which is “where Britain’s Cambrian rocks are best exposed” — and an alteration of Cumbria, which is itself an alternation of the Welsh Cymry.


“Alaska’s Mount McKinley was due to become Denali, its traditional name, used by locals and indigenous people, according to a news release from the White House.”

Julia Glum, “What Does Denali Mean? Mount McKinley’s New Name Traditionally Defined As ‘The High One’,” International Business Times, August 31, 2015

Denali is the traditional name for Mount McKinley and translates from Koyukon, the language of the Athabascan people of northern Alaska, as “the high one” or “the great one.”

North America’s highest mountain was named Mount McKinley in 1896 in honor of William McKinley who had been nominated for president, says IBI Times. In 1980, the name was officially changed to Denali, but only now will it be officially officially changed.

gadget allergy

“A French woman has won a court-ordered disability grant after claiming to suffer from a ‘gadget allergy’ due to electromagnetic radiation.”

Michael Rundle, “‘Gadget allergy’ disability recognised in French court,” WIRED, August 28, 2015

The woman in question claims to suffer from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity, symptoms of which include “headaches, nausea, tiredness and ‘tingling’ sensations when exposed to electromagnetic radiation from cellphones, WiFi or even just batteries” — anything that gives off electromagnetic radiation. Studies haven’t shown a link between this type of radiation and health problems.


“The recumbent stones became lost beneath a huge bank and were incorporated as a somewhat clumsy linear southern border to the otherwise circular ‘superhenge’ known as Durrington Walls.”

Iam Sample, “‘Archaeology on steroids': huge ritual arena discovered near Stonehenge,” The Guardian, September 6, 2015

Superhenge refers to Durrington Walls, a “massive stone monument” recently discovered close to Stonehenge. Superhenge might be “the largest surviving stone monument, preserved underneath a bank, that has ever been discovered in Britain and possibly in Europe.”

temporal myopia

Temporal myopia may be largely due to [procrastinators’] high levels of stress which can shift their focus to more immediate rather than distant concerns.”

Shirley S. Wang, “To Stop Procrastinating, Start by Understanding the Emotions Involved,” The Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2015

Temporal myopia refers to not having a clear picture of oneself in the future. According to The Wall Street Journal, procrastinators seem to experience a disconnect between their current decisions and actions and their future selves, which are often “more abstract and impersonal,” and to which they’re less emotionally connected.

The word myopia comes from the Greek muōpiā, nearsighted.

Word Buzz Wednesday: altricial, epigenetic inheritance, shade balls

twin baby pandas 双子の赤ちゃんパンダ

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: why baby pandas are so ridiculously tiny; you can inherit your ancestors’ stress; some really expensive balls.


“The opposite of altricial is precocial. A chick freshly hatched from the egg is precocial, walking around, eating and peep-peeping up a storm. A human baby, however, emerges on the altricial side of the spectrum.”

Joel Achenbach, “Why giant panda cubs are so incredibly tiny,” The Washington Post, August 25, 2015

Altricial is, as a senior scientist at the National Zoo puts it, “a fancy word that means pretty much helpless.” Hairless, teeny-tiny giant panda bear cubs are “extremely altricial” due to pandas’ very low metabolism and, as a result, the females’ relatively low blood-oxygen level.

Cubs have a better chance at surviving if they can breathe fully oxygenated air — that is, air outside their mothers — as well as obtaining fatty acids through their mothers’ milk, acids that can’t be passed through the placental barrier.

The word altricial ultimately comes from the Latin altor, “nourisher.”

epigenetic inheritance

“The new study, published in Biological Psychiatry, is the first example that shows how epigenetic changes in humans caused by trauma can be inherited.”

Akshat Rathi, “The Holocaust is still traumatizing the children of survivors on a genetic level,” Quartz, August 24, 2015

Epigenetic inheritance refers to “genetic changes caused by environmental factors, such as smoking, diet, or stress.” While most epigenetic changes are erased during fertilization, says Quartz, some manage to slip through although researchers still aren’t sure how this happens.

For more on epigenetic inheritance, check out this great podcast from Stuff You Should Know.


“[Trump] reports, for example, ‘I usually sleep only four hours a night,’ which by itself is usually a pretty reliable indicator of hypomania, and something he boasts about.”

John Gartner, “Donald Trump and Bill Clinton Have the Same Secret Weapon,” New Republic, August 25, 2015

Hypomania is “a mild state of mania, especially as a phase of a manic-depressive cycle,” but, as New Republic says, hypomanic temperament “is not an illness.” While it may manifest “the same traits as mania,” it “does so to a less severe and more functional degree.”


“The first stage is called ‘limerence.’ This is the spine-tingling, heart-twisting, can’t-stop-staring feeling, when it seems as though the world stops whirling and time itself bows down and pauses before the force of your longing.”

Eve Fairbanks, “Love in the Age of Big Data,” Huffington Post, August 19, 2015

The Oxford English Dictionary describes limerence as:

the state of being romantically infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.

In other words, puppy love.

The term limerence was an arbitrary coinage by psychology professor Dorothy Tennov.

shade ball

“In an article titled ‘Shade balls are a really stupid way to conserve water,’ LA Weekly reports that the city has actually been using shade balls since 2008, well before the drought began, and they aren’t actually designed to prevent evaporation at all.”

Katie Herzog, “Why shade balls aren’t such a great idea after all,” The Grist, August 19, 2015

Shade balls are black plastic balls that are supposed to work to prevent evaporation. Recently, Los Angeles dumped 96 million of such balls in the L.A. Reservoir to help combat drought. However, the balls weren’t designed to prevent evaporation, says The Grist, but to “block the formation of a carcinogen called bromate.”

This isn’t to say the balls don’t prevent some evaporation — namely, 300 million gallons of water a year, which is worth about $2 million dollars. Unfortunately, the balls cost $34.5 million.