Word Buzz Wednesday: Jante, Forer effect, aplatanada

Plantains, bananas

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: the Danish law of “average”; how horoscopes pull a fast one; becoming “plantainized.”


“The character of Denmark has been consistent in its exemplification of Jante even though it’s never named as such.”

Cole Seidner, “These 10 Rules Are How Denmark Won ‘World’s Happiest Country’ — Three Times,” Big Think, April 4, 2017

Like the cozy hygge, Jante is a Danish untranslatable and thought to be the reason Denmark keeps getting picked as the world’s happiest country. The law of Jante, says Quartz, is a code of conduct which suggests “Danes are happy because they aspire to be average.” Jante was originally the fictionalized town in a satirical novel which the author wrote “to skewer the people of the small town and region where he grew up.”

Why would such a law make you happy? It’s all about expectations. Quartz cites a therapist who says that if you expect a “very average life,” you’re more likely to be content “when life hands you average things.” And if you get something “above and beyond average,” you’ll probably be “pleasantly surprised” and “pretty darn happy.”

tago nang tago

“Lola’s legal status became what Filipinos call tago nang tago, or TNT — ‘on the run.’”

Alex Tizon, “My Family’s Slave,” The Atlantic, June 2017

Other Tagalog terms in Alex Tizon’s moving yet troubling piece include utusan, “people who take commands”; katulong, “helper”; and kasambahay, “domestic.”

Forer effect

“It’s hard to know whether I found them to be true — I am charming, TYSM, but am I irresponsible?! — or whether I’d fallen victim to the Forer effect.”

Haley Nahman, “Does Your Birth Order Affect Your Personality?” Man Repeller, May 12, 2017

The Forer effect, also known as the Barnum effect, is a psychological phenomenon in which people tend to agree with “vague descriptions about themselves without realizing they could apply to basically everyone and their cousin,” as How Stuff Works puts it. It’s named for Bertram Forer, a 20th-century American psychologist.

thunder god vine

“Now scientists have figured out how the thunder god vine works to prevent pregnancy.”

Katherine Ellen Foley, “A new study has confirmed the science behind an ancient form of birth control,” Quartz, May 18, 2017

The thunder god vine is known more formally as Tripterygium wilfordii, says Quartz. Researchers at University of California, Berkeley have figured out how a compound in the plant prevents sperm from fertilizing the egg, which “could lead to an alternative to the hormonal birth control pill.”


“Recently, I spent more than a month in this cinematic metropolis, getting properly aplatanada (slang for ‘plantainized,’ meaning Cubanized).”

Anya von Bremzen, “Where to Eat, Stay and Shop in Havana,” Food & Wine, May 22, 2017

Plantains are often equated with Cuban cooking — hence the slang term aplatanada, literally “plantainized,” to mean becoming Cuban — although “the fruit probably originated in India and landed in the Caribbean via the Spanish settlers,” says Fine Cooking.

Word Buzz Wednesday: poudre de perlimpinpin, crotilla, Q

Har Gow

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: war of the words, the French edition; another Frankenstein food; and a bouncy mouthfeel.

poudre de perlimpinpin

“Macron used this colourful phrase, meaning ‘fairy dust’, to refer to Le Pen’s promises.”

The new French words we learned thanks to Macron and Le Pen’s verbal joust,” The Local, May 4, 2017

Poudre de perlimpinpin is just one of several interesting French words used during the presidential debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. It “can also mean star dust or snake oil,” says The Local. Other English lying, cheating, and stealing words include smoke and mirrors, chicanery, and subterfuge.


“Based on the response to Crotilla so far, which has ranged from bewilderment to contempt, the product isn’t on its way to living up to the Cronut’s legacy.”

Michele Debczak, “Walmart Unveils the ‘Crotilla,’ a Tortilla and Croissant Hybrid,” Mental Floss, April 25, 2017

This latest culinary monstrosity (only to be rivaled by the frork, which may or may not be a joke) is an unnecessary cross between a croissant and a tortilla.


“I grew to seek out Q like a favored friend, pining for the texture itself rather than looking to satisfy flavor expectations.”

Laura Russell, “The Curious Case of Q,” Roads and Kingdoms, May 2017

Q is a “springy, chewy” kind of mouthfeel — think mochi, fish cakes, shrimp dumplings (or har gow), and tapioca pearls, says Roads and Kingdoms. The term is also known as QQ and tan ya, which translates as “rebound teeth,” and may come from the Taiwanese Hokkien k’iu.


Spaceplan is what’s known as an idle game, or a clicker. They’re the video game equivalent of background noise.”

Andrew Webster, “Spaceplan is a simple sci-fi game about saving the world and also potatoes,” The Verge, May 7, 2017

A clicker is also known as an incremental game, and “consists of the player performing simple actions (such as clicking on the screen) repeatedly to gain currency.” The term might come from Cookie Clicker and Cow Clicker, perhaps the first type of these games to gain success.


“The girls were instructed to slip their paintbrushes between their lips to make a fine point — a practice called lip-pointing, or a ‘lip, dip, paint routine,’ as playwright Melanie Marnich later described it.”

Kate Moore, “The Forgotten Story Of The Radium Girls, Whose Deaths Saved Thousands Of Workers’ Lives,” BuzzFeed, May 5, 2017

After the U.S. joined World War I, hundreds of young women got jobs painting watches and radio dials with radium, says BuzzFeed. Why radium? Because it glowed in the dark.

But it was also deadly. Every time the women lip-pointed, “they swallowed a little of the glowing green paint,” having been told that small amounts of radium was actually beneficial to their  health. While the effect was magical at first — these “ghost girls” would literally shine in the dance halls at night — they were soon beset with disfigurement and disease. In the end, the women’s cases “led to life-saving regulations and, ultimately, to the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”

8 Old-Timey Names for a Soft Drink

In coke, I trust

Depending on where you live in the United States, you might have a different name for a sweet, carbonated beverage. Live on the west coast or in the northeast? It’s soda. The midwest? That’s pop. Parts of the south? Coke (even if it’s Sprite).

But how about what Americans used to call fizzy sugar water? With our friends at the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), we bring you eight old-timey names for a soft drink.

soft beer

This old-fashioned name was used especially in Maine. A 1925 quote in DARE says that “even today in the remote northern part of Maine, carbonated beverages are referred to as ‘soft beer.’” According to the American Heritage Dictionary, small beer refers to weak or inferior beer, and, by extension, unimportant, trivial things. To think small beer of is to think lowly of someone or something, says the Oxford English Dictionary.

soda dope

This old-timey term might have been used especially in North Carolina. Also sodey dope, sody dope, or just dope, a southern colloquialism for a soft drink.


While some of us might equate tonic with tonic water, a quinine-flavored carbonated drink, in New England, it refers to a carbonated soft drink in general.

bottled drink

This vintage phrase was chiefly used in the South, especially North Carolina. Also bottle drink.

cold drink

If you happen to be in the Lower Mississippi Valley and someone offers you a cold drink, you can expect a non-alcoholic, carbonated, bottled beverage that won’t necessarily be cold, at least according to one quote in DARE.


“I need a drink!” some of us might say when we crave a cocktail. But in the southern region, such a term refers to a booze-free, bubbly beverage.

soda water

To some of us soda water might refer to “a solution of water, sodium bicarbonate, and acid,” but to some, especially in Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley, it refers to carbonated water that’s been sweetened and flavored.

belly wash

This saying originally referred to a drink, usually alcoholic, of poor quality, but in some regions of the U.S. it means any soft drink, usually carbonated. Usage is scattered throughout the country. The Journal of American Folklore cites a 1964 quote from a central Pennsylvania resident: “We had a plant in our town which bottled pop, and we boys would go to the ‘belly-wash factory.’”

What do you call a carbonated soft drink? Tell us in the comments!

Word Buzz Wednesday: snap election, Diaosi, hundslappadrifa

Vík í Mýrdal

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a snap decision, election style; losers winning in China; saving the Icelandic language in the digital age.

snap election

“Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain is calling for a snap election on June 8, breaking a promise not to seek a vote before 2020.”

Russell Goldman, “Key Points About a Snap Election in Britain,” The New York Times, April 18, 2017

Before 2011, says The New York Times, prime ministers in Great Britain could call an election whenever they liked. Then a law was passed scheduling a general election every five years but with two exceptions: if Parliament members “lose confidence in the government, or if two-thirds of the members agree, a ‘snap’ election can be held.”


“Online, types give way and Diaosi is an identification made by those who earn comfortably middle-class salaries, have mortgages and university degrees, to others who work long hours in factories for little pay, having almost no disposable income.”

Graham Candy, “Winning and Losing in Modern China,” Peeps Magazine

The Chinese term Diaosi, which translates as “loser,” originated in 2012, and was originally used to insult others online, says Peeps Magazine. However, a year later, it was estimated that over 500 million Chinese self-identified as such.

While various sources define Diaosi in various ways, they agree on three features: the majority are men born in the 1980s, play online games, and don’t see themselves as Gao Fu Shuai, those who are “tall, rich, and handsome.”


“Ertugrul flips through the book and points to hemdem. ‘Do you have any word in English that means close friend?’”

Alexandra Locke, “The Turkish Shop Reviving Forgotten Words,” OZY, April 21, 2017

Hemdem means more than “a close friend,” says OZY. It means “sharing the same air,” a friend so close “that you’re sharing the same air in your past.”


“As we announce this landmark musical, I keep thinking about the Japanese term gaman, a word that means enduring the unbearable with dignity and strength.”

Jessica Gelt, “The George Takei musical ‘Allegiance’ is coming to L.A.,” The Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2017

Another untranslatable that comes from an Asian language is han, a Korean term that “denotes a collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face of overwhelming odds,” and “aspects of lament and unavenged injustice.”


“The people of Iceland, a rugged North Atlantic island settled by Norsemen about 1,100 years ago, have a unique dialect of Old Norse that has adapted to life at the edge of the Arctic. Hundslappadrifa, for example, means ‘heavy snowfall with large flakes occurring in calm wind.’”

Egill Bjarnason,“ Icelandic language at risk; robots, computers can’t grasp it,” The Associated Press, April 22, 2017

The Associated Press says Icelandic “ranks among the weakest and least-supported language in terms of digital technology – along with Irish Gaelic, Latvian, Maltese and Lithuanian.” One billion Icelandic krona, or $8.8 million, “is needed for seed funding for an open-access database to help tech developers adapt Icelandic as a language option.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: reaccommodate, pingo, maximalism

model interior

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a possible euphemism of the year; a cute name for a dangerous phenomenon; more is more.


“There is something to be said for the fact that the context in which reaccommodate was used was air travel, a realm plagued by stilted euphemisms from the lavatory to the full, upright and locked middle seat.”

Katy Steinmetz, “United Airlines ‘Reaccommodated’ a Passenger. Is That the Euphemism of the Year?” TIME, April 11, 2017

Reaccommodate in this context refers to the forcible removal of passenger David Dao from an overbooked United Airlines flight. Past euphemisms of the year from the American Dialect Society include locker-room banter for “lewd, vulgar talk”; EIT, or “enhanced interrogation technique,” itself a euphemism for torture; and least untruthful, “involving the smallest necessary lie.”


“Despite the huge power of the MOAB, it is a smart bomb with wings and grid fins for guidance, and usually explodes mere feet from the ground.”

Anna Cummins, “5 things to know about the MOAB,” CNN, April 24, 2017

MOAB refers to GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, as well as, more commonly, the “mother of all bombs,” and was recently dropped by U.S. forces on Afghanistan. This thermobaric bomb (it generates both heat and pressure) is not the largest of its kind. Russia claims to have developed one four times larger than the MOAB, says CNN, aptly called FOAB, the father of all bombs.


“Don’t be fooled by its cute name—pingos can do some serious damage.”

Cara Giaimo, “Siberia Has Installed Its First ‘Exploding Pingo Detector,’” Atlas Obscura, April 11, 2017

Pingos are “common in Arctic permafrost,” says Atlas Obscura, and look like small hills (the term comes from an Inuit word meaning “small hill”). However, underneath they’re “full of ice, water, and, increasingly, methane gas, which bubbles up from underground vents.” They can “even explode,” resulting huge craters.


“Appealing to impulses, as maximalism does, could also be interpreted as a consumerist strategy to get more people to buy more design.”

Diana Budds, “Minimalism Is Dead. Hello Maximalism,” FastCo Design, April 14, 2017

Maximalism is a reaction against minimalism (think “less is a bore”). Signs of maximalism might include a multitude of colors, objects, and patterns, and a lack of white space.

shaku maku

“The riddle at the heart of shaku maku seems to sum up the contradictions of the modern Iraqi experience.”

Rob Kunzig, “The Iraqi Version of ‘What’s Up?’ Is an Existential Riddle,” Atlas Obscura, April 14, 2017

Shaku maku is a greeting used in Iraq but also more than a greeting. Roughly translated, says Atlas Obscura, it means, “What is everything and nothing?” One Iraqi expatriate says the phrase “might show the confused and curious Iraqi personality,” and “that we care about everything that happened with the other, but also it shows we don’t know anything specific.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: nuclear option, Dutch Harbor pigeons, mizu

Photo via The California Sunday Magazine

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: going nuclear, a dignified scavenger, a kind of blue.

nuclear option

“In deploying this so-called nuclear option, lawmakers are fundamentally altering the way the Senate handles one of its most significant duties, further limiting the minority’s power in a chamber that was designed to be a slower and more deliberative body than the House.”

Matt Flegenheimer, “Senate Republicans Deploy ‘Nuclear Option’ to Clear Path for Gorsuch,” The New York Times, April 6, 2017

The nuclear option refers to “a parliamentary procedure that allows the U.S. Senate to override a rule or precedent by a simple majority of 51 votes, instead of by a supermajority of 60 votes.” The term is apparently an analogy to the extreme option of nuclear weapons in warfare.

Dutch Harbor pigeons

“People in town call them Dutch Harbor pigeons. The rest of us call them bald eagles.”

Laurel Braitman, “Dirty Birds: What it’s like to live with a national symbol,” The California Sunday Magazine, March 30, 2017

While to many, the bald eagle is a symbol of courage, freedom, and dignity, to the 4,700 permanent residents of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, says The California Sunday Magazine, they’re rats with wings. The estimated 500 to 800 scavengers swarm at boats looking for scraps of bait, hang out at the dump, and dive bomb unsuspecting Coast Guard members and teenage boys with pizza.

Fermi paradox

“[The Fermi paradox is] an ‘interesting, fascinating paradox,’ Greg Laughlin, the Yale astronomer and astrophysicist, told us in his Ingenious interview. ‘There’s no good answer to why we don’t see manifestations of intelligence throughout the universe.’”

Brian Gallagher, “What Donald Trump Teaches Us About the Fermi Paradox,” Nautilus, March 31, 2017

The Fermi paradox is supposedly named for physicist Enrico Fermi and says that:

we should see intelligent aliens here if they exist anywhere, because they would inevitably colonize the Galaxy by star travel—and since we don’t see any obvious signs of aliens here, searching for their signals is pointless.

However, Scientific American (SA) says Fermi never made such a claim. Rather, the idea came from astronomer Michael Hart who said that if smart aliens “existed anywhere, they would be here,” and since they aren’t, “humans are probably the only intelligent life in our galaxy.” SA also says the Fermi paradox isn’t a paradox at all because:

there is no logical contradiction between the statement ‘E.T. might exist elsewhere’ and the statement “E.T. is not here” because nobody knows that travel between the stars is possible in the first place.


“The dignified but somewhat aloof word ‘junbungaku’ is an expression apparently peculiar to Japan. It refers to a type of literature pursued purely for its artistic quality.”

Kanta Ishida and Yomiuri Shimbun, “Glimpse into world of a precocious literary genius,” The Japan News, April 10, 2017

Junbungaku is basically the Japanese equivalent of belles-lettres, “literature regarded for its aesthetic value rather than its didactic or informative content.”


“English speakers have ‘light blue,’ sure. But ‘mizu’ is its own color, not merely a shade of another.”

Stacey Leasca, “There Is No Word In The English Language For This Gorgeous Color,” GOOD, March 31, 2017

What English speakers might call “baby blue” is called mizu in Japanese. Mizu translates as “water” and is “as different from ‘blue’ as ‘green’ is from ‘blue,’” says GOOD, and is “similar to how people in the United States use ‘magenta,’ rather than ‘purplish-red.’”

Word Buzz Wednesday: asperitas, rooftoppers, uppgivenhetssyndrom

Undulatus asperatus

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a chaotic cloud formation, skyscraper-scaling photographers, an unusual ― and devastating ― syndrome.


“Nearly 10 years after they floated the idea, the society’s efforts paid off: the WMO has added the asperitas to the updated International Cloud Atlas.”

Lila MacLellan, “Amateur cloud-spotters lobbied to add this beautiful new cloud to the International Cloud Atlas,” Quartz, March 25, 2017

The asperitas (Latin for “roughness”) is a “weird turbulent wave cloud” first noted by amateur cloud enthusiasts in 2006, says Quartz. It looked like, says Gavin Pretor-Pinney, president of the Cloud Appreciation Society, “you were beneath the surface of the sea on a really choppy, rough day when the sea surface is being churned about,” similar to the undulatus cloud formation but “more intense, more chaotic.”

Other cloud names that sound like Harry Potter spells include the flumen, “a kind of sidekick to a larger cloud”; the cataractagenitus, which gathers over a large waterfall; silvagenitus, “fed by trees in periods of high humidity”; flammagenitus, made by fire; homogenitus, human-made, such as condensation clouds created “by human activity”; and volutus, a roll cloud.


“That text accompanies the above Instagram post from user cocoanext—one of a ballsy group of Shanghai-based ‘rooftopper’ photographers.”

Diane Hope, “Shanghai’s Daring ‘Rooftoppers’ Are Taking Urban Exploration to New Heights,” Atlas Obscura, March 24, 2017

Rooftoppers are photographers who go to knee-knocking heights to get amazing shots. The term roof topping may have first been used in the “2005 urban exploration manual Access All Areas,” referring to “accessing rooftops and other high vantage points of metropolises around the world,” and which gained popularity  “around 2011 with the ascent of social media platforms, particularly Instagram.”

Schumer box

“In the past decade, there’s been a lot of different legislation and standardization with credit cards to make them more transparent. One of those is what’s called a Schumer box.”

Nathan Hamilton, “These 3 Words May Change How You Use Credit Cards,” The Motley Fool, March 24, 2017

The Schumer box is a “table that appears in credit card agreements showing basic information about the card’s rates and fees.” The box is named for New York Senator Charles Schumer who, as a congressman, was involved in the 1988 Truth in Lending Act, which created the Schumer box.


“Centuries ago in France, peasants would bake what’s called a miche — a 20-kilo, circular loaf of naturally leavened bread that was both cheap and long lasting.”

Elena Kadvany, “Knead to bake,” Palo Alto Online, March 23, 2017

The French miche ultimately comes from the Latin micca, “small loaf,” says the Oxford English Dictionary. Mitch is the obsolete English form of miche also referring to a small loaf of bread.


“Georgi was given a diagnosis of uppgivenhetssyndrom, or resignation syndrome, an illness that is said to exist only in Sweden, and only among refugees.”

Rachel Aviv, “The Trauma of Facing Deportation,” The New Yorker, April 3, 2017

Those suffering from uppgivenhetssyndrom, says The New Yorker, “have no underlying physical or neurological disease, but they seem to have lost the will to live.” De apatiska, or the apathetic, is another name for them. A typical patient is “totally passive, immobile, lacks tonus, withdrawn, mute, unable to eat and drink, incontinent and not reacting to physical stimuli or pain.”

Resignation syndrome may be related to the concept of a “sense of coherence,” as coined by Israeli sociologist Aaron Antonovsky, who says that mental well-being “depends on one’s belief that life is orderly, comprehensible, structured, and predictable.” The most effective treatment for uppgivenhetssyndrom, says the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare, is a permanent residency permit for the patient and their family.