Word Buzz Wednesday: reindeer rule, balikbayan, koumpounophobia

[xmas display]

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: Rudolph the law-abiding reindeer, a really big box of gifts, and button, button, who’s got the fear of buttons.

reindeer rule

“In the 1984 case of Lynch v. Donnelly, the court established a precedent that became known as the ‘reindeer rule,’ a legal standard that has governed public displays of holiday cheer ever since.”

Shaunacy Ferro, “The Legal Reason Why Public Christmas Displays Often Feature At Least One Reindeer,” Mental Floss, December 5, 2016

The reindeer rule is a nickname for a legal standard that governs “public displays of holiday cheer,” says Mental Floss. Basically it says that if you want to display a nativity scene at a place like a courthouse or public park, you’d better include “secular elements,” such as a reindeer.


“As the most iconic symbol of the Filipino diaspora, the balikbayan box serves as an emotional bridge between parents and siblings who part with their families to earn a higher wage abroad collectively known as ‘Overseas Filipino Workers’ (OFW).”

Anne Quito, “The ultimate 100-lb. gift box Filipinos send their relatives every Christmas,” Quartz, December 7, 2016

According to Quartz, the word balikbayan “is a Tagalog compound word that translates to ‘return [to] country,’” and the balikbayan box:

is typically stuffed with a random assortment of everyday, household goods—canned meats, small electronics, gently used clothing, tubes of toothpaste, vitamins, toiletries, and of course, “imported” chocolates in bulk.

Quartz goes on to say that the “ordinariness” of balikbayan gifts is by design, and that perhaps “the assortment of seemingly random items convey a kind of intimacy among separated relatives,” mapping “migrants back into the household economy by reproducing their labor and participation in their absence.”


“Variants on seasteading led to the founding of the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with the caveat that conquest was involved, as these territories were not unsettled at the time.”

Tyler Cowen, “Go Wet, Young Man,” Bloomberg, December 7, 2016

Seasteading refers to “the founding of new and separate governance units on previously unoccupied territory, possibly on the open seas,” says Bloomberg. Seasteading plays on homesteading, the act of claiming “unclaimed” land, especially under the Homestead Act of 1862.


“Andy’s condition is called koumpounophobia. It is not as common as some phobias – but still affects around one in every 75,000 people.”

Sirena Bergman, “The misery of weird phobias: ‘In the office, there are buttons everywhere’,” The Guardian, December 5, 2016

Koumpounophobia is the morbid fear of buttons. People with this particular phobia, says the Guardian, “report losing contact with family and friends because they are unable to attend weddings and funerals, or abandoning their careers and doing jobs that allow for remote working or casual clothing.” In addition, “because of the ridicule sufferers are often met with, people tend to suffer in silence and phobias go untreated.”

While the suffix -phobia comes from the ancient Greek phobos, “fear,” koumpouno- may come from a modern Greek word meaning button, according to this thread. One poster says koumpouno “comes from the ancient Greek word for ‘bean’ (κύαμος, kuamos), which makes sense, because the ancients didn’t have buttons, but some buttons resemble beans.”


“VHS tapes were easy to copy, so samizdat editions began circulating, and the video was prominently displayed in stores during the holidays because it was the most recent Christmas movie available.”

Sam Kashner, “How A Christmas Story Went from Low-Budget Fluke to an American Tradition,” Vanity Fair, November 2016

Samizdat refers to “the secret publication and distribution of government-banned literature in the former Soviet Union”; “the literature produced by this system”; or “an underground press.” The word came into English around 1967, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and comes from the Russian samizdat, which translates as “self-publishing.”

A close look at some “cozy” words


By now you might have heard about the Danish phenomenon, hygge, a kind of cozy contentment, which sounds heavenly on chilly winter days like these. That got us wondering about the English word cozy, where it comes from, and about other cozy words and expressions.

Some not-so-clear cozy origins

While we all know what cozy means, it’s not clear where the word comes from. The Online Etymology Dictionary says it started out as colsie, which is Scottish dialect, and might ultimately be of Scandinavian origin. For instance, the Norwegian kose seg means “to bask” or “be cozy.”

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), on the other hand, doesn’t mention the Scandinavian connection. While it agrees the word is originally Scots, “and perhaps northern English,” it proposes a possible connection with old meanings of cosh, “neat; snug; quiet; comfortable,” or “a cottage; a hovel,” or the Gaelic còsagach, “full of holes or crevices; sheltered, snug, warm.” But then it immediately shuts these theories down, saying neither “seems tenable.”

Regardless, the earliest meaning of cozy, again according to the OED, is in regard to people —  “Comfortable from being warm and sheltered; snug” — with the earliest citation from 1665 in a sermon by a minister named William Guthrie: “When Israel was Colsie at Home.”

The next oldest meaning is about place: sheltered and warm, or that which is warm and comfortable. The earliest recorded usage is from Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1786: “Then canie, in some cozie place, They close the day.”

The newest meaning of cozy is from the 1920s: “warmly intimate or friendly,” but also the pejorative sense of “complacent, smug.” The earliest citation is in a 1927 letter by English essayist Max Beerbohm: “We liked her very much. She isn’t exactly cosy, but she’s very spirited.”

More “cozy” words

How to keep that pot of tea warm? With a tea-cozy of course (or if you prefer your beverage warmers British, tea-cosy). The earliest recorded usage is from 1863 by scientist John Tyndall in his book Heat: A Mode of Motion: “It is not unusual to preserve the heat of teapots by a woollen covering, but the ‘cosy’ must fit loosely.” An egg-cozy is a similarly quilted covering but for, you guessed it, a boiled egg.

A cosy seat (1876), says the OED, is “a canopied seat for two, occupying a corner of a room,” while a cosy corner (1894) is “an upholstered seat which fits into a corner of a room,” or “such a corner, cosily furnished.” Cosy stove was a proprietary name for “a free-standing enclosed stove.”

One of our favorite cozy words is coze, “to be snug, comfortable, or cozy,” or  “anything snug, comfortable, or cozy; specifically, a cozy conversation, or tête-à-tête.” The term might have been coined by Jane Austen  in her 1814 novel Mansfield Park:

Miss Crawford appeared gratified by the application, and after a moment’s thought, urged Fanny’s returning with her in a much more cordial manner than before, and proposed their going up into her room, where they might have a comfortable coze. . .

One night say that cozy mysteries, also known as cozies, are Austen-like — light, humorous, and quirky, unlike darker and more violent traditional crime fiction. When and where the term originated, however, is, well, a mystery. This blogger uncovered some of the same findings we did, including this 1992 article in The New York Times: “Thrillers like Thomas Harris’s ‘Silence of the Lambs’ have incited a new wave of polite, ‘cozy’ mysteries, remarkable for their nonthreatening content and nonviolent characters.”

Earlier is a use in a 1986 magazine, San Francisco Focus (“Winn cites Christie as the doyenne of cozy mystery writers”), and a 1987 issue of Kirkus Reviews: “A sluggish attempt at writing a modern thriller in the style of an old-fashioned tea-cozy mystery, full of stiff upper lips and bracing cups of tea.”

Some “snug” sleuthing

A cozy word that might give coze a run for its money is snuggery, a British term for a snug, warm, comfortable place or position. The OED describes it as a small and cozy room, “into which a person retires for seclusion or quiet; a bachelor’s den.” Another meaning is “the bar-parlour of an inn or public-house.”

The word snug, like cozy, might be of Scandinavian origin. The sense of “compact, trim” is from the 1590s, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and was originally a nautical term, especially meaning “protected from the weather.” This might have come from a “Scandinavian source” such as the Old Norse snoggr, “short-haired,” or the Old Danish snøg, “neat, tidy.”

The sense of “in a state of ease or comfort” was first recorded in the 1620s while “fit closely” is from 1838. And in case you were wondering, the the expression snug as a bug in a rug originated around 1769. Before then you’d have said snug as a bee in a box, which we’d argue sounds far less cozy.

Word Buzz Wednesday: post-truth, BROTUS, Muism


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: an untruthy word of the year, a POTUS blend we’ll miss, a magical ancient religion.


Post-truth, which has become associated with the phrase ‘post-truth politics’, was chosen ahead of other political terms, including ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘alt-right’ from a shortlist selected to reflect the social, cultural, political, economic and technological trends and events of the year.”

‘Post-truth’ declared word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries,” BBC, November 16, 2016

Post-truth is defined as “relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals,” says the BBC. The term was first used in 1992, according to Oxford Dictionaries, with its frequency of usage increasing “by 2,000% in 2016 compared with last year.”

See also truthiness.


“If you’ve never heard the term emolument, it’s because it has rarely cropped up in the context of the US presidency in recent memory. Oval Office occupants in past decades have tried hard to avoid conflicts of interests.”

Ana Campoy, “There’s a word for the profit Donald Trump can make from being president,” Quartz, November 23, 2016

Emolument refers to payment of compensation for an office or employment. Quartz says the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution “bars office holders from receiving economic benefits from foreign governments.” Currently, “there’s a debate over whether the president-elect’s wide-ranging business dealings abroad violate that rule.”

The word emolument comes from the Latin ēmolumentum, “gain, originally a miller’s fee for grinding grain.”


“President Obama and Vice President Biden have long been open about their friendship and respect for one another, so much so that the POTUS bromance has come to be known as a ‘BROTUS.’”

Barbara Sprunt, “#MemeoftheWeek: The Best Of The Obama-Biden ‘BROTUS’,” NPR, November 15, 2016

BROTUS is a blend of POTUS and bro. Bro was first used to mean “a close male friend” around 1969, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Bromance, an intimate yet nonsexual relationship between two men, is attested to 2001.

POTUS, an acronym that stands for “President of the United States,” was first used in 1895, also according to the OED. SCOTUS, Supreme Court of the United states, is slightly older (1879) while FLOTUS, First Lady of the United States, is much newer (1983).

pin-pen merger

“Weirdly enough, this accent class was called a ‘neutralization technique’ at Carnegie Mellon: theoretically, the idea is that it removes regional signifiers like the pin-pen merger.”

Dan Nosowitz, “How A Fake British Accent Took Old Hollywood By Storm,” Atlas Obscura, October 27, 2016

In the pin-pen merger, says Atlas Obscura, the word “pen” sounds like “pin,” and is “indicator that a speaker is from the American South.” The “fake” British accent made famous by the likes of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn seeks to eradicate regional signifiers like the pin-pen merger. It’s sometimes referred to as the Mid-Atlantic accent while 1940s elocutionist Edith Skinner called it “Good Speech.”


“While Christianity and Buddhism are officially the two biggest religions, Choi’s religious universe is a syncretic one, mixing the two religions with many shades of magical shamanism, or Muism.”

Ilaria Maria Sala and Isabella Steger, “A Rasputinesque mystery woman and a cultish religion could take down South Korea’s president,” Quartz, October 28, 2016

Muism, which comes from the Korean mugyo, “shaman religion,” is “the indigenous religion of the Korean Peninsula,” says World Atlas. Evidence dates the religion back as much as 5,000 years ago. Muism rituals “involve a shaman contacting the spirit world,” moving in and out of trances with his or her soul “leaving the body and traveling to other realms,” where, followers believe, “spirits help the shaman perform spiritual, psychological, and physical healing.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: Calexit, bellwether, moon illusion

supermoon - mannequin

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: California, there you go?; the sheep leader; and at least the moon was nice this week.


“On social media, the hashtag #Calexit took off, echoing the British decision to leave the European Union.”

Mike McPhate, “California Today: Secessionist Groups Seize the Moment,” The New York Times, November 10, 2016

Calexit refers to a secessionist movement in the Golden State. It’s a blend of California and exit, and plays off Brexit and Grexit.


“So in politics, the bellwether is a state that signals the direction of the whole flock of states. Thus, we used to say, long ago, as Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

Ron Elving, “A Bellwether Refresher: The States Most Likely To Mirror National Election Outcome,” NPR, November 6, 2016

A bellwether is “one that serves as a leader or as a leading indicator of future trends.” It comes from the original meaning of “a wether or sheep which leads the flock, usually carrying a bell on its neck.” Wether comes from an Old English word that means “ram.”


“Articulating the fear that a lot of Democrats are feeling at the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, Van Jones called the election results a ‘whitelash.’”

Josiah Ryan, “‘This was a whitelash': Van Jones’ take on the election results,” CNN, November 9, 2016

The term whitelash was coined by activist and commentator Van Jones. Whitelash might be a play on blacklash, itself a play on backlash.

moon illusion

“This is because of something called a ‘moon illusion.’ When the moon is close to the horizon, it looks unnaturally large compared to trees and houses.”

Danika Worthington, “Everything you need to know to enjoy the supermoon Sunday night,” Denver Post, November 12, 2016

The moon illusion is an optical illusion attributed to how we perceive the sky, horizon, and celestial bodies, and the “size-forcing” our brains create, says Sky and Telescope. In fourth century B.C., Aristotle noted “the apparent hugeness of the horizon-hugging Moon,” which back then “was attributed to magnification by the atmosphere.”


“Its official name is the perigee-syzygy, meaning the moon is both full and closest to Earth. But many call it the supermoon.”

Bill Chappell, “Closest Supermoon Since 1948 Arrives Monday: Tips On Seeing And Photographing It,” NPR, November 13, 2016

One meaning of perigee is “the point, in an orbit about the Earth, that is closest to the Earth,” while the moon sense of syzygy refers to “either of two points in the orbit of the moon when the moon lies in a straight line with the sun and Earth.”

Both words are Greek in origin, perigee coming from a term that means “near the earth,” and syzygy from one that means “yoked together.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: the Dollies, the lipstick effect, su filindeu


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: an offensive nickname; lipstick courage; and angel hair pasta’s got nothing on this.


“By the end of the day on Oct. 17, #ChaiWala (tea seller) was the top trending item on Twitter Pakistan.”

Harish C. Menon, “A Pakistani tea vendor snapped by a passing photographer has become an internet sensation,” Quartz, October 18, 2016

Chaiwala comes from Urdu. While chai meaning “tea” seems straightforward, the definition of wala seems more complex. According to this forum, the word could refer to a vendor or seller but “also possessor of certain sorts” as well as “the one,” as in, when asking for paratha, a fried flat bread, you could say, “Ghee wala,” the butter one, or “Meetha wala,” the sweet one (which both sound delicious).


“The Dollies were stuck in place, consigned by decades of tradition to a secondary role, with little hope of promotion.”

Manuel Roig-Franzia, “How a fed-up group of ‘Good Girls’ beat the ‘Mad Men’-era sexists,” The Washington Post, October 25, 2016

The Dollies was a derogatory nickname for the national researchers at Newsweek magazine in the 1960s, says The Washington Post. The researchers were all women — while the “boys did the writing and got the glory,” the Dollies “did the journalistic spadework and fetched the coffee.”

The moniker is reminiscent of trolley dolly, a British and Australian term for a female flight attendant.


“There were always some who objected to gibbeting for its barbarity, but the courts saw it as a way to prevent crime.”

Andy Wright, “The Incredibly Disturbing Medieval Practice of Gibbeting,” Atlas Obscura, October 11, 2016

Gibbeting, which dates back to medieval times, is also known as “hanging in chains,” says Atlas Obscura, and refers to hanging a body in a body-shaped cage after death. The practice was officially mandated “by the 1752 Murder Act, which required bodies of convicted murderers to be either publicly dissected or gibbeted,” and was “formally abolished in 1834.”

The word gibbet was originally synonymous with gallows, and comes from the Old French gibet, a diminutive of gibe, “staff.”

lipstick effect

“The lipstick effect isn’t just about lipstick, but rather everything from makeup, skincare, and hair products to clothes and shoes.”

Tracy E. Robey, “A Totally Rational, Research-Backed Argument in Favor of Shopping,” Racked, October 11, 2016

With the lipstick index, says Racked, Leonard Lauder of Estee Lauder claimed that during economic recessions, lipstick sales went up because the cosmetic is “an affordable extravagance that women seek when more costly items like vacations and luxury vehicles are no longer within reach.”

The lipstick index was eventually discredited, but what’s being called the lipstick effect suggests a level of strategic thinking “going on in women’s minds when they shop for cosmetics and clothing while worried about money.” One study suggests that when women are concerned about finances, they use makeup “to feel more confident in their ability to find a romantic partner and to get (or keep) a job.”

su filindeu

“In a modest apartment in the town of Nuoro, a slight 62-year-old named Paola Abraini wakes up every day at 7 am to begin making su filindeu – the rarest pasta in the world.”

Eliot Stein, “The secret behind Italy’s rarest pasta,” BBC, October 19, 2016

Su filindeu, which translates as “the threads of God,” comes from Sardo, a language spoken on the island of Sardinia and “the closest living form of Latin,” says the BBC. What makes the pasta so rare is that only three women in the world “still know how to make it,” the recipe and technique having been passed down through the women in this particular family for more than 300 years.

The pasta is also difficult to make. It involves “pulling and folding semolina dough into 256 perfectly even strands with the tips of your fingers, and then stretching the needle-thin wires diagonally across a circular frame in an intricate three-layer pattern.”

The process is so difficult and time-consuming, “the sacred dish has only been served to the faithful who complete a 33km pilgrimage on foot or horseback from Nuoro to the village of Lula for the biannual Feast of San Francesco.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: hygge, king tide, Trumpkin

donald trumpkin

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a cozy Danish concept, the tide is extremely high, and a trove of Trump-manteaus.


“Unfortunately for native English speakers, the first step to achieving hygge is trying to pronounce it.”

Christina Cauterucci, “A Guide to Hygge, the Danish Concept of Coziness That Basically Means ‘Candlelit Uterus,’” Slate, October 7, 2016

Hygge is a Danish word that means a sort of blissful, cozy contentment. Denmark has hyggelig cafes, says Slate, where hyggelig translates as nice, friendly, cozy, homey, and awesome.

king tide

“If you went for a walk this week on Boston’s Long Wharf and are wondering why your shoes are soaked, they’re called king tides.”

Nik DeCosta-Kilpa, “What’s a king tide and why are they flooding Boston’s waterfront?” Boston.com, October 18, 2016

King tide is a colloquialism, says Boston.com, and refers to the highest tide of the year. King tides occur “when the Earth, sun, and moon are as close to each other as possible in their relative orbits.”


“Such products helped Yoshinori Ohsumi claim the prestigious award for his work in what’s known as autophagy, a process by which cells degrade and repair themselves.”

Min Jeong Lee, “Don’t Believe the Hype, Says Japan Bio CEO, as Nobel Lifts Stock,” Bloomberg, October 13, 2016

Autophagy refers to “the process of self-digestion by a cell through the action of enzymes originating within the same cell,” also known as cell cannibalism.

Nobel Prize recipient Yoshinori Ohsumi’s “discoveries could be applied in numerous health-care products, and even help to mitigate damage from cancer,” says Bloomberg.


“The small but growing craft community has invented the term ‘Trumpkin’ to describe their vegetable homages to the Republican nominee.”

Patrick Evans, “‘Trumpkins’ and Clinton pumpkins keep carvers busy this Halloween,” BBC, October 12, 2016

Trumpkin is a blend of “Trump” and “pumpkin.” Other Trump-manteaus include Trumpmentum (as in, “A certain GOP candidate is losing Trumpmentum”); Trexit, “exit from the U.S. on account of Donald Trump”; and Trumpenfreude, pleasure derived from the Donald’s misfortune.


“She opted for what’s called a ‘pussy-bow’ blouse—a sartorial reverberation of her husband’s lewd remarks, apparently by Gucci in silk crepe de chine.”

Marc Bain, “Melania Trump’s ‘pussy-bow’ shirt at her husband’s second presidential debate was ‘not intentional,’” Quartz, October 10, 2016

A pussy bow is “a large, floppy bow on an item of clothing.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term is a shortening of pussy-cat bow, “a large floppy bow, usually worn at the neck.”

While the OED’s earliest citations of pussy-cat bow and pussy-bow are, respectively, 1932 and 1946, Grammarphobia antedates both. Pussy-cat bow “first showed up in the late 19th century” while the first example they’ve seen for “pussy bow” is from a 1908 book called Business and Advertising.


Word Buzz Wednesday: chaohuan, meflection, neophobic


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: an ultra-unreal literary genre, a narcissistic blend, and a fear of the new.


“To help bridge this gap, Beijing-based novelist Ning Ken has created a new literary genre to properly convey the absurdity of modern life in China: chaohuan.”

Adrienne Matel, “A new literary genre critiques the scariest, most unbelievable part of life in China—reality,” Quartz, September 20, 2016

Chaohuan, translating from Chinese to mean “ultra-unreal,” is intended to describe what traditional literary tropes have struggled with, says Quartz.  Mystery, satire, and horror can’t seem capture “China’s day-to-day corruption, warp-speed modernization, supersonic development, and political oppression.” Hence, chaohuan.

Chaohuan is similar to magic realism in that “bizarre events [are] normalized,” but unlike Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s genre of choice, it “focuses on real-life events, not supernatural occurrences.”

coil-curl merger

“This feature, known as the coil-curl merger, is really only heard in New Yorkers born before World War II.”

Dan Nosowitz, “Why Linguists are Fascinated by the American Jewish Accent,” Atlas Obscura, September 26, 2016

The curl-coil vowel merger is particularly associated with now little-heard dialects of New York, New Orleans, and Charleston in the early 20th century. The example Atlas Obscura uses is Mel Brooks as Yoda sendup Yogurt in Spaceballs: “You hoid of me?” instead of “You heard of me?”

creep response

“The research team managed to stabilize a copper alloy microstructure capable of resisting what’s called ‘creep response,’ which refers to how materials lose their form under the stress of very high temperatures.”

Kevin McCaney, “With military research into nanomaterials, the future looks light,” Defense Systems, September 30, 2016

Creep, in materials science, refers to “the tendency of a solid material to move slowly or deform permanently under the influence of mechanical stresses.” The word creep is quite old, originating as a verb in the ninth century, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).


“We saw several instances of meflection at the debate, with Trump using just about any issue principally to aggrandize himself and deflect from the actual issue, often by wedging a remark about how great or important or beloved he is into contexts that can’t support them.”

Lili Loofbuorow, “The Trump Glossary,” The Week, September 27, 2016

This narcissistic portmanteau is a blend of me and deflection.


“Rats are neophobic – they avoid what they don’t know.”

Jordan Kisner, “Man v rat: could the long war soon be over?” The Guardian, September 20, 2016

According to the OED, the word neophobic originated in 1923 in Science Monthly: “The neophobic patient shows marked aversion and resentment at the sight of anything new.” Neophobia is from an October 1886 issue of Popular Science Monthly: “In the student, curiosity takes the place of neophobia.”