The Words of Washington Irving

468px-Portrait_of_Washington_Irving_by_John_Wesley_Jarvis_in_1809

American author Washington Irving was born on this day in 1783. A native New Yorker, Irving is best known for his stories, “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” But he’s also the author of many other works, including essays, biographies, and satirical pieces, as well as the coiner and popularizer of several words we still use today. Here are eight from what some consider the first true American writer.

logocracy

“Their government is a pure unadulterated logocracy, or government of words.”

Salmagundi, 1807

Irving popularized this term meaning “government by the power of words.” Logocracy is Greek in origin with logo comes from logos, “word, discourse, reason,” and the suffix -cracy ultimately from kratos, “strength.”

doughnut

“[The table] was always sure to boast an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks—a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, except in genuine Dutch families.”

Knickerbocker’s History of New York, 1809

Irving seems to have been the first to record this delicious word. As for the more casual donut, that turned up, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, as an alternative spelling in the U.S. “as early as 1870.”

dummkopf

“As great a dom cop, as if he had been educated among that learned people of Thrace, who … could not count beyond the number four.”

A History of New York, 1809

Dummkopf meaning a dolt or stupid person translates from German as “dumb head.”

knickerbocker

“When I find New Yorkers of Dutch descent priding themselves upon being ‘genuine Knickerbockers,’ I please myself with the persuasion that I have struck the right chord.”

Knickerbocker’s History of New York, 1809

A knickerbocker can refer to a descendant of the original Dutch settlers of New York, a native New Yorker, or breeches or knickers. It’s also where the New York Knicks got its name. The word comes from Diedrich Knickerbocker, the fictional author of Irving’s History of New York. A knickerbocker glory is a kind of elaborate ice cream sundae served in a tall glass.

mint julep

“The inhabitants not having the fear of the Lord before their eyes were notoriously prone to get fuddled and make merry with mint julep and apple toddy.”

A History of New York, 1809

Irving’s seems to be the earliest recorded mention of this summery bourbon beverage. A julep, in case you were wondering, is a sweet, syrupy drink, to which medicine is often added. The word ultimately comes from the Persian gulāb, rosewater.

quarantine

“Had not this opportunity offered I would have been obliged to make a long roundabout tour by the way of Milan … where I should be detained quarantined smoked and vinegared.”

Life and Letters, 1804

While quarantine as a noun has been around since the 16th century, Irving seems to be the first to use it as a verb. The original meaning of the noun was a “period of 40 days in which a widow has the right to remain in her dead husband’s house,” and comes from the Latin quadraginta, “forty.”

almighty dollar

“In a word, the almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land, seems to have no genuine devotees in these peculiar villages.”

The Creole Village,” 1836

The idiom almighty dollar is a satirical reference to the U.S. dollar, bestowing it with godlike powers.

Gotham

“This passage of the erudite Linkum was applied to the city of Gotham, of which he was once Lord Mayor, as appears by his picture hung up in the hall of that ancient city.”

Salmagundi, 1807

While we now associate Gotham with the home of a certain caped crusader, it may have first been used as a nickname for New York by Irving. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Gotham originally referred to “the name of a village, proverbial for the folly of its inhabitants.” In Nottinghamshire there’s a village called Gatham, which means “enclosure where goats are kept,” but it’s not clear if this is what the name Gotham refers to.

Wordnik News: TIME, PyCon, BBC

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Summer is upon us and lots has been happening at Wordnik! Here are some highlights.

TIME, TIME, TIME

Last month Katy Steinmetz wrote in TIME magazine about redefining the modern dictionary, and spoke with several modern lexicographers and dictionary innovators, including Wordnik’s own Erin McKean. Erin talked to about Katy about how Wordnik “aims to be more responsive than traditional dictionaries but more authoritative than crowdsourced sites,” and about Wordnik’s Kickstarter initiative.

summer.ai + Wordnik at PyCon 2016

Recently Manuel Ebert, founding partner of machine learning agency summer.ai, spoke at PyCon 2016 about working with Wordnik to add a million missing words to the dictionary. Check out his presentation.

The future of language

Leo Johnson, a reporter from FutureProofing, a BBC radio and podcast series, spoke with Erin about language and new technology. They discussed Wordnik’s mission, Twitterbots, infixes (“Absodamnlutely!”), and AI’s effect on language. AI will do interesting things to language, Erin said, creating metaphors, neologisms, and images humans wouldn’t have created but will recognize as “gorgeous.”

Speaking of Twitterbots…

At Medium, Erin wrote about how to create a simple, free, text-driven Twitterbot with AWS Lambda & Node.js.

Button, button, who’s got the button?

For a limited time, when you adopt a word, you’ll get a cute Semicolon Appreciation Society button along with wordy stickers and other cool schwag.

Reminders

Last but never least, a couple of reminders.

Word gamers email. The inaugural issue of Logodaedaly, Wordnik’s word gamers email newsletter, went out last month. It featured an interview with Akiva Leffert, the creator of the word game Whirred; the antiquarian word game of the month (adjectives, anyone?); and the game-related list of the month. Interested in signing up? Go for it!

Wordnik T-shirts. Don’t forget, nifty Wordnik T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies are available in men’s, women’s, and children’s sizes. Word nerd yourself and all your loved ones.

What’s Happening at Wordnik: Word gamers, Wordnik API and bots, T-shirts

news

Happy April and welcome to the latest roundup of Wordnik news and events!

Word Gamers Email

Like word games? You’re in luck. Wordnik is currently collecting emails for a Word Gamers newsletter. Whether you’re a dabbler or a developer, an educator or an enthusiast, the Wordnik Word Gamers newsletter will have something for you. Our current plan is to send out the first newsletter in May or when we hit 100 subscribers — whichever comes first! Interested? You can sign up here.

Using the Wordnik API to make non-racist bots

You might have heard about a recent controversial chatbot from Microsoft. Motherboard discussed how not to make a racist bot with several botmakers, including Wordnik friend Darius Kazemi, aka @tinysubversions, who has used the Wordnik API to make several bots, creating a wordfilter to sift out undesirable words.

Erin McKean spoke to Robin Morgan of the Women’s Media Center

In February Wordnik founder Erin McKean spoke to Robin Morgan on her radio show, Women’s Media Center, about how she came to create Wordnik, her lifelong love of dictionaries, and her more recent love of computer programming. Robin also shared with Erin her favorite word: cerulean, which is as pretty as it sounds.

Wordnik T-shirts

Wordnik T-shirt half

Now you can wear Wordnik’s heart over your own with Wordnik T-shirts, hoodies, and sweatshirts. They come in men’s, women’s, and kids’ sizes, and three variations: classic Wordnik, I <3 Words, and All My Favorite Words Hang Out at Wordnik. Get one for the word nerd in your life, or if you happen to be the word nerd, get one for yourself!

Don’t forget!

Finally, don’t forget about PyCon from May 28th through June 5th, where Manuel Ebert of summer.ai will be presenting on his project with Wordnik, Putting 1 Million New Words into the Dictionary.

Also remember you can support Wordnik by adopting a word for just $25 for a whole year. And be sure to follow us on Twitter and like us Facebook to keep up with the latest Wordnik happenings and news on words and language.

Wordnik’s Most Favorited Words (So Far)

You might know we’re on a mission: add a million missing words to the dictionary, and while we’re at it, collect as much data as possible about as many words as possible.

As part of our mission, we’ll be offering a leaderboard of words most favorited on Wordnik. Until then, we wanted to give a little “data taste” with the most favorited words for each letter of the alphabet, along with the runner-up.

(Remember, words are being favorited all the time on Wordnik so the status of these words might change!)

A is for Apricity

Половина всех праздношатающихся по замерзшей Волге - фотографы.

This word that means the warmth of sun in winter comes from the Latin word apricus, “warmed by the sun.” The runner-up for A is alacrity, cheerful willingness or speed.

B is for Blithe

Blithe can mean carefree or careless, but nowadays more the latter. In second place is bibliobibuli, an excellent word coined by journalist H.L. Mencken to mean “the type of people who read too much.”  

C is for Callipygian

Butt Statue in Paris

How can you not love a word that means having beautifully-shaped buttocks? Callipygian comes from a Greek word that means, well, “beautiful buttocks.”

We also love the impulsive and unpredictable runner-up, capricious, which might come from the Latin capreolus, “wild goat.”

D is for Desultory

Use Lautz Bros & Co's Circus Soap. [front]

To be desultory means to have no set plan, to be haphazard, and to jump from one thing to another — just like the word it’s based on, desultor, a circus performer whose specialty was leaping back and forth between galloping horses. The delicate diaphanous comes in second.

E is for Ephemeral

Mayfly

The short-lived ephemeral can refer to written or printed items, such as greeting cards, pamphlets, and postcards; plants or insects, like the mayfly; or anything lasting a very brief time. Second most loved is the totally bored ennui.

F is for Facetious

Think of facetious as the good-natured twin of sarcastic, where facetious comes from the Latin facetus, “witty,” and sarcastic comes from the Greek sarkazein, “to bite the lips in rage.” The fussy fastidious is runner-up.

G is for Gossamer

Cobweb

Gossamer is one of those words that sounds like what it is: gauzy, fine, light. It also refers to the gauzy film of spider webs seen in the air or on the grass. Such a phenomenon was often seen in autumn, hence the Middle English gossomer, “goose summer,” a kind of Indian summer, so-called because geese were in season. Second most-liked is gloaming, a lovely word for twilight or dusk.

H is for Halcyon

calm

Halcyon, which can mean calm, peaceful, and prosperous, was originally a mythical bird, often identified with the kingfisher, that was said to have the power to charm the wind and waves into calmness as it nested on the winter sea. This tranquil period of weather was historically referred to as halcyon days. Second to halcyon is hubris, overbearing pride or arrogance.

I is for Inchoate

Something inchoate is in its early stages or imperfectly formed. Second favorite ineffable refers to something incapable of being expressed or that is taboo.

J is for Jejune

Jejune could describe a bad date or a bad meal: dull, immature, not nutritious. The word comes from the Latin iēiūnus, “meager, dry, fasting.” And in juxtaposition the runner-up is — juxtaposition.  

K is for Kerfuffle

Four clowns cooking over a fire - one drinks a bottle, one stirs a pot, two are play fighting in the background. [front]

Kerfuffle is a variant of the Scots curfuffle, which has the same meaning: a state of disorderliness or agitation. And it’s totally kismet that the runner-up is kismet, which comes from the Arabic qismah, “portion, fate, lot.”

L is for Lugubrious

sad pug

We imagine that the mournful lugubrious would not be happy to share a podium with chatty silver medalist, loquacious.

M is for Mellifluous

Honey

We love the honey-sweet mellifluous as much as honey itself. Meanwhile, we’re wary of runner-up mercurial with its volatile temperament.

N is for Nefarious

Something wicked this way comes, and it’s nefarious. The word comes from the Latin nefas, “crime, transgression.” Second most favorited is noctilucent, luminous at night.

O is for Obstreperous

The noisy, defiant, and boisterous obstreperous is the current king of the O words. We can imagine second-placer and subject obsequious kissing some O-shaped butt.

P is for Petrichor

The Rain

The lovely petrichor, the smell of a first rain after a long dry spell, was coined by Australian scientists in 1964. Runner-up palimpsest refers to an ancient manuscript that has been written on more than once, as well as any object or place that reflects its history.

Q is for Quixotic

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza

The romantic quixotic gets caught up in noble deeds and idealistic, often unreachable goals. The word comes from Don Quixote, de Cervantes’s titular windmill tilting hero. Runner-up is the everyday quotidian.

R is for Recondite

Poor recondite is not easily understood while unruly second-placer recalcitrant is stubbornly defiant.

S is for Serendipity

Serendipity is all about accidentally making fortunate discoveries, and comes from the Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, who made it a habit of making such discoveries. Meanwhile, German loan word schadenfreude is all about deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others.

T is for Truculent

Them’s fightin’ words, or at least truculent is, coming from the Latin word for “fierce.” Just behind truculent is the foolhardy temerity.

U is for Ubiquitous

Ubiquitous is like Donald Trump these days: everywhere at once. Number two of the U words is unctuous, insincerely polite and earnest, oily, slippery. The word comes from the Latin word for “ointment.”

V is for Verisimilitude

Verisimilitude is the quality of being real or true. Next most favorited is vicissitude, a change, sometimes unexpected.

W is for Wanderlust

We’ve all felt wanderlust before — no wonder so many people love the word. But if you’re wanderlusting, try not to engage in behavior like that of our wanton runner-up.

X is for Xenophobia

Xenophobia is a fear of strangers or that which is perceived as foreign. And the runner-up? Xeric, which means desert-like and comes from the Greek xeros, “dry, withered.”

Y is for Yex

Boo! Did we get rid of those yexes? The number one Y word also once meant “to sob.” Y’s runner-up yonic means “in the shape of a vulva.” (Whatever floats your boat, Wordniks.)

Z is for Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist, another German loan word, means “the spirit of the time,” or a way of thinking or feeling that defines a period of time or a generation. Number two is zephyr, a west wind, gentle breeze, type of soft fabric, or anything that’s airy or insubstantial.

Want to help us with our mission? You can by adopting a word!

Word Buzz Wednesday: disease mongering; the Not Face; jawn

Pete and me

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: spreading fear of disease; active “no” face; an all-purpose Philadelphia-ism.

digi-double

“In the past, digi-doubles could only be used at a distance or in the distracting frenzy of action sequences. Now, Snyder says, ‘you can get really close to them.’”

Logan Hill, “Plastic Surgery with a Mouse Click,” Vulture, April 4, 2016

Digi-doubles are digital body doubles, which are part of the wider field of beauty work, using special effects in movies to alter an actor’s appearance and even their expression.

disease mongering

“In his field, the tactic is known as ‘disease mongering.’ And to critics of consumer drug advertising, Belsomra is a perfect example of these practices at work.”

Jonathan Cohn, “Drugs You Don’t Need for Disorders You Don’t Have,” The Huffington Post, March 31, 2016

Think fearmongering, or spreading unsubstantiated fears, but with disease and illness. Disease mongering may convince people that their “usually mild ailment urgently needs drug treatment.” Large pharmaceutical companies have been accused of disease mongering in order to turn a profit.

jawn

“It is a completely acceptable statement in Philadelphia to ask someone to ‘remember to bring that jawn to the jawn.’”

Dan Nosowitz, “The Enduring Mystery Of ‘Jawn’, Philadelphia’s All-Purpose Noun,” Atlas Obscura, March 24, 2016

Jawn is a Philadelphia colloquialism that acts “an all-purpose noun,” says Atlas Obscura, “a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people.” The word originated as an alteration of the New York slang term joint, which became popular in the 1980s with the release of “That’s The Joint” by Bronx hip-hop group, Funky Four Plus.

Not Face

“There is no way I’m going to do this, there’s no way I agree – you would produce a Not Face.”

We All Know the ‘Not Face’ — Now We Have a Name for It,” NPR, April 3, 2016

Researchers have recently identified what might be a universal facial expression that just says no: what they’re calling the Not Face. The term for the mild scowl plus furrowed brow was coined by study author, Alex Martinez, a cognitive scientist and engineering professor at Ohio State University.

Panama Papers

“On Sunday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published a massive leak of documents, dubbed the Panama Papers.”

Jethro Mullen, “The Panama Papers: 7 Things to Know,” CNN, March 4, 2016

The Panama Papers allegedly “reveal a clandestine network involving associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” as well as business ties between a FIFA ethics committee member and FIFA officials and executives who were indicted for corruption.

So why Panama? The millions of documents are allegedly connected to a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca, which “helped establish secret shell companies and offshore accounts for global power players.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: bad boy clause, Polari, shock breakout

tantrum

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: when billionaires are bad boys, a secret language, and some space slang.

bad boy clause

“Not only did Lightstone lose its $200 million equity in the deal, but Lichtenstein himself was also personally on the hook for $100 million as a result of what’s known as a ‘bad boy’ clause.”

Chloe Sorvino, “How Real Estate Billionaire David Lichtenstein Bounced Back From A $7.5 Billion Hotel Bankruptcy,” Forbes, March 23, 2016

A bad boy clause or provision is “a regulatory clause stating that certain persons are not entitled to any type of exemptions from registering their securities, because of their past conduct.” Some examples of bad boy-worthy past behavior include fraud, gross negligence that results in forfeiture of a mortgaged property, and misappropriation of rents.

clawback

“Many believe that’s unethical, but it can also make the transfers subject to what’s known as a ‘clawback’ or forfeiture if they occur in the five years before the elderly family member’s application for Medicaid.”

Jayne O’Donnell and Laura Ungar, “Navigating Medicaid for elder care can be as painful as the ailments,” USA Today, March 26, 2016

A clawback refers to already distributed money or benefits that are taken back. It can also mean “a retraction of stock prices or of the market in general.” Another meaning of clawback is a flatterer or sycophant.

Polari

“Vada (‘look at’), dolly eek (a pretty face), and chicken (a young guy) are all words from the lexicon of Polari, a secret language used by gay men in Britain at a time when homosexuality was illegal.”

Ella Morton, “The Forgotten Secret Language of Gay Men,” Atlas Obscura, March 25, 2016

According to Atlas Obscura, Polari “is derived from a mishmash of Italian, Romani, Yiddish, Cockney rhyming slang, backslang,” and cant. It was used in the 19th- and early 20th centuries “by merchant seafarers and people who frequented the pubs around London’s docks,” and in the 1930s by “the theater types of the West End, from which it crossed over to the city’s gay pubs.”

The name Polari comes from the Italian parlere, “to speak.”

shock breakout

“When a star goes supernova, it emits what’s known as as a ‘shock breakout,’ a brilliant flash of energy.”

Jim Festante, “NASA Captures the Crazy Shockwave of an Exploding Star,” Slate, March 26, 2016

A shock breakout is “130,000,000 times brighter than the sun” and lasts only 20 minutes. An example was recently captured for the first time in “visible light” by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

True Polar Wander

“A physical change in the moon’s spin axis is known as True Polar Wander, and this is the first physical evidence that the moon has undergone it.”

Deborah Byrd, “Moon’s tilt has changed over time,” EarthSky, March 24, 2016

Recently physical evidence, namely ancient lunar ice deposits, has shown that the moon has indeed undergone True Polar Wander, says EarthSky. Specifically, the moon’s axis rotation has shifted by at least six degrees.

What’s Happening with Wordnik: News and Events

all the news

TED 2016, PyCon, and a Leap Day birthday — these are just some of the shenanigans Wordnik will be getting into in the upcoming months. Check them all out.

The First 100,000 Funded Kickstarter Projects in 100 Numbers

What a way to start the month: Wordnik’s Kickstarter campaign to find a million missing words got a mention in Kickstarter’s post on Medium about 100,000 projects that have gotten funded. Thanks Kickstarter!

While our campaign has concluded, you can still help us out by adopting a word.

PyCon 2016: Putting 1 Million New Words into the Dictionary

Speaking at PyCon this year spring will be Manuel Ebert of summer.ai, the machine learning organization we’ve been working with to find and gather data on those missing million words.

TED 2016: What words will Erin McKean find this year?

TED 2016 kicks off this week! In addition to talks from the greatest thinkers around the world, our fearless leader Erin McKean will be presenting her picks for the most interesting words of the conference. Check out her choices from last year and 2014.

If you’re following the TED livestream and hear an interesting word, let Erin know at @emckean with the hashtag #wordsatTED.

Happy Birthday to Us: Wordnik turns 2!

Because Wordnik was incorporated on Leap Day 2008, we’re only turning two this year, but that’s plenty big enough for our very own birthday party. If you’re in the Bay Area, please join us on Monday, February 29 at the Heavybit Clubhouse. There will be word games and cake!