Word Buzz Wednesday: adulting, work martyr, trolley problem


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: grow up, millennials!; relax, milliennials!; and would you pull the trolley switch?


Adulting occurs when someone who is, in fact, an adult manages to complete a basic chore anyone of average competence and circumstances should be able to accomplish without a second thought — and then wants to be praised for it.”

Bonnie Kristian, “How millennials are rewarding their laziness with an absurd participation award,” The Week, September 19, 2016

According to American Speech (by way of TIME), to adult means “to behave in an adult manner; engage in activities associated with adulthood,” or “to make someone behave like an adult; turn someone into an adult.”

In TIME, Katy Steinmetz assume more self-awareness in millennials, suggesting that “to say you are ‘adulting’ [creates] distance between you and what are implied to be actual adults who are adulting 100% of the time and therefore have little reason to acknowledge it.”

work martyr

“Nearly half (48%) of the millennials surveyed said it is a good thing to be seen as a work martyr by the boss, far outpacing the average (39%), Gen Xers (39%), and Baby Boomers (32%).”

Christopher Tkaczyk, “Millennials Are to Blame for America’s Vacation Problem,” Travel and Leisure, August 2016

So are millennials not working enough or too much? Many are work martyrs, according to Travel and Leisure, those who sacrifice vacation, weekends, free time, etc. to put in more hours at the office, often necessarily. Martyr in this case refers to someone “who makes a great show of suffering in order to arouse sympathy.”

The earliest citation we could find for work martyr was from 2003 in Judi James’s book, More Time, Less Stress: How to Create Two Extra Hours Every Day:

It could be that you are a work martyr and that you are only happy when you are handling everyone else’s workload, purely because you enjoy the suffering and the accompanying self-pity it brings.


“Smitheram triumphed after three rounds when he produced the crucial word braconid, meaning a parasitic wasp.”

Braconid: Briton wins Scrabble world title with 181-point word,” The Guardian, September 4, 2016

The word braconid may come from the Greek brakhus, meaning “short.”

onion routing

Onion routing was first developed by the U.S. Naval Research Lab to ensure secure intelligence communication.”

Charles Graeber, “The Man Who Lit the Dark Web,” Popular Science, August 30, 2016

Onion routing, says MakeUseOf, is “like an advanced form of proxy routing.” Instead of “routing through a single unprotected server, it uses a network of nodes that constantly encrypt your data packets at every step.” The “multiple layers of encryption” —resembling the layers of an onion — make it “extremely difficult to trace your information back to you as the source.”

trolley problem

“In a 2014 paper led by Albert Costa, volunteers were presented with a moral dilemma known as the ‘trolley problem.’”

Julie Sedivy, “How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language,” Scientific American, September 14, 2016

In the trolley problem, says Scientific American, you’re asked to imagine:

that a runaway trolley is careening toward a group of five people standing on the tracks, unable to move. You are next to a switch that can shift the trolley to a different set of tracks, thereby sparing the five people, but resulting in the death of one who is standing on the side tracks. Do you pull the switch?

Or do you do something else entirely?

According to How Stuff Works, the trolley problem was first introduced in a 1967 paper by Phillipa Foot, and is an example of consequentialism, a philosophical view that says “morality is defined by the consequences of an action, and that the consequences are all that matter.”

A ‘Basket of Deplorables’: Exploring the origins


Hillary Clinton recently declared that half of Donald Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables.” In other words, they were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

The Democratic presidential candidate has since expressed regret over the statement, but that hasn’t stopped us from wondering about the phrase.

Steve Katz of Mother Jones asked us if Clinton was the first to utter it:

Katy Tur of NBC points out it’s not the first time Clinton has used “the deplorables”:

But how about the “basket” half of it?

Let’s start with the latter. Nowadays deplorable is mostly used as an adjective. It originated in the early 1600s, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), to mean “lamentable, very sad, grievous, miserable, wretched,” and comes from the French déplorable. The verb form, deplore, “to weep for, bewail, lament,” is about 50 years older.

Around the mid-1800s, the verb form gained the meaning of regarding something “as scandalous,” or “to feel or express strong disapproval of.” The OED’s earliest citation is from Herman Melville in Moby-Dick: “It is much to be deplored that the mast-heads of a southern whale ship are unprovided with..crow’s-nests.”

It was around 1828 that deplorables was first used as a noun. Referring to “deplorable ills,” it was perhaps first used by Sir Walter Scott: “What better is an old fellow, mauled with rheumatism and other deplorables?”

Another early instance of deplorables appears in a September 1901 issue of The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness, referring to some unsavory individuals: “He turned to the east and took a Third avenue car down town. It carried a load of deplorables; all uninteresting, some offensive.”

Now, how about that basket? We couldn’t find any uses of “basket of deplorables” from before Clinton’s. But we did find a couple of new-to-us “basket of” idioms.

There’s basket of currencies, an economics term meaning “an agreed range of currencies, goods, etc. whose combined values can be used as a basis for calculating an average or comparative value.”

Then there’s basket of chips. According to the Dictionary of Regional American English (DARE), the idiom is used in comparisons — for  instance, “as smiling as a basket of chips” means “showing great happiness.” The OED’s earliest citation of basket of chips is from 1788: “He grins like a basket of chips.” DARE also cites “polite as a basket of chips,” meaning “extremely or obsequiously polite.”

Could Clinton have been channeling basket of chips when she came out with basket of deplorables? Perhaps: DARE includes Arkansas, Clinton’s longtime home, as a region where one might hear a “basket of chips” variation.

We admit it’s a bit of a stretch. What we do know is that basket of deplorables is sure to give binders full of women a run for its money.

Be sure to also check out Ben Zimmer’s Language Log post on the phrase.

Word Buzz Wednesday: craic, dark triad, repechage

Perfect symmetry.

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. This week we honor the conclusion of the games in Rio with a craic-ing Irish expression, an ego of Olympic proportions, and an Olympic oddity.


“In an interview following the medal ceremony, the pair said: ‘What’s the craic? We’re in Rio. The background looks superimposed but it’s real.’”

Nicola Slawson, “Ireland’s O’Donovan brothers become web sensations after medal win,” The Guardian, August 14, 2016

Craic is an Irish term that might refer to “news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation,” says Irish Central. The craic was ninety is the “nirvana of craic” while minus craic is a particularly un-fun night. The word craic might be an alteration of another Irish expression, crack, which means fun or amusement.

dark triad

“Jonason’s research has covered what’s known as the ‘dark triad’—three sets of traits that may go along with a penchant for lying.”

Mallory Locklear, “Lochte Probably Lied for the Same Reason We All Do: It Was Easier,” Slate, August 18, 2016

The term dark triad was coined by psychologists Delroy L. Paulhus and Kevin M. Williams in a 2002 paper. The three sinister factors that make it up are psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism.


“In others, there’s what’s called a repechage, where those knocked out by the eventual winners are placed in two separate pools, and compete among themselves for one of two bronzes.”

Rio 2016: 13 lesser-spotted oddities of the Olympics,” BBC, August 18, 2016

Repechage also refers to a “trial heat, especially in rowing, allowing competitors who have already lost a heat another chance to quality for the semifinals.” The word is French in origin, coming from repecher, “to finish up again, to rescue,” where re- means “again” and pecher means “to fish for.”

stringray shuffle

“You don’t have to let the warnings about stingrays ruin your fun day at the beach, all you have to do is what’s called the ‘stingray shuffle.’”

Jenny Dean, “Stingrays injure a dozen swimmers on Clearwater Beach,” 10 News, August 19, 2016

The stingray shuffle refers to movement that keeps stingrays away, namely “vibrations in the sand” which “alert the animals that you’re in the area.”


“This is what’s known as stridhan — a portion of a married couple’s wealth that is controlled exclusively by the wife and to which she is entitled, even after separation from her husband.”

Frank Holmes, “Strong Monsoon Season May Flood Indian Gold Market With Buyers,” Forbes, August 18, 2016

The Forbes piece implies that stridhan often takes the form of gold. In India women are “the largest owners” of the precious metal. Pre-wedding gifts of gold jewelry are considered auspicious.

Word Buzz Wednesday: stochastic terrorism, jinji ido, bomb pulse


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: words matter, the salaryman shuffle, carbon-dating sharks.

stochastic terrorism

“In other words, what Trump just did is engage in so-called stochastic terrorism.”

David S. Cohen, “Trump’s Assassination Dog Whistle Was Even Scarier Than You Think,” Rolling Stone, August 9, 2016

Stochastic terrorism, says Rolling Stone, is “using language and other forms of communication ‘to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.’” In Donald Trump’s case, he put out the “dog whistle” for Second Amendment-ers to do “something” to stop Hillary Clinton, knowing that some dog will hear although he doesn’t know which.

The word stochastic refers to statistics involving random variables, chance, or probability, and comes from the Greek stokhastēs, “diviner.”


“The bruises are minor—and so is the likely positive impact on performance. Cupping might not be helping Olympic athletes prepare for competition as much as they think.”

Kelsey Kennedy, “Cupping is the latest unproven therapy Olympians have turned to in the hope of winning gold,” Quartz, August 8, 2016

Cupping is a traditional Chinese medicinal practice, says Quartz, used for everything from “coughs to shingles.” Glass cups are placed against the skin, using heat or a pump to create “intense suction.” Hence, the circular bruises sported by the likes of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and actress-cum-Goop-guru Gwyneth Paltrow.

double double

“Bolt is also the first athlete to achieve what’s known as the ‘double double’…which is when an athlete wins both the 100m and 200m titles in back-to-back Olympics, a feat which he accomplished in 2008 and 2012.”

Jeff Smith, “A Brief History of Usain Bolt’s Path to the 2016 Rio Olympics,” Mic, August 13, 2016

Other double doubles include a coffee with two creamers and two sugars, and a double cheeseburger with cheese on each burger.

jinji ido

“No one is safe from the ‘jinji ido’ – some number of bosses, fresh employees, and veterans are all shuffled around every year.”

Scott Wilson, “5 strange Japanese office occurrences,” Japan Today, August 14, 2016

Jinji ido translates from Japanese as “moving people around,” says Japan Today, in which employees are shifted “from department to department.” In a country where people still tend to work for one company their entire lives, jinji ido is a way for “people to develop in their careers and keep from getting stagnant.”

bomb pulse

Bomb pulse signatures are often used in dating marine animals that are about 60 years old or younger, and in this case the readings were indeed proof that the three shark’s small size was an indicator of youth.”

Jeffrey Kluger, “Scientists Discover Sharks That Can Live for 400 Years,” TIME, August 11, 2016

According to TIME, the term bomb pulse refers to a “period of elevated radioactive isotopes [found in organisms] that corresponded with atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s.” Such a marker was found in the eye lenses of those “too young” sharks.

Word Buzz Wednesday: express kidnapping, dark social, Jedi phenomenon


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: quickie kidnappings, secret social, the wrong religion.

express kidnapping

“He says he was kidnapped by two people in military police uniforms on Saturday and forced to withdraw hundreds of dollars from ATMs, in what’s known as an express kidnapping.”

Kiwi kidnapped in Rio claims terrifying new twist to story,” TVNZ, July 26, 2016

An express kidnapping is one in which the victim is abducted for a short time and forced to pay their own ransom through ATM withdrawals. Sometimes relatives are the ones to cough up the “relatively moderate quantities of cash,” says The Sydney Morning Herald.


“This was not a Baird’s beaked whale at all, but an entirely new species—a smaller, odd-shaped black cetacean that Japanese fishermen have long called karasu, or raven.”

Craig Welch, “Mysterious New Whale Species Discovered in Alaska,” National Geographic, July 26, 2016

Not surprisingly, karasu is also the name of characters in various mangas and animes, including Yu Yu Hakusho, Noein: To Your Other Self, and Naruto.

dark social

“The vast majority of content sharing and chatting that marketers call second screening is done directly to friends or small groups, locked away on what’s called ‘dark’ social.”

Sean Hargrave, “Why Twitter Is Doomed To Disappoint Wall Street,” MediaPost, July 29, 2016

The term dark social was coined by journalist Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic, according to Techopedia. Links are shared through chat, email, and perhaps text, rather than public — and measurable social channels. The Atlantic discovered that more than half of their social traffic “came from untrackable sources, or dark social.”

See also dark web.

Jedi phenomenon

“It’s known as the ‘Jedi Knight phenomenon,’ and it started in 2001. But now an atheist group is tired of the joke.”

Kate Irby, “Atheists ask you not to list ‘Jedi’ or ‘Pastafarian’ as your religion,” Centre Daily, August 1, 2016

The Jedi phenomenon began as a joke, says the BBC, when over 390,000 people described their religion as “Jedi” on the UK’s 2001 census. In 2011, census numbers came in at 176,000 in England and Wales and 65,000 in Australia, enough to irk the Australian Atheist Foundation who encourages wannabe-Jedi knights to proclaim “No religion” instead to avoid skewing numbers.


“An anti-immigration Progress Party, part of the conservative-led government, is promoting a backlash against what’s known as ‘naving,’ or living off welfare.”

Baz Dreisinger, “Norway Proves That Treating Prison Inmates As Human Beings Actually Works,” The Huffington Post, August 3, 2016

The term naving comes from NAV, the acronym for Nye arbeids- og velferdsetaten, or the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration.

Word Buzz Wednesday: Biles, qubit, trumpery


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: an athletic eponym, an excellent WWF word, a telling name.


“In the second tumbling pass of her floor exercise routine, she does what’s called a ‘Biles,’ two back flips followed by a half twist, all with a straight body position and landing blind.”

Jessica Marmor Shaw, “How Simone Biles has become the most dominant gymnast of all time,” MarketWatch, July 30, 2016

Simone Biles first performed the signature move that’s named after her at the 2013 World Gymnastics Championships. Check it out in action.

More sports moves named after athletes include the axel, salchow, and lutz in figure skating, named for, respectively, Axel Paulsen, Ulrich Salchow, and Alois Lutz; the Fosbury flop in the high jump named for Dick Fosbury; and the Mendoza line in baseball named for Mario Mendoza.

Curie point

“The Curie point is why when a stream of molten iron is poured directly next to a magnet with tremendous amounts of pull, the iron falls in a straight line instead of being pulled towards the magnet.”

Jake Swearingen, “Why Molten Iron Just Isn’t Attracted to Rare Earth Magnets,” Popular Mechanics, July 27, 2016

The Curie point of Curie temperature is the point at which “a ferromagnetic substance loses its ferromagnetism and becomes paramagnetic.” Substances that are ferromagnetic include “iron, nickel, or cobalt and various alloys” and are “easily magnetized.” Paramagnetic substances “have an induced magnetic field [that] is parallel and proportional to the intensity of the magnetizing field but is much weaker than in ferromagnetic materials.”

The Curie point is named for physicist Pierre Curie (and husband of Marie).


“‘Whatever our disagreements may be, we must put them aside for the good of our country,’ Bloomberg said, calling Clinton ‘the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue.’”

Michael Bloomberg appeals to Clinton skeptics in Trump takedown,” The Week, July 27, 2016

You might have heard the term demagogue a lot lately, but what exactly does it mean? A demagogue is a leader who gains power by appealing to the “emotions and prejudices of the populace.” The word has been in use since the mid-17th century and comes from the Greek demagogos, “popular leader” or “leader of the mob.”


“But a quantum computer obeys the seemingly magical principles of quantum mechanics, the physics of things like atoms and photons. It stores data in what’s called a ‘qubit.’”

Cade Metz, “Quantum Computers Don’t Make Sense. But This One Makes Music,” WIRED, July 30, 2016

Qubit, in addition to being an excellent Scrabble or Words With Friends word, is a unit of measurement, specifically a quantum bit. The term originated in the mid-1990s. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation is from 1994 in Nature: “Quantum physical bits are also called ‘qubits’, so we are trying to find the minimum number of qubits per quantum symbol.”


“Anti-Trumpers propelled lookups for trumpery, delighting in the word’s definition of ‘something fallaciously splendid.’”

Katy Steinmetz, “Donald Trump’s Comments Make Dictionary Lookups for ‘Treason’ Spike,” TIME, July 27, 2016

The word trumpery refers to “showy but worthless finery,” as well as nonsense, rubbish, trickery, and fraud. Trumpery comes from the Middle English trompery, “deceit.”

(H/t James Currie.)

The language of roller coasters


Earlier this summer was the 132nd anniversary of the opening of the first roller coaster in America. A main attraction of Coney Island, the Gravity Switchback Railway traveled at a whopping six miles an hour and cost all of five cents, says History.com. (Coney Island’s famous wooden coaster, the Cyclone, opened in 1927.)

Of course the roller coaster is hardly just an American phenomenon, which got us wondering how one might say roller coaster in other languages. Let’s take a ride and see.

The origin of ‘rollercoaster’

While the first roller coaster in America opened in 1884, the first instance of the word, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), was the year before in a September 30 issue of the Chicago Tribune: “A curious structure is now in course of construction… It will be known as ‘The Roller Coaster’, and the objects claimed for it are health and amusement.”

As for where the name comes from, linguist Barry Popik says the structure is “said to have originated from an early French design where slides or ramps were fitted with rollers over which a sled would coast.” While the design changed to that “of fitting the wheels to the sled or other vehicles,” the name roller coaster stuck.

A Russian ancestor

According to How Stuff Works, “direct ancestors” of modern-day roller coasters were ice slide rides popular in 16th and 17th century Russia. The wooden slides were long and steep, “some as high as 70 feet,” and sliders rode on “sleds made out of wood or blocks of ice” and crash-landed in sand piles.

In addition to sounding absolutely terrifying, this might explain why the roller coaster is known as “Russian mountain,” or some variation thereof, in so many languages. In French it’s montagnes russes; in Spanish, montaña rusa. The Italians say montagne russe while the Portuguese use montanha russa.

Icelandic calls it like it is: rússíbani, which translates as “Russian death” or “Russian killer, bane, slayer.”

American influence

So if roller coaster is “Russian mountain” in all those languages, what is it in Russian? “American slides” (amerikanskiye gorki) of course. In Urkainian it’s also “American slides” (Amerykansʹki hirky) while in Latvian it’s “American coaster” (Amerikāņu kalniņi). In Estonian and Kyrgyz it’s “American mountain” (Ameerika mäed and Amerika toosu, respectively).

A mountain high enough

Speaking of mountains, some languages stick with that theme. The Uzbek word translates as “merry hills attraction” (quvnoq tepaliklar attraktsioni). In Bosnian and Serbian it’s “mountain railroad” (brdska željeznica and brdska železnica, respectively) while in Czech it’s “mountain path” (horská dráha). Swedish rolls with berg och dalbana or “mountain coaster.”

A different kind of eight track

In some languages the roller coaster is named for the figure eight design of some tracks: achtbaan in Dutch, Achterbahn in German, and Achterbunn in Luxembourgish.

The need for speed

And sometimes it’s all about velocity. The Indonesian kecepatan roller coaster translates as the rather redundant “speed roller coaster” while in Japanese it’s jettokōsutā, or “jet coaster.” As you might have guessed, roller coasters are big in Japan.

And medium in Mongolia

We’re not sure what’s more surprising, that sparsely-populated Mongolia has an amusement park or that roller coaster translates literally from Mongolian as “crazy mouse” (galzuu khulgana).

Why crazy mouse? It appears to be a brand name gone generic. The Crazy Mouse is a type of roller coaster, of which China is the leading manufacturer. Hence, the import of the crazy mouse roller coaster to the Ulaanbaatar National Amusement Park.

Take the fast train to Luna Parksville

Our favorite translations have to be from Turkish and Greek. The Turkish Lunapark hız treni translates as “speed train to Luna Park” while the Greek trenáki loúna park is “the train to Luna Park” direct references to Luna Park of Coney Island.

Luna Park opened in 1903 along with Coney Island’s other amusement parks, Sea-Lion Park and Steeplechase Park. Decked out with 250,000 lights, Luna Park soon garnered the nickname, “Electric Eden.” While it closed in 1946, the park reopened in 2010.

Want even more roller coasters? Check out the Roller Coaster Database.