Word Buzz Wednesday: biohybrid, hyperuniformity, corn sweat

Corn field

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: skinjob Cylons, here they come; the hidden order of chicken eyes; never let ‘em see you corn sweat.

word gap

“But these efforts to close the ‘word gap’ often overlook a fundamental problem. In high-poverty neighborhoods, books—the very things that could supply so many of those 30 million-plus words—are hard to come by.”

Alia Wong, “Where Books Are All But Nonexistent,” The Atlantic, July 14, 2016

The term word gap refers to the difference between the number of words “a typical child in a white-collar family will hear” and the number a child in welfare will hear before age 4. According to The Atlantic, the gap is 32 million words.


“Our ray outperformed existing locomotive biohybrid systems in terms of speed, distance traveled, and durability (six days), demonstrating the potential of self-propelled, phototactically activated tissue-engineered robots.”

Lisa Calhoun, “Scientists Create Successful Biohybrid Being Using 3-D Printing and Genetic Engineering,” Inc., July 11, 2016

A biohybrid is something composed of biological and nonbiological components. Inc. describes an artificial stingray made up of “a 3-D-printed rubber body” and skeleton, and rat heart cells adapted so they can “respond to light by contracting.”


“Beyond bird eyes, hyperuniformity is found in materials called quasicrystals, as well as in mathematical matrices full of random numbers, the large-scale structure of the universe, quantum ensembles, and soft-matter systems like emulsions and colloids.”

Natalie Wolchover, “A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order,” Quanta Magazine, July 12, 2016

The term hyperuniformity was coined in the early 2000s by Salvatore Torquato, a professor of theoretical chemistry at Princeton University. It seems to be a shortening of disordered hyperuniformity, a type of “correlated disorder at large length scales,” and considered another type of matter beyond solids, liquids, gases, and plasma.


“While bombing, the guys kept one eye on the wall and on scanning for possible undercover cops.”

Ray Mock, “I Went Bombing with Hong Kong’s Biggest Graffiti Writers,” VICE, July 17, 2016

Bombing in graffiti-speak means to cover an area with graffiti. Analogous is yarn bombing, which uses knitted items instead of spray paint or ink.

corn sweat

“Midwest cities such as St. Louis, Kansas City and Minneapolis can get very humid, especially during a summer heat wave. One of your favorite veggies could be partly to blame.”

Jennifer Gray and Dave Hennen, “High temperatures, ‘corn sweat’ form dangerous heat dome over U.S.,” CNN, July 17, 2016

Apparently corn sweats like a human. Its leaves release water, says CNN, which is released into the atmosphere as the wind sweeps across, resulting in higher humidity levels in the surrounding air.

Word Buzz Wednesday: aerotropolis, ballhawking, pork chop island

Museum Tower rendering seen with the Downtown Dallas Financial District to its left, Woodall Rodgers Urban Park rendering to its right, and the completed and illuminated Margaret McDermott Bridge rendering behind it and to the right, June 2010.

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: Airport City, USA; stealing balls; not a paradise for pork lovers.


“Drinkard’s vision is for a full-fledged offshore ‘aerotropolis’: a floating structure that, as well as being able to handle medium-sized airliners…[would] host a whole range of economic and research activities, from experimentation with renewable energy technology to aquaculture and yachting.”

Miquel Ros, “Floating airports: Could they finally become a reality?” CNN, July 4, 2016

According to World Wide Words, the term aerotropolis was coined in 2000 by John Kasarda of the University of North Carolina. The word blends aero-, meaning “air, atmosphere; aircraft; gases,” and metropolis.


“Hample, understandably, took issue with my negative characterization of him and the wider ballhawking hobby, of which he is its most visible and most successful member.”

Barry Petchesky, “Against Ballhawking,” Deadspin, July 1, 2016

Ball hawk, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is U.S. sports slang for a player who’s skilled at stealing the ball, and specifically in baseball, a talented outfielder. The term originated around 1917. Ball hawk referring to a spectator who “specializes in catching home-run and foul balls” most likely came about later.

emergent gameplay

“When emergent gameplay works, it feels almost as if the player is conversing with the unseen creator, and in the case of Survivor, the producers play off the players to help introduce interesting new twists; some more successful than others.”

Matt Perez, “What Survivor Can Teach Us About Emergent Gameplay,” Kill Screen, July 6, 2016

Emergent gameplay is a design concept that “refers to a style of play not necessarily intended by the creator” and that allows for a robust range of solutions and “possible strategies for success.” In terms of video games, Technopedia says the concept refers to “mechanics that change according to the player’s actions.”


“In the case of what’s called ‘soft-titling,’ the subtitles are timed—sometimes by the translator—to an unsubtitled print of the film as it screens.”

Max Nelson, “To Surprise a Voice,” The Point, July 2016

Soft-titling is a kind of live subtitling in which the subtitles are projected onto the film while it’s being run rather than “burnt in” beforehand.

pork chop island

“A Preferred Concept image, designed by Fehr and Peers Transportation Consultants and obtained by members of Isla Vista’s PTA reveals the removal of street lights, modified turn lanes and the installation of what’s called a ‘pork chop island.’”

Beth Farnsworth, “Concept Design For Isla Vista Intersection Creates Controversy,” KEYT, July 7, 2016

Not a vacation getaway for porkivores, a pork chop island is a type of traffic island named for its shape.

Word Buzz Wednesday: bow shock, bloody code, Trump cards

Massive Star Makes Waves

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: what Jupiter sounds like; a ridiculously bloody code; playing the Miss Universe game.

bow shock

“On June 24, Juno crossed what’s known as the ‘bow shock’ separating the part of space dominated by solar wind streaming from the sun into the part of the solar system dominated by Jupiter’s magnetic environment.”

Miriam Kramer, “Listen to this: The sounds of Jupiter,” Mashable, June 30, 2016

Earlier this week NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered Jupiter’s orbit after having traversed the bow shock, which is “is analogous to a sonic boom.”

Obama eight

“There were eight of us granted clemency on that day. They call us the Obama Eight.”

Amy McCarthy and Jason Hernandez, “Life After Life,” Texas Monthly, June 2, 2016

The Obama eight are eight federal inmates who had been sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent offenses — such as drug dealing — and who were granted clemency in late 2013 by President Obama in light of an ACLU report that “detailed the harsh realities” for such prisoners.

bloody code

“Public punishments reached a peak in the United Kingdom in the 18th century under the ‘bloody code,’ which listed over 200 crimes punishable by public execution.”

Jessie Guy-Ryan, “In the UK, It’s Still Legal to Place People in the Stocks,” Atlas Obscura, July 2, 2016

The bloody code was established in 1723 by the Waltham Black Act, making over 200 offenses, many of them petty, punishable by death.

How did such a code come to be? At the time, the ruling class of Britain were landowners, says The National Archives, who “based their power on property-ownership, and saw the law’s main purpose as protecting property.” While crime rate wasn’t high, they feared it would be, between growing populations and lack of police force. The bloody code was established as a threat to deter anyone from committing even the smallest of crimes.

Trump card

“From 2005 until Donald Trump sold the pageant last year, the billionaire quietly handpicked as many as six semifinalists—‘Trump cards,’ they were called—an alleged response to the 2004 snubbing of Miss Ukraine, Oleksandra Nikolayenko, a particular favorite of Mr. Trump.”

Burt Helm, “Mr. Miss Universe: Meet Jeff Lee, Professional Beautiful-Woman Coach,” GQ, June 1, 2016

The original meaning of trump card is “a card in the trump suit, held in reserve for winning a trick.” The trump suit is the suit that outranks all the others for the duration of a hand. Trump card also has the figurative meaning of “a key resource to be used at an opportune moment.”

Besides Trump card, other Miss Universe lingo includes Missólogo, Spanish for “Miss Universe-ologist,” and sash factor, in which “contestants from rich, established franchises like Miss U.S.A. can take out-there risks like being 5’6″,” while “rinky-dink programs like Malaysia’s must play by the rules.”

straw purchase

“Another bill that will now be law is an attempt to limit straw purchasing.”

Taylor Torregano, “Locals respond to the new bills Governor Brown has signed,” KRCR News, July 1, 2016

A straw purchase is an illegal act in which someone who can’t purchase a gun gets someone else to purchase it for them. The term might come from straw man, someone who’s set up as a cover “for a questionable enterprise.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: regrexit, skins gambling, brunchfast

Lumberjack Breakfast

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: regretting a British exit; gambling in video games; yet another unnecessary food portmanteau.


“The aftermath of Brexit has also spawned the so-called ‘Regrexit’ phenomenon: Britons who voted for Brexit, but now regret doing so because they feel they were misinformed about the likely consequences, or did not consider them carefully enough.”

Ilya Somin, “Brexit, ‘Regrexit,’ and the impact of political ignorance,” Washington Post, June 26, 2016

Last week was all about the Brexit, Great Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, followed almost immediately by regrexit, regretting the Brexit. Not to be outdone, Texas gave a renewed call for Texit, secession from the United States, while Quartz devised possible names for exits by all EU members, from Beljump to Swedone.


“Dubbed ‘Broomgate,’ much of the fuss centers on a new kind of curling broom called the icePad, manufactured by Hardline Curling.”

Jennifer Ouellette, “Here’s the Physics Behind the ‘Broomgate’ Controversy Rocking the Sport of Curling,” Gizmodo, June 12, 2016

In lesser scandals, the curling world was swept away by Broomgate, named for the little brooms with which team members “madly sweep the ice” in front of the curling stone. Players aren’t opposed to the new icePad curling broom, but are just worried that it and “similar high-tech equipment are altering the fundamentals of the sport in troubling ways by drastically reducing the level of skill required.”

skins gambling

“The lawsuit comes two months after Bloomberg published an investigation into the rise of what’s known as skins gambling, an increasingly prominent part of professional video gaming.”

Joshua Brustein, Eben Novy-Williams, “Valve Faces Lawsuit Over Video Game Gambling,” Bloomberg, June 24, 2016

Skins are decorative virtual weapons used in gaming, and which can “be acquired in the game and sold for real money.” The introduction of skins led to skin gambling in the game CS:GO, in which “people buy skins for cash, then use the skins to place online bets on pro CS:GO matches.”


“Burger Business reports that the chain filed a U.S. trademark registration for the term ‘Brunchfast’ on May 26.”

Virginia Chamlee, “Jack in the Box Trademarks ‘Brunchfast,’” Eater, June 7, 2016

Brunchfast is, as Eater says, a “seemingly unnecessary portmanteau of the words ‘brunch’ and ‘breakfast.” It’s also been trademarked by fast food chain Jack in the Box. Since brunch is a combination of “breakfast” and “lunch” and is generally eaten between or instead of those two meals, we’re guessing that brunchfast would be a slightly later breakfast.


“It’s easy to dismiss geophagy as a disgusting habit of children, a wacky pregnancy craving, or an exotic behaviour from far-away lands, but none of these approaches really do it justice.”

Josh Gabbatiss, “The people who can’t stop eating dirt,” BBC, June 16, 2016

Geophagy is “the eating of earthy substances, such as clay or chalk, practiced among various peoples as a custom or for dietary or subsistence reasons.” While “Western medicine has traditionally regarded geophagy as pathological,” says the BBC, it’s not considered taboo in countries like Cameroon and Kenya, where a researcher found that “she could buy packets of earth in a range of flavours, including black pepper and cardamom.”

Game of Words: Our 11 Favorites from ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6


As always, here be spoilers.

It’s June so you know what that means: time for the Game of Thrones season finale. We’ve been gathering our favorite GoT words for a while now, and this year is no different. Here are 11 of our favorites.

UPDATE: We’ve added a couple of terms from the season finale.

Bay of Dragons

Daenerys: “Specific orders will be left for you regarding the welfare of Meereen and the Bay of Dragons.”
Daario: “The Bay of Dragons?”
Daenerys: “We can’t call it Slaver’s Bay anymore, can we?”

“The Winds of Winter,” June 26, 2016

In Vietnam you can find a real-life Bay of Dragons. Called Hạ Long Bay, which translates literally as Bay of the Descending Dragon, the bay is either named for the dragon-like sea creatures spotted by early explorers or, according to Vietnamese legend, dragons sent as protectors against invaders. The dragons spit out “jewels and jade,” which became the islands and islets of the Bay, linking together to form a wall.

Brotherhood Without Banners

The Hound: “They’re from the Brotherhood. They follow the Red God.”

“The Broken Man,” June 5, 2016

This season the Hound encounters the Brotherhood Without Banners, an “outlaw group” whose goal is to protect the smallfolk, or peasantry, “regardless of which King or Lord they support.” The Red God is another name for the Lord of Light or R’hllor. The BWB members the Hound runs into are renegades themselves, slaughtering a settlement of smallfolk rather than protecting them.

dosh khaleen

Ser Jorah: “When Khal Drogo died, she was supposed to come here and join the dosh khaleen, the widows of the dead khals.”

“Book of the Stranger,” May 15, 2016

Dosh khaleen translates from Dothraki as “council of crones.” These widows of slain khals, or clan chieftains, serve as seers for the Dothraki and “preside over the holy city of Vaes Dothrak.”


Daenerys: “Dracarys.”

“The Battle of the Bastards,” June 19, 2016

Dracarys is a High Valyrian word that means “dragon-fire,” and is what Daenerys says to her dragons to make them unleash their blazey breath.


Randyll Tarly: “See that sword? It’s called Heartsbane. Been in our family for 500 years. . . .It’s supposed to go to my first born son after I die. He will never wield that sword.”

“Blood of My Blood,” May 29, 2016

The word bane comes from the Old English bana, “killer, slayer, murderer; the devil,” and refers to “that which causes death, or destroys life,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Bane came to refer especially to poison, in particular poisonous plants such as wolfsbane, ratsbane, and dogbane. A later meaning is a cause of ruin or woe, as in “the bane of one’s existence.”

iron price

Euron Greyjoy: “I wasn’t born to be king. I paid the iron price, and here I stand.”

“The Door,” May 22, 2016

To pay the iron price means to have gotten something by seizure rather than buying out the other party. That shameful practice, at least among the ironborn, is known as “paying the gold price.” The iron price is a tenet of the ironborn’s traditional lifestyle, also known as the Old Way.

little birds

Cersei [of the children]: “Varys’s little birds.”
Maester: “Your little birds now, your grace.”

“Oathbreaker,” May 8, 2016

The little birds, mainly street children, are the network of spies once employed by Varys, also known as the Spider and the Master of Whisperers, and “adviser in matters of intelligence and espionage.” The name little birds might come from the idiom, a little bird told me, which itself might come from the Bible.


Varys: “Mhysa means ‘mother’ in Valyrian.”
Tyrion: “I know what mhysa means.”

“The Red Woman,” April 24, 2016

Mhysa is, more specifically, Low Valyrian. The Low Valyrian spoken in Slaver’s Bay was influenced by Old Ghiscari, an ancient language of which a few loanwords remain. Mhysa is one of them. The High Valyrian word for mother is muña. Muño ēngos means “mother tongue”; muñar means “parents”; and Muña Zaldrīzoti is “the Mother of Dragons.”


Tyrion [to the dragons]: “When I was a child, my uncle asked what gift I wanted for my nameday. I begged him for one of you.”

“Home,” May 1, 2016

A nameday in Game of Thrones land is basically the same as a birthday since Seven Kingdom-ers receive their names on the day that they’re born. A name day in Christian faith is “the feast day of the saint after whom one is named,” as well as the day one is baptized.

take the black

Sansa [to Theon]: “When you take the black, all your crimes are forgiven.”

“Home,” May 1, 2016

When someone joins the Night’s Watch, it’s said that they take the black. The members of the Night’s Watch wear only black and are also referred to as the black brothers and, disparagingly, crows.

trial by faith

“After much prayer and reflection, the Crown has decided that from this day forward, trial by combat will be forbidden throughout the Seven Kingdoms. . . .Cersei Lannister and Loras Tyrell will stand trial before seven septors as it was in the earliest days of faith.”

“No One,” June 12, 2016

Trial by faith or trial of the faith is the idea of being tried by members of the Faith Militant. This is opposed to trial by combat, in which the accused and the accuser appoint fighters to battle each other to the death. A variation of trial by combat is trial by seven, in which each side appoints a team of seven fighters.

white raven

Sansa: “Jon, a raven came from the Citadel. A white raven. Winter is here.”

“The Winds of Winter,” June 26, 2016

While black ravens deliver messages, the white raven is sent from the Citadel specifically to announce the changing of the seasons, which, as every Game of Thrones fan knows, can last for years.

So what does it mean that winter is finally here? Comicbook.com breaks it down: previous to winter was the longest summer ever, “which many believed was an ominous portent of things to come,” such as an especially harsh winter, and with that the Night King and his White Walker army, and, as Melisandre warns, the Great War still to come.

Hail to the ‘Veep': Our 10 Favorite Words of Season 5

VEEP Season 5

Another crazy and hilarious season of Veep is coming to a close, and as per tradition, we’ve kept our ears open for the most interesting Veep-isms. Here are 10 of our favorites. (Warning: some spoilers and awesomely strong language ahead.)

UPDATED: We added an addition term from the season finale.


Selina [to Bob]: “See? Crappenstance calling.”

“The Eagle,” May 8, 2016

A happenstance is something that’s happened by chance or coincidence. Crappenstance, a blend of crap and happenstance, refers to something crappy that’s happened.

death bump

Selina: “Just out of curiosity, if I were to [mimes pulling a plug], would [the increase in approval ratings] end?”
Kent: “There is a possibility of a shorter-lived by numerically greater outpouring. If you will, a death bump.”

“Mother,” May 15, 2016

A death bump refers to a bump in approval ratings from the perception that a politician is grieving.

full-metal Nixon

Amy: “She’s becoming seriously unhinged. She has gone full-metal Nixon.”

“C**tgate,” May 29, 2016

The term full-metal Nixon seems to have been created by Michael Raysses in Daily Kos regarding Condoleeza Rice’s response to a child’s question about “the methods used by the Bush administration to get information from detainees”:

Going full-metal-Nixon in her response, Ms. Rice asserted that if an act was ordered by the President, it was per force not illegal.

The full-metal part of the term likely comes from full-metal jacket, a bullet encased in a copper alloy, and full-metal’s figurative meaning of going full force, perhaps to a manic degree. The Nixon part is based on a quote from the former president in an interview with journalist David Frost: “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”

Jimmy Carter

Selina: “Hey, I’m going to be president. So I can go take a shit in the Rose Garden if I want to.”
Ben: “We used to call that a Jimmy Carter.”

“Nev-AD-a,” May 1, 2016

The term Rose Garden strategy or campaign refers to when an incumbent president stays in the White House — perhaps in the Rose Garden, which borders the Oval Office and West Wing — rather than hits the campaign road, using “pressing White House business” as an excuse.

According to linguist Barry Popkik, the term was popularized in 1976 “when President Gerald Ford spent time in the White House to look presidential, rather than to appear on the campaign trail.” Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, then a relatively unknown from Georgia. Carter used the same strategy during his 1980 campaign, losing to Ronald Reagan.

The Red Room

Selina: “Here’s an interesting fact. Would you believe that it was called the Red Room before it was actually painted red?”

“Inauguration,” June 26, 2016

According to the WhiteHouse.gov, the Red Room was named for the red fabrics that “were used for the draperies, upholsteries and floor covering in the 1840s.” It met with controversy in 1876 with the “secret swearing-in of President Rutherford B. Hayes right after his hotly contested defeat of Samuel J. Tilden.”

sham ham

Catherine: “We just thought maybe we could have, like, a sham ham for Christmas.”
Selina: “What is that, sweetie? Is that like tofurkey?”
Marjorie: “No, ma’am, tofurky is cooked. This is a raw log made of mushrooms and soaked walnuts.”

“Camp David,” June 12, 2016

Other catchy meat substitute names include Fakin’ Bacon, wheatballs, and Phoney Baloney’s.


Marjorie: “We’re clear. Bring in Sparrow.”

“The Eagle,” May 8, 2016

We can’t help but wonder if President Meyer’s Secret Service code name is a reference to the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones, another controversial ans powerful figure. Check out 11 more great code names from the Secret Service.

a tie is like kissing your sister

Gary: “My bowling coach used to say a tie was like kissing your sister.”
Selina: “Well this feels like my sister took a shit on my chest.”

“Kissing Your Sister,” June 19, 2016

The phrase, “A tie is like kissing your sister,” originated in the early 1950s and is attributed to Navy football coach Eddie Erdelatz.


Ben: “Qataris likes to assert themselves. They’re wet-fingered.”
Selina: “They’re into ass play?”
Ben: “They have a gift for sensing prevailing political winds.”

“Mother,” May 15, 2016

The term wet-fingered politics — with the idea of holding up one’s damp finger to feel for the direction of the wind — means voting according to public opinion or “political breezes,” as a 1991 article in Deseret News puts it.

The earliest citation we could find for wet-fingered politics is from a 1972 article in The Morning News of Wilmington, Delaware. “I’m against wet-finger politics,” said Olof Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden at the time. “Testing public opinion before you do anything.”

whip the vote

Selina [to Catherine]: “I have to be here, sweetie pie, because I’ve got to call all of these congress people. Whip the vote….Mommy’s gotta whip. Whip it good. What is that?”
Gary: “Devo.”

“Thanksgiving,” May 22, 2016

Whip the vote might be a play on the game Whip the Vote. Created by Ryan Lambourn, the game “tasks players with negotiating Congressional votes as a Democratic whip.”


Ben: “Zitzilla just stomped all over Wall Street.”

“Morning After,” April 24, 2016

Zitzilla, a blend of zit and Godzilla, refers to a monster pimple Selina tries (unsuccessfully) to hide.

Wordnik News: TIME, PyCon, BBC


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


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.


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.