Word Buzz Wednesday: Asian pivot, party raiding, Shermanesque

General William Tecumseh Sherman Monument

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: not the latest dance craze in the East; not to be confused with “panty raiding”; not unclear in politics.

Asian pivot

“Mr. Obama will make the visit during a week-long trip to Vietnam and Japan at the end of May. The trip is meant to highlight the administration’s commitment to what’s known as the Asian pivot.”

Rebecca Shabad, “Obama to make historic trip to Hiroshima,” CBS News, May 10, 2016

The Asian pivot, also known as the Pivot to Asia, is “one of the Obama Administration’s central foreign policy initiatives,” namely “a strategic ‘re-balancing’ of U.S. interests from Europe and the Middle East toward East Asia.”

While Obama will “make an historic visit to Hiroshima” at the end of May, says CBS News, “he will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II.”

chewable pill

“But there are different types, and the likes of Minow tend to prefer only what’s known as a ‘chewable pill’ — namely one that is redeemed by a shareholder vote to assure management doesn’t use it simply to protect itself from buyers who might well do better for shareholder.”

James Warren, “Tribune Publishing tries to foil Gannett with ‘poison pill,’” Poynter, May 9, 2016

Does it come in orange flavor? A chewable pill is a modified version of the poison pill, which was created by attorney Martin Lipton in the 1980s. The poison pill is a technique used by companies to thwart hostile takeovers by making “the target’s stock prohibitively expensive or otherwise unattractive to an unwanted acquirer.”

A chewable pill — that is, one that’s easier to swallow — is modified to “appease investors by permitting them to ask for a special shareholder vote to determine whether or not a specific bid can be exempt from triggering the pill.”

party raiding

“He’s also worried that allowing voters to cross party lines could lead to what’s called ‘party raiding,’ where ‘voters not aligned with a particular party or its philosophy and goals will vote for the weaker or weakest candidate in the party’s primary, hoping to prevail in the general election.’”

Julia Marsh, “NY primary results stand, but judge questions closed system,” The New York Post, May 2, 2016

Party raiding (not to be confused with “panty raiding,” so says Wikipedia) “can happen in one of two ways,” according to Bloomberg: those outside the “party can vote for the candidate they find least objectionable,” or “they can vote for the candidate they believe will make the weakest general election opponent.”

Closed primary elections, in which people can only vote in whatever party they’re registered for, are supposed to prevent party raiding. However, some registration processes can be so “onerous” that even a candidate’s children might be prevented from voting.

Shermanesque statement

“Given an invitation to end the speculation by issuing a Shermanesque denial, [Gingrich] replies: ‘Nobody from Georgia issues Shermanesque statements. It goes against the state constitution.’)”

Joshua Green, “Donald Trump Bets the White House on His One-Man Show,” Bloomberg, May 5, 2016

In a field ruled by obfuscation, it’s not surprising that in politics a term exists to distinguish a statement that’s clear and unambiguous. House Speaker Paul Ryan issued such a statement when asked if he’d save the GOP by running for office: “Let me be clear. I do not want, nor will I accept, the nomination for our party.”

The Shermanesque statement is named for Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman who, after he retired from the military, was often asked to run for president, to which he replied, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”


“A cicada is capable of causing such a racket due to vibrations of its ‘tymbals,’ or sound production organ composed of corrugated exoskeleton.”

Sarah Emerson, “Cicada Calls Are Literally Deafening,” Motherboard, May 3, 2016

The buggy tymbal is a variant of the musical timbal, another name for the kettledrum. The word comes from the French timbale, which ultimately comes from the Arabic aṭ-ṭabl, “the drum.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: Becky, Dunbar layers, woonerf

London, UK (Camden)

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: she of the good hair; layers of friends; a living street.


“‘He better call Becky with the good hair.’ And with those eight words, Beyoncé launched a firestorm Saturday. Who is Becky?”

Cara Kelly, “What does Becky mean? Here’s the history behind Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ lyric that sparked a firestorm,” USA Today, April 27, 2016

The term Becky refers to a usually white woman woman who engages in certain sex acts, as well as the sex act itself. USA Today takes a creative, if speculative, look back Becky’s cultural references, from Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, to Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to the titular Rebecca in Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel. Becky referring to a sex act was most likely originated by rapper Plies in his 2010 song “Becky.”

Dunbar layers

“There are some differences between introverts and extroverts, but they have the same number of what’s called the ‘Dunbar layers.’”

Mariella Moon, “Phone call study concludes we can only have five best friends,” Engadget, May 1, 2016

Dunbar layers are named for British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who posited that we can only have at maximum 150 friends, whether online or IRL, and that those friends are divided by layers, five in the closest layer, 10 in the next, 35 in the next, and 100 in the last.


“The correct answer – Kriol – is not a traditional Indigenous language, but refers to the creole language spoken across swathes of northern Australia.”

Greg Dickson, “Explainer: the largest language spoken exclusively in Australian Kriol,” The Sydney Morning Herald, May 2, 2016

The term Kriol is a variant of the English creole. While many might associate creole with Louisiana, it’s actually a general term referring to any language “born out of abrupt and often brutal colonisation processes,” says the Sydney Morning Herald, and is often based on the colonizers’ dominant language, also known as the lexifier. Australian Kriol has an estimated 20,000 speakers.


“But a new theory of public health might yet hold the answer. Known as syndemics, it may also be the one thing that can rescue Austin and its people.”

Jessica Wapner, “How Did A Small Midwest Town End Up With America’s Worst HIV Problem?” Digg, May 3, 2016

Coined by medical anthropologist Merrill Singer, the term syndemic is a blend of synergy and epidemic, and describes “the synergistic intertwining of certain problems,” such as substance abuse, violence, and HIV/AIDs (also known as SAVA), and violence, immigration, depression, diabetes and abuse (VIDDA).


Woonerf means ‘living street’ and it’s where cars, cyclists, and people share the same space.”

Bailey Deitz, “Rock Island to seek grant money for downtown ‘woonerf’ project,” KWQC, May 2, 2016

Woonerf is a Dutch term that was coined in the 1960s, says The New York Times. The woonerf is a shared space for “pedestrians, cyclists, children and, in some cases, for slow-moving, cautiously driven cars.” Human interaction is encouraged: without traffic lights, stop signs, lane dividers, or sidewalks, woonerf-ers are forced to be aware of others, and to “make eye contact and engage in person-to-person interactions.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: megacity, Philadelphia lean, superfunkycalifragisexy

Shanghai Lights

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: more than a metropolis; how to eat a Philly cheesesteak; sounding sexy and precocious, Prince-style.

empty nose syndrome

“Brett was convinced his surgery had given him empty nose syndrome, but his doctor disregarded his concerns.”

Joel Oliphint, “Is Empty Nose Syndrome Real? And If Not, Why Are People Killing Themselves Over It?” BuzzFeed, April 14, 2016

Empty nose syndrome is a rare condition that might occur after “surgical procedures on cylindrical structures inside the nose called turbinates,” says BuzzFeed. Symptoms include nasal dryness, a feeling of the nasal airways being “too open” but also a sensation of suffocation, as well as insomnia, anxiety, and fatigue.

The term was coined in 1994 by Dr. Eugene Kern of the Mayo Clinic who observed patients he deemed “nasal cripples” who exhibited such symptoms after turbinate surgery.


“The rise of emerging market megacities as magnets for regional wealth and talent has been the most significant contributor to shifting the world’s focal point of economic activity.”

Parag Khanna, “Megacities, not nations, are the world’s dominant, enduring social structures,” Quartz, April 20, 2016

A megacity is not just a very large city, says Quartz, but one that “represents a large percentage of national GDP,” or gross domestic product. For instance, London makes up almost half of Great Britain’s GDP while the “Boston-New York-Washington corridor” and greater Los Angeles area account for a third of the GDP of the U.S.

The Oxford English Dictionary‘s earliest citation of megacity is from 1967 by Norman Mailer: “The high technological nexus and overdeveloped civilization of a megacity like the Dallas–Fort Worth complex.” However, according to Mr. Slang himself, Jonathan Green, the term was in use before then, specifically in the early 1960s in reference to the Cincinnati-Dayton-Columbus nexus, and in the late 1950s to mean simply a very large city.

Philadelphia lean

“You have to do what’s called a Philadelphia lean …. You have to lean over to make sure the juice goes on the pavement.”

Catherine Lucey, “Philly cheesesteak is test for candidates, not just a lunch,” WTOP, April 25, 2016

A proper Philly cheesesteak, according to some, should be dripping with juice, hence the need for the Philadelphia lean, or leaning over to ensure that said juice doesn’t drip on one’s clothes when taking a bite.


“She was describing a certain ineffable emotional state to me, a native Icelander’s sense of comfort while immersed in her neighborhood sundlaug.”

Dan Kois, “Iceland’s Water Cure,” The New York Times, April 19, 2016

Sundlaug translates from Icelandic as “swimming pool” and specifically refers to a public pool, a place where normally reserved Icelandians feel free to socialize, at least according to The New York Times.


“It was, for the lack of a better term, a superfunkycalifragisexy performance.”

Jack Goodson, “Fàbregas, Chelsea sparkle under the Cherries’ moon,” SB Nation, April 23, 2016

Superfunkycalifragisexy — a blend of funky, sexy, and the nonsense word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious — was coined for “Prince’s never-released (but much-bootlegged) The Black Album.” The term is meant “to conjure a heightened state of funky-lusty consciousness,” and also apparently, a well-played soccer game.

Word Buzz Wednesday: farb, Hummers, war-driving

civil war reenactment at antietam

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a sartorial sin against history, a noisy conspiracy theory, life imitates the movies.


“The result is titled ‘Bankspeak,’ a play on doublespeak, referring to language that is intentionally ambiguous, meant to obscure or confuse.”

Patricia Cohen, “At the World Bank, a Shortage of Concrete (Language),” The New York Times, April 14, 2016

Researchers conducted an analysis of “more than 65 years of the [World Bank’s] annual reports” and “found a sharp decline in factual precision.” In precision’s place is something that the researchers call “management discourse, a bureaucratic gobbledygook whose meaning is hard to decipher.” Instead of specificities, the language “remains at a more abstract level.”

The term doublespeak was coined in the 1950s and modeled on Newspeak, the euphemistic and propaganda-rife language of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, and by extension any euphemistic or deliberately ambiguous language.


“Your quintessential farb might spend all weekend talking on a cell phone, or wear a jumble of mismatched ‘old timey’ costume pieces from different decades.”

Romie Stott, “The Historical Reenactor Accuracy Wars,” Atlas Obscura, April 13, 2016

Farb is historical reenactor slang for someone whose gear and clothing are not just inaccurate but “a sin against history,” says Atlas Obscura. The term was “most likely invented” in the 1960s by the First Maryland “Blackhat” Regiment, which was led by Gerry Rolph, a German teacher. Farb means “color” in German and refers to the Blackhats mocking other units for their “too-colorful uniforms.”

(H/t John Durvin.)


Hijras call themselves she-males and effigies, as well askwaja sera, or the ‘guards of the harem,’ a title that recalls their historical role serving monarchs in the region.”

Zehra Rehman, “The secret language of South Asia’s transgender community,” Quartz, April 15, 2016

Hijra members can be found in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, and “identify as men born with the souls of women.” While they dress like women, “no physical transition or change is required to be inducted into the community.” Many identify as neither male nor female but as a “third gender.”


“Everybody who has tinnitus complains at first of environmental noise. ‘Hummers’ are a group of people who cannot accept that they have tinnitus.”

Colin Dickey, “A Maddening Sound,” New Republic, April 8, 2016

Hummers are those who who claim to constantly hear a low humming noise that others can’t hear. The sound has been described as “a low, distant rumbling, like an idling diesel engine,” which is most easily heard at night and indoors and has no obvious source.


“[A company] can ‘war-drive,’ sending cars around the U.S. looking for open wifi networks, getting those networks’ IP addresses, and recording their physical locations.”

Kashmir Hill, “How an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell,” Fusion, April 10, 2016

War-driving is a “computer cracking technique,” says Word Spy, that involves driving around with a wireless-enabled computer and “mapping houses and businesses that have wireless access points.”

The term comes from war dialing, which is “automatically calling thousands of telephone numbers to look for any that have a modem attached.” That term comes from the 1983 movie WarGames, in which Matthew Broderick’s character practices war dialing to look for games.

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


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.

Word Buzz Wednesday: birrangbirrang, Hello Girl, wishful Amish

Hello Girls operating switchboards in Chaumont, France during WWI

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: preserving an indigenous language, bird by bird; heroic phone operators; wishing for an Amish paradise.


“Mr. Grant had spotted a small kingfisher, or birrangbirrang in Wiradjuri, as it swooped low over the Murrumbidgee River in the oppressive summer heat, calling to its mate.”

Michelle Innis, “An Heir to a Tribe’s Culture Ensures Its Language Is Not Forgotten,” The New York Times, April 8, 2016

Wiradjuri is the language of the second-largest Aboriginal group, also called the Wiradjuri. Birrangbirrang is probably imitative of this type of kingfisher bird.

Hello Girl

“There was static over the phone—after a storm, the telephone wires hanging above the streets would usually get tangled, causing heavier static than usual—and then came the voice of a Hello Girl from the downtown telephone exchange.”

Skip Hollandsworth, “How Police Failed to Find America’s First Serial Killer,” Esquire, April 5, 2016

Hello Girl was a name given to switchboard operators in the early days of the telephone. The Library of Congress says that the term began to appear in the late 19th century although Hello Girls gained even more recognition during World War I when women fluent in both English and French were employed to facilitate communication among American officers in France. French operators, understandably, spoke only French and apparently had too much of a laissez-faire attitude, at least for American tastes.


Homintern was the name various people jokingly coined to describe a sprawling, informal network of contacts that occupied a prominent site near the centre of modern life.”

Gregory Woods, “From gay conspiracy to queer chic: the artists and writers who changed the world,” The Guardian, April 8, 2016

Homintern is a term coined in the 1930s to describe the conspiracy theory that gay men hold all the power in the art world. The word is a blend of homosexual and Comintern, a worldwide association of Communist parties, which was established by Lenin in 1919 and dissolved in 1943. The word Comintern comes from the Russian komintern, which is an abbreviation of Kommunisticheskiĭ Internatsional, “Communist International.”


“Indeed, as Dumas was quick to point out, in many ways, Lincos was written more for Earthlings than ET.”

Daniel Oberhaus, “Building a Language to Communicate with Extraterrestrials,” The Atlantic, April 5, 2016

A blend of lingua cosmica, itself a play on lingua franca, Lincos is a language developed by German mathematician Hans Freudenthal as a way to communicate with extraterrestrials. Lincos uses math and is a spoken language, rather than a written one, “made up of phonemes, not letters, and governed by phonetics, not spelling.”

wishful Amish

“It’s unlikely, in other words, that the wishful Amish writing blog posts about desperately wanting to become Plain will ever do much more than that, let alone seriously pursue conversion.”

Kelsey Osgood, “Can an Outsider Ever Truly Become Amish?” Atlas Obscura, March 29, 2016

A wishful Amish is someone from outside the Amish community who wants to be in. Accepted Amish-Mennonite converts are extremely rare.

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


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


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


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


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!