Word Buzz Wednesday: gaokao nanny; Ophiohamus georgemartini; rope-a-dope

muhammad ali

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: buddies to help you study (but not cook or clean); a starfish that’ll kill everyone you love; a defense technique from the Greatest.

gaokao nanny

“Professional Gaokao nannies are highly educated students or recent graduates that move in with students to study with them in the run up to the exam.”

Yvette Tan, “Gaokao season: China embarks on dreaded national exams,” BBC, June 7, 2016

The gaokao is a grueling two-day exam, says CNN, taken by many high schoolers in the People’s Republic of China to gain entrance into the country’s most prestigious universities. According to the BBC, failing the gaokao “almost guarantees a lifetime of low-ranking employment, and family disappointment,” hence the hiring of gaokao nannies. However, while gaokao nannies are highly educated, they might be “weak in terms of cooking and cleaning.”

now-or-never bottleneck

“The now-or-never bottleneck has powerful implications for language acquisition, because learning how to process language can only take place ‘in the moment’.”

Linda B. Glaser, “‘Now-or-never bottleneck’ explains language acquisition,” ScienceDaily, June 10, 2016

In a new paper, researchers assert that a phenomenon they’re dubbing the now-or-never bottleneck has a profound effect on language processing, acquisition, and evolution. To overcome “fundamental limitations on sensory and cognitive memory,” the researchers propose “the brain’s language processing system overcomes this bottleneck by processing linguistic input immediately, before it is obliterated by later input and lost forever.”

Ophiohamus georgemartini

“A brittle star, found deep in the South Pacific, has been officially dubbed Ophiohamus georgemartini because of its likeness to the thorny crown found on the cover of book two in the Game of Thrones series, A Clash of Kings.”

Sarah Keartes, “Meet the Game of Thrones Brittle Star: Ophiohamus Georgemartini,” Nerdist, May 31, 2016

Other literary nature names include the Nabokovia, a butterfly named for Vladimir Nabokov; the Livyatan melville, an extinct sperm whale named for Herman Melville; and the Megachile chomskyi, a bee named for Noam Chomsky.

poverty simulation

“The Singapore Island Country Club, for instance, was recently criticized when it planned a poverty simulation for its club members; it costs $21,000 a year to belong to the club.”

Erik Sherman, “Misery Tourists: How the Wealthy Learn What It’s Like to Be Poor,” Fortune, June 1, 2016

Poverty simulation workshops are designed, as Fortune says, for “the privileged try to understand at least a bit of what the poor and refugees face.” Some poverty simulations have been long held without controversy. For instance, the World Economic Forum annual meeting “has held a refugee simulation for the last eight years.”

However, other workshops have been criticized for taking place at luxurious spots like the Ritz Carlton and for helping to make participants into what might be called “misery tourists, collecting experiences and assuaging discomfort by having now done their part.”


“Look at that. There’s Apollo [Creed] using my rope-a-dope defense.”

Roger Ebert, “Watching Rocky II with Muhammad Ali,” RogerEbert.com, July 31, 1979

Rope-a-dope refers to a boxing strategy, often attributed to Muhammad Ali, in which one puts oneself in what looks like a losing position — backed up like a “dope on the ropes” — only to take one’s opponent off-guard and ultimately win.

Word Buzz Wednesday: bicycle face, dark factory, ghost gun

Sjoerd Lammers street photography

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: the perils of a bike riding; robots saving on light bulbs; guns without a trace.

bicycle face

“Of all the physical woes attributed to the bicycle as it became popular in the 1890s, the one that most strained credulity was the ‘bicycle face.’”

Margaret Guroff, “Bicycle Face,” The Atlantic, June 2016

The pseudo-syndrome bicycle face was “characterized by wide, wild eyes” and “a grim set to the mouth,” all due to “the stress of incessant balancing,” according to Margaret Guroff in her book, The Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American Life. The disorder allegedly went as far as to render “children unrecognizable to their own mothers.”

dark factory

“The ultimate goal is what’s known as ‘the dark factory’ – one in which you don’t even need to turn on the lights, because there aren’t any humans to require them.”

Robert Colvile, “Is a robot about to take your job?” The Telegraph, June 6, 2016

A dark factory is a factory that’s almost entirely automated and hence, needs no light for human laborers to work by.

entourage effect

“In the process of what’s called the ‘entourage effect,’ during which different cannabinoids work together to enhance each other’s individual functioning, the cacao- and cannabis-derived cannabinoids cooperatively provide relief.”

Madison Margolin, “Whoopi Goldberg Explains Her Pot-for-PMS Products, Whoopi & Maya,” LA Weekly, June 7, 2016

The term entourage effect was apparently coined by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam in the late 1990s and describes how the various compounds in the cannabis plant “work better together than in isolation.”

familiar letter

“At the time, there had lately emerged a form of written communication known as the ‘familiar letter,’ which was characterized by informal, from-the-heart prose, rather than displays of intellect, reason, and wit.”

Ella Morton, “Letter-Writing Manuals Were the Self-Help Books of the 18th Century,” Atlas Obscura, June 2, 2016

The practice of writing familiar letters emerged in the 18th century, says Atlas Obscura, and along with it manuals on how best to write such letters.

ghost gun

“To do that, his company, Defense Distributed, offers the sale of two very controversial – and legal – items: the firing mechanism and aluminum spine of what’s called a Ghost Gun, a build-it-at-home way to make your own firearm (without serial numbers), and Ghost Gunners, a milling tool that allows any DIY-er to build lower receivers at home.”

Adam Popescu, “Cody Wilson: the man who wants Americans to print their own 3D guns,” The Guardian, June 6, 2016

Because ghost guns are “homemade,” they’re without serial numbers and are therefore untraceable, which often makes them “completely unknown to law enforcement, unless one turns up at a crime scene,” says The Trace. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) call such weapons unfinished receivers.

In 2013, says WIRED, a mass shooting in Santa Monica was attributed to a ghost gun. In 2015, “California state senator Kevin Deleon introduced a bill to ban ghost guns,” which Governor Jerry Brown vetoed.

Word Buzz Wednesday: fyrirtækjagripdeildir, graver, Karman line

Jim Morrison's Grave

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a very long Icelandic word; grave-hopping for fun; to infinity and beyond.


“And there was no word for ‘corporate raid’. As that caused so much of our trouble I invented one and it has been accepted into the language: fyrirtækjagripdeildir.”

Brian Oliver, “‘No McDonald’s, no motorway, no army': Iceland’s evolution recalled,” The Guardian, May 28, 2016

Fyrirtækjagripdeildir translates from Icelandic as “corporate looting.” Check out more delightful Icelandic words and phrases.


“In the shorthand parlance of men and women who collect graveyard experiences, Thornley is what’s known as a ‘graver.’”

Johnette Howard, “Stew Thornley’s macabre adventure: Visiting every dead baseball Hall of Famer’s grave,” ESPN, May 26, 2016

Gravers are people who visit cemeteries for fun, whether to see the final resting places of celebrities, fill in genealogical blanks in one’s own family, or to see the headstones. ESPN profiles a man who for over two decades has been visiting “the graves of every Baseball Hall of Famer.” Gravers might also be called  tombstone tourists or taphophiles.


“They’re known as pizzlies or grolars, and they’re a fusion of the Arctic white bear and their brown cousins.”

Adam Popescu, “Love in the time of climate change: Grizzlies and polar bears are now mating,” The Washington Post, May 23, 2016

A grolar is a cross between a grizzly and a polar bear, a blend, says The Washington Post, “that’s been turning up more and more in parts of Alaska and Western Canada.” While the two species don’t normally inhabit the same environments, they’ve been meeting and mating as the Arctic warms, the sea ice shrinks, and the tundra expands.

Karman line

“Passengers will be passing what’s known as the Karman line — an imaginary boundary 62 miles above the Earth that signals the beginning of what the industry officially refers to as ‘space’ — but they won’t be going into orbit.”

Sean O’Kane, “Blue Origin will intentionally crash its spaceship during the next test flight,” The Verge, May 26, 2016

The Karman line was named for Hungarian-born American research engineer Theodore von Kármán, “best known for his pioneering work in the use of mathematics and the basic sciences in aeronautics and astronautics.”

longevity myth

“You also get what’s called the longevity myth, which is where people’s imaginations exceed reality.”

Allie Conti, “We Spoke with the Scientist Studying How to Live As Long As Possible,” Vice, May 21, 2016

According to Vice, longevity myths might occur with individuals who, one, don’t have a record of their birth and two, are over 80 as  “after the age of 80, people begin to inflate their age,” while “before 80, people understate their age.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: 9/9/6, extreme beer movement, yokozuna

Yokozuna Asashōryū

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: working 9 to 9; beer to the nth degree; a champion in the dohyō.


“In China, there is a company work culture at startups that’s called 9/9/6. It means that regular work hours for most employees are from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week. If you thought Silicon Valley has intense work hours, think again.”

Cyriac Roeding, “After three weeks in China, it’s clear Beijing is Silicon Valley’s only true competitor,” Recode, May 13, 2016

For founders and executives at startups in China, the hours can be even harsher, says Recode: 9/11/6.5, which translates as working from 9 am to 11 pm, six and a half days a week.

extreme beer movement

“Founded in 1996, in what’s generally regarded as the second wave of the craft beer movement…Stone helped develop what’s known as the extreme beer movement – high alcohol, bitter with a pungent hop punch, and using grains that give many of their brews an intense malt flavor.”

Sean Scully, “Beer brings new dimension to Napa County,” Napa Valley Register, May 21, 2016

Extreme beer movement is a term that seems to have originated in the early 2000s. In the Wall Street Journal Guide to Business of Life, extreme beer is described as “a catchword that has sprung up to identify breweries dabbling in beer styles (aged beer, ultra-strong beer, beer made with exotic ingredients) that are far from the everyday lagers like Budweiser, Miller and Coors.”


“Over in Western Europe and England [in the 1300s], people would wear what’s known as a ‘patten,’ and these pattens were effectively platforms made of wood or metal that could be strapped onto a woman’s or man’s shoe to give them a stilt effect while walking outside.”

Rachel Lubitz, “The Truly F*cked Up History of the Platform Shoe,” Mic, May 20, 2016

In case you’re wondering why people in 1300s Europe were wearing patten shoes, according to Mic, it’s because plumbing had yet to be developed, and “human and animal feces frequently lined the streets.” As a result, “pattens were strictly outside shoes that a person could take off before walking inside their own home.”

The word patten comes from the Old French patin, “clog, type of shoe,” which probably comes from pate meaning “paw, foot.”


“In climbing parlance, Lhakpa might be called a sandbagger, somebody who understates her abilities in order to beat expectations.”

Grayson Schaffer, “The Most Successful Female Everest Climber of All Time Is a Housekeeper in Hartford, Connecticut,” Outside, May 10, 2016

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest meaning of sandbag is to hit someone with a sandbag, and then figuratively, to bully or criticize. By 1940, the term was being used in poker to mean “to refrain from raising at the first opportunity in the hope of raising by a greater amount later,” an action which might under-represent a strong hand. By extension, sandbag came to mean to under-represent one’s abilities in any race or competition.


“The final match of the 2016 Haru Basho — one of six professional sumo tournaments held each year — was a day-15 championship-deciding showdown between the sport’s top yokozuna.”

Benjamin Morris, “The Sumo Matchup Centuries In The Making,” FiveThirtyEight, May 13, 2016

The term yokozuna refers to the highest rank in sumo wrestling. FiveThirtyEight says the word translates from Japanese as “horizontal rope,” and is “named after the decorative rope that yokozuna wear during their ring-entering ceremony.”

Coffee Talk: Regional Idioms to Describe Coffee

Chuck wagon of the Ole Southwest, plenty of meat, potatoes, frijoles and coffee about to be consumed

You might be aware that we at Wordnik love our coffee. In a classic post we explore caffeinated language from around the world, from the Italian espresso to the French café au lait to the Australian flat white.

Today we’re delving into how we talk about coffee in the U.S., and to help us are the editors at the Dictionary of American Regional English, also known as DARE. In case you didn’t know, DARE is a fantastic resource of language specific to states and other regions. For instance, what you call a frying pan might be called a skillet elsewhere. What you call pancakes might be flapjacks or griddle cakes in other parts of the country.

But we’re here to talk about joe. Pour yourself a mug and drink in these regional terms.

Strong enough to walk

Why call a bold cup of java strong when you can call it blackjack? Blackjack is a term used in Wisconsin and in “lumberjack lingo” in New England and the Great Lakes. Another lumberjack term for strong coffee is Norwegian or Norski in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have long histories of Norwegian settlers. Norwegian coffee also refers to coffee with an egg in it.

Shanty coffee seems to have originated in the New York area and is so-called as it was made by fisherman who lived in shanties, or little cabins or huts. Cowboy coffee is named for, you guessed it, the cowboys who boiled it. Six-shooter coffee is a cowboy term that comes from the idea, says DARE, that “it’s thick enough to float a pistol or because there’s six tablespoons for a four-cup pot.”

Strong enough to walk could refer to any strong-flavored food or drink but especially coffee, and centers in the South and Midland regions of the U.S.

Weak as water

Descriptions for weak coffee percolate across the U.S. as well. In Texas you might hear it called duck coffee, perhaps with the idea of a liquid a duck would swim in, i.e., water. In Pennsylvania it might cambric coffee, after the fine, thin fabric. In scattered regions, it might be dishwashy or dishwater.

In the Southwest, weak coffee might be derided as black water; as coffee-water in Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi; and as pond water in the South and South Midland. Also in the South and South Midland is branch water, from the original meaning of the term, water from a stream rather than a well, perhaps due to the light brown color often associated with streams.

In the Inland South and Appalachians there’s stump water, originally rainwater collected from tree stumps and used in folk magic and home remedies for ailments such as skin conditions. Perhaps by extension, stump water also means anything weak, often coffee. In other regions, the term water bewitched is used to describe highly diluted coffee or tea, often in the phrase water bewitched and coffee (or tea) begrudged.

Slumgullion, referring to a weak or disgusting beverage, was perhaps first used primarily in the western United States but now can be found in other regions as well. In his 1915 book, Travels in Alaska, John Muir describes a cup of coffee as “muddy” and “semi-liquid…which the California miners call ‘slickens’ or ‘slumgullion.'”

How do you take your coffee?

If you take your coffee black, you could call it black, or you could call it naked like they do in Mississippi and Texas, or stark naked like in Massachusetts. Or you could make like those in the Middle Atlantic, Central Atlantic, and Ohio Valley regions and call it barefooted.

Conversely, coffee with milk or cream would have its socks on, as they might say in parts of the south, or be seasoned, as they say in Pennsylvania and Kansas. Coffee and might refer to coffee and a donut or roll, or coffee with milk or cream. (Cider-and, by the way, is cider with alcohol or other ingredients, says the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Boston coffee is half cream, half coffee (perhaps named after the Boston cream pie?) in Louisiana, Texas, Illinois — but not in Boston.

What exactly do you mean by ‘regular’?

A regular coffee is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

In Boston and Massachusetts, a regular coffee will get you one with cream or milk. In Rhode Island, it’s cream or milk and sugar. In Chicago it’s black while in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Virginia, regular is caffeinated rather than decaf. Finally, in New York, a regular coffee has milk or cream, and possibly sugar (or two sugars, as Gothamist insists).

Coffee, figuratively

We’ve discussed idioms about a literal cup of coffee, but how about idioms with the word coffee? Coffee coat is another name for a housecoat used in Wisconsin. Grinding coffee is a way of jumping rope in Tennessee and perhaps elsewhere: one jumper stays in place while another jumps around her, like the wheels of an old-fashioned coffee grinder.

Coffee cooler is a military term for an idler or shirker, perhaps with the idea of an untouched hot beverage cooling off, while a coffee-strainer is nickname for a bushy mustache.

Be prepared if someone invites you to a coffee-drink in Louisiana: they’re talking about a wake. If someone in the South Midland or Texas says you don’t know split beans from coffee — in other words, you’re stupid or ignorant — you might consider giving them a drink of black coffee, or a severe reprimand, as they say in Pennsylvania.

How do you talk about your coffee?

Word Buzz Wednesday: Cats Wednesday, sandwich class, Web brutalism

J. & P. Coats Best Six Cord, 200 yds, 50. [front]

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: not a good day for cats; some Hong Kong lingo; brutally hip web design.

Cats Wednesday

“In those crueler times, hurling cats from a great height on what came to be known as ‘Cats Wednesday’ was apparently seen in Ypres as both a practical solution and a source of gruesome entertainment — the more so because popular superstitions linked cats to witchcraft and the devil.”

Patrick J. Lyons, “The Wrong Day to Be a Cat in Belgium,” The New York Times, May 10, 2016

If you were a cat in the Middle Ages, you’d probably want to stay away from Ypres, suggests The New York Times, at least on Wednesdays. A center for clothmaking, the town’s warehouses of wool and cloth drew mice and rats. To combat this, merchants brought in cats, which promptly over-multiplied, and to combat the over-population, the cats were (horribly) thrown from the top of a bell tower on a regular basis.

Cats Wednesday no longer exists of course, but every three years, Ypres holds the Kattenstoet, or Cat Parade, a cat-themed cultural festival. (The next one is May 13, 2018. Mark your calendars!)

sandwich class

“The multi-part study polled 688 people by phone or internet from the ‘sandwich class’ between May and December last year, asking them how they felt about their ability to handle stress.”

Ernest Kao, “Headaches, trembling hands, poor sleep, feeling worthless: Hong Kong’s middle-class mental health crisis,” South China Morning Post, May 2, 2016

Sandwich class is one of more than 30 East Asian terms that the Oxford English Dictionary has added to its corpus. Coming from Hong Kong English, sandwich class refers to the middle class, or the “squeezed middle class,” those who earn too much money to live in public housing yet can’t afford to buy private homes.

soap opera effect

“We go to watch a high-fidelity, high-frame-rate movie, think it looks eerily like a local television news show from our childhood, and discover that this is a well-noted phenomenon, called the ‘soap-opera effect.’”

Adam Gopnik, “Feel Me,” The New Yorker, May 16, 2016

Remember how The Hobbit looked so weird? That’s because of something called high frame rate, in the case of Peter Jackson’s film, 48 frames per second instead of the more usual 24 FPS, a technique that’s supposed to make for “very smooth slow-motion scenes,” sharper individual frames, and action scenes that are “smoother and more lifelike.”

However, shooting at a high frame rate might also result in the soap opera effect, a phenomenon in which a TV show or movie looks overly smooth and weirdly like a daytime soap opera. In case you were wondering why daytime soaps look the way they do, it’s basically because the actors are backlit and the shows were recorded on videotape.

Soap opera effect has a psychological meaning as well: when beliefs about characters’ motives color memory recall about those characters.


“Often they refer to themselves as part of ‘the Unger family,’ or sometimes just as ‘Ungers.’ More than one of them told me, ‘I’m an Unger.’ They realize they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Jason Fagone, “Meet the Ungers,” The Huffington Post, May 13, 2016

The Ungers are former prisoners with life sentences who have been given parole due to a legal loophole discovered by another “lifer,” Merle Unger, Jr. Unger, who had escaped from prison on multiple occasions, found that a colonial-era line of instruction to the jury — “it is your responsibility to determine for yourselves what the law is” — violated the constitutional rights of prisoners convicted before that instruction was removed in 1980.

Web brutalism

“The name of this school, if you could call it that, is ‘Web brutalism’ — and there’s no question that much of the recent interest stems from the work of Pascal Deville.”

Katherine Arcement, “The hottest trend in Web design is making intentionally ugly, difficult sites,” The Washington Post, May 9, 2016

The ugly Christmas sweater of web design, Web brutalism is deliberately unsightly, purposefully unusable, and unbearably hip. According to The Washington Post, it eschews “the templated, user-friendly interfaces that have long been the industry’s best practice,” and instead are “built on imperfect, hand-coded HTML and take their design cues from ’90s graphics.” Some examples include Drudge Report, Adult Swim, and Bloomberg features.

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.”