Word Buzz Wednesday: DUSTWUN, geocryologist, popcorn lung

meandering in the Arctic

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: a military acronym; real-life Doctor Freeze; and a rare disease.


DUSTWUN, a name taken from the clunky abbreviation for the term ‘duty status whereabouts unknown’, starts with Koenig describing the video of Bergdahl’s return.”

Lanre Bakare, “Serial recap – season two episode one: DUSTWUN,The Guardian, December 10, 2015

Podheads everywhere can rejoice: Serial is back. This season takes a look at the case of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier captured in Afghanistan in 2009 and released in 2014 in exchange for five Guantánamo Bay prisoners. Bergdahl is also facing a court-martial on desertion charges.

The first episode of this season’s Serial is called DUSTWUN, an acronym that is basically the army’s version of “man overboard.” The term also evokes the image of the dust of the Afghan desert, as well as perhaps the idea of Bergdahl disappearing one day like dust in the wind (sorry Kansas haters).


“When I spoke with him at VICE’s Toronto office in October, the permafrost scientist—also known as a geocryologist, currently stationed at Moscow State University—told me that he’s feeling just fine.”

Jordan Pearson, “Meet the Scientist Who Injected Himself with 3.5 Million-Year-Old Bacteria,” Motherboard, December 9, 2015

Permafrost is “permanently frozen subsoil, occurring throughout the Polar Regions and locally in perennially frigid areas.” Geocryology is the study of those frozen subsoils and what may be found there, such as ancient bacteria. Anatoli Brouchkov, the geocryologist of the article, has injected himself with such a type of bacteria in order to study its effects on human longevity.

popcorn lung

“This week, new research from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that the flavorings in some types of e-cigarettes contain chemicals that have been linked to a rare disease called ‘popcorn lung.’”

Julia Belluz, “Some e-cigarettes contain chemicals that cause ‘popcorn lung,’” Vox, December 9, 2015

Popcorn lung is so-called because it was first witnessed in people who worked in factories that made microwave popcorn. Symptoms included wheezing and shortness of breath, says Vox, which doctors found was due to “permanent lung damage” caused by diacetyl, “the chemical that adds that buttery flavor and smell to popcorn.” Now research is suggesting that some e-cigarette flavorings are causing the same damage.


“The researchers found that the power of this ‘slacktivism’ lies in the large number of users who engaged with the causes online.”

Kate Groetzinger, “Slacktivism is having a powerful real-world impact, new research shows,” Quartz, December 10, 2015

Slacktivism, a blend of slacker and activism, is a kind of 21st-century armchair activism very much tied to the Internet, says Quartz. A recent study showed that using social media tools like Twitter to carry out messages of protests such as Arab Spring and #BlackLivesMatter is integral to turning those protests into movements and prolonging their lifespans.

The term slacker might seem quintessential 1990s, but it originated in 1898 with basically the same meaning, someone who shirks responsibility. The word gained popularity during World War I when it came to mean a military draft dodger.


“In typical Softboy fashion, [Zayn Malik is] generous — he bought his parent’s house for them, and he funds his cousin’s private school education. He prefers to call his fans ‘passionate’ as opposed to crazy.”

Fariha Roisin, “Soft Power,” Medium, December 8, 2015

The Softboy, a term coined by writer Alan Hanson, is in opposition to the Fuckboy, who’s all and only about — well you know. The Softboy is “Nice yet Complicated,” “sensitive yet amusingly crass,” artistic, aware, and “still a dick.”

Rosin asserts that the Softboy image of ex-One Directioner Zayn Malik is powerful because “Muslim men aren’t ever seen as Softboys.”

10 Splendid Words About Snow


You might have heard the Scots have over 400 words for snow (while it’s a myth that the Inuit have 100). We have just 10 splendid snow words here, but we love them all the same and hope you do too.


“The sun was sliding toward the horizon, throwing beautiful but alarming alpenglow on the mountains and valleys below.”

Michael Y. Ybarra, “Summit Meetings,” The Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2011

One of our favorite unusual nature words, alpenglow refers to that “rosy glow that suffuses snow-covered mountain peaks at dawn or dusk on a clear day.”

The word is borrowed from German, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and has been in use in English since at least the 1860s. Alpen of course comes from the name of a certain mountain range.


“Before they could get to this a deep bed of old snow — ‘firn’ Melchior called it — a great sheet, like some large white field, had to be passed.”

George Manville Fenn, The Crystal Hunters: A Boy’s Adventures in the Higher Alps, 1891

Firn, also known as “old snow,” is granular snow “that has passed through one summer melt season but is not yet glacial ice.” The word translates from German as “of last year,” and ultimately comes from the Old High German firni, “old.”


Graupel…is precipitation that forms when supercooled droplets of water are collected and freeze on a falling snowflake.”

QMI Agency, “Graupel, not hail, falls on southern Ontario,” Ifpress, October 5, 2014

Another snow word of German origin, graupel is a diminutive of Graupe, German for “hulled grain.” Graupe is probably of Slavic origin and is related to the Russian krupa, “groats.” What the heck are groats? Crushed grain, especially oats.


“In the far distance rose several jokuls or glaciers, seeming to look proudly down upon the mountains, as though they asked, ‘Why would ye draw men’s eyes upon you, where we glisten in our silver sheen?’”

Ida Pfeiffer, Visit to Iceland and the Scandinavian North, 1853

Jokul is an Icelandic word that refers to a mountain always covered in snow and ice. The OED says the word comes from the Icelandic jökull, “icicle.” The English icicle is related.


“It was a very grey day; a most opaque sky, ‘onding on snaw,’ canopied all; thence flakes fell at intervals, which settled on the hard path and on the hoary lea without melting.”

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, 1869

The Scots gifted us with onding, a heavy and continuous rain or snow. Onding also refers to breathing or smelling as well as a figurative onslaught or noisy outburst.


“A ‘poudre’ day, with its steely air and fatal frost, was an ill thing in the world; but these entangling blasts, these wild curtains of snow, were desolating even unto death.”

Gilbert Parker, Pierre and His People, 1892

The powdery poudre refers to dust, gunpowder, and also powdery snow. The OED says the word is Canadian but now rare, and originally came from the French Canadian poudre, “powder.”

A poudre day is a “day on which fine, powdery snow falls,” or “a bitterly cold day.” Poudré, another rare term, refers to someone who wears their hair or wig powdered.


“This, however, is not always practicable; should the storm, or, as it is called here, ‘purga,’ overtake him in the ravine of a mountain, such an immense quantity of snow becomes heaped upon him, that he has no power to extricate himself from his tomb.”

Otto von Kotzebue, A New Voyage Round the World, 1830

A purga refers to a violent blizzard of fine snow that might occur in “the eastern Asiatic tundra, northern and eastern Russia, and Siberia,” says the OED. While Russian in origin (obviously), the word purga might come from the Finnish purku, “snowstorm.”


“John is all for sleeping in the quinzhee, but having seen how thin Regent’s sleeping bags are, I exert what is left of my parental authority and take up our host’s suggestion that we use a nearby tent which he has equipped with a log-burning stove.”

Adrian Mourby, “Are you the right stuff for the white stuff?” The Independent, January 23, 2010

In addition to being an amazing Scrabble word, a quinzhee is a shelter made from a hollowed out pile of snow. The word comes from Slavey, which is part of the Athabaskan family of languages and spoken by the Slavey First Nations people in Canada. Quinzhee is a corruption of the Slavey kóézhii, “in the shelter.”


“As the sledge strikes each sastruga, it skids northwards along it to the discomfort of the wheelers and the disgust of the leader.”

Sir Douglas Mawson, The Home of the Blizzard: Being the Story of the Australaisan Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914

A sastruga is “a long wavelike ridge of snow, formed by the wind and found on the polar plains.” The word comes from the Russian dialectal zastruga, where za means “beyond” and struga means (creepily) a “deep place into which one may fall.”


“Back then, grooming happened sometimes, on some trails, and on a flat-light day, an uncovered sitzmark, particularly an old one, could slam a guy into the ground in a heartbeat if hit just right.”

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore,” The Aspen Times, December 5, 2009

Sitzmark is a skiing term that refers to a depression made in snow by someone who has fallen on their sitz-parts. Sitzmark is German in origin. Another sitz- word is sitz bath, a chair-like bathtub in which one bathes in a seated position.

Word Buzz Wednesday: bakugai, deadnaming, pishing

Icy Chickadee

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: an explosive Japanese buzzword; another kind of name calling; and a different kind of bird call.


“Growing up in Belgium, they had internalized the label: once an allochtoon, always an allochtoon.”

Chika Unigwe, “The Near-Impossibility of Assimilation in Belgium,” The New York Times, November 25, 2015

The term allochtoon translates from Flemish as “originating from another country.” Those who aren’t considered traditionally Belgian — in other words, non-whites — are referred to as such, even if they were born in the country.


“The Japanese aren’t alone in experiencing bakugai, even if they’re unique in calling it that. Along with Japan, Europe is a major destination for Chinese shoppers.”

Steve Mollman, “Japan’s buzzword of the year means ‘an explosive shopping spree by the Chinese,’” Quartz, December 1, 2015

Bakugai translates from Japanese as “buying explosion,” and refers specifically to the “explosive shopping sprees carried about by Chinese tourists,” says Quartz. This is due in part to the rapidly expanding Chinese middle class.

Other 2015 Japanese buzzwords include Goromaru pose, a rugby’s star pre-kick signature stance, and doron, the Japanification of “drone.”


“Calling someone by their rejected birth name is termed ‘deadnaming’.”

Avinash Chak, “Beyond ‘he’ and ‘she': The rise of non-binary pronouns,” BBC, December 7, 2015

Considered disrespectful, deadnaming refers specifically to transgendered people who have changed their names. Even after revealing her true name, some media outlets continued to call Caitlyn Jenner by her “dead name,” Bruce.

hybrid swarm

“Most biologists believed that hybridization in nature primarily resulted from human interference, when people remove a barrier between two closely related species, leading to a ‘hybrid swarm’ that obliterates the distinctiveness of one or both types of animal.”

Ben Crair, “What’s a Species, Anyway?” New Republic, December 6, 2015

The human interference in this case was the shooting of red wolves by ranchers, says New Republic, which lead to vastly depleted numbers in the population. The more wily coyotes survived and “encountered the last surviving red wolves, whose numbers were so depleted that they took the coyotes as their mates,” resulting in hybridized creatures that “bore little resemblance” to their fearsome parental predators.


“The difference between pishing and birdcalling might seem slight, until you hear them in action.”

Andy Wright, “How to Be a Bird Pick-Up Artist,” Atlas Obscura, December 1, 2015

Pishing, unlike bird-calling which involves imitating specific birds, is a more general “scolding call,” says Atlas Obscura. The sound is rapid and high-pitched, like “a mix between a sprinkler going off and a tire leaking.” The word is imitative.

Pish is also used to express disdain, and has been in use since at least the late 16th century, says the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Wordnik 2015 Word Nerd Gift Guide

Is there a logophile on your holiday gift list? Give the best wordy presents ever with our 2015 Word Nerd Gift Guide.


Everyone loves a Chomsky Party, and even colorless green tea tastes better out of a Chomsky Party mug.

chomskymugIf your loved linguist didn’t choose the wug life, but the wug life chose them, let them show it with wug shirts. You can also help them have less stress in their life with a schwa t-shirt! Or you might want to liven up their vocabulary (terminology, lexicon, or phraseology) with a shirt featuring everyone’s favorite wordy dinosaur, the Thesaurus. thesaurus_1272x920shirt_guys_02


For lovers of American English, you can’t go wrong with a subscription to the online version of the Dictionary of American Regional Englishand it’s 50% off through January 3rd!

Another gift that keeps giving all year long is a subscription to long-form popular linguistics writing mag SchwaFire: recent articles have covered ASL translation, Yiddish, and “accent tag” videos.


This year was a great one for language books. Some highlights included:

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris

A copy editor who has put in more than three decades at The New Yorker, Norris explains some of the most common problems with spelling, punctuation, and usage, drawing on examples not just from classic literature such as Charles Dickens and Emily Dickinson, but from the likes of The Honeymooners and The Simpsons as well.

From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generations, by Allan Metcalf

The latest from one of our favorite Chronicle of Higher Education writers and the author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word. From bobbysoxing Silents to whatever Gen X’ers, From Skedaddle explores the words that encapsulate and characterize whole generations.

The Art of Language Invention, by David J. Peterson

The creator of Dothraki? A history of constructed languages? ‘Nuff said.

Bullshit: A Lexicon, by Mark Peters

Also known as @wordlust, Peters has long been one of our favorite word nerds. His latest book delves into all the different ways of saying balderdash, hooey, and bunk.


And of course, our favorite gift: giving a favorite word at Wordnik!

A Brief History of Cotton Candy Names

Cotton Candy

While National Cotton Candy Day is celebrated on December 7 in the U.S., the brightly-colored ethereal sweetness is enjoyed any time all over the world, and under many different names. Here we take a brief look at the history of those names.

Before cotton candy, there was spun sugar. According to How Stuff Works, 15th-century Italian pastry chefs were geniuses with the stuff, creating entire scenes from golden syrup drizzled from broom handles.

However, because spinning sugar by hand was such an arduous task, the sweet treat didn’t hit the masses until John C. Wharton, a candy maker, and William J. Morrison, a dentist (you read that right) designed a machine to speed up and automate the task. The inventors dubbed the light and airy result fairy floss, which made its debut at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

By the mid-1920s, the sugary concoction came to be known in North America by the name we all know, cotton candy, although it’s still referred to as fairy floss in Australia and New Zealand. (In Sydney, you can also get your hands on fairy floss ice cream.)

In British English, the toothsome treat retained the floss portion of fairy floss and took on candy. The earliest citation for candy-floss in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from 1951, while in South Africa the gossamer goody is known as tooth floss, which sounds like dental floss’s evil twin.

Some other languages follow, like American English, the cotton route. In Spanish the term is algodón de azúcar, “sugar cotton.” The Polish version is wata cukrowa, also “sugar cotton,” while in Italy it’s known as zucchero filato, or “sugar thread.”

In Korean, it’s somsatang, where som means “cotton,” and satang, “candy,” while in Japanese, watakashi  — cotton (wata) candy (kasha) —  is also the surname of a “character” associated with Utau, a Japanese singing synthesizer application, named perhaps for a sweetness so light she almost doesn’t exist.

The Dutch take a different spin on their name for spun sugar. Suikerspin translates as “sugar spider,” where suiker is sugar and spin is spider. The English word spider ultimately comes from the Proto-Germanic spin-thron-, literally “the spinner.”

What else does this delicate delight resemble besides cotton? How about Dad’s bushy facial hair? Or at least that might have been the thought process of whatever French person came up with barbe à papa, or papa’s beard. Barbe à papa is also the inspiration for a series of children’s books called Barbapapa, which is about a pink, amorphous character trying to fit in, as well as perhaps the Japanese cream puff chain, Beard Papa’s.

A Persian sweet similar to cotton candy is pashmak, which translates as “wool-like.” Pashmak is made from sesame oil and sugar and is supposed to resemble sheep’s wool. A Chinese version is dragon’s beard candy, which in addition to spun sugar contains peanuts, dried coconut, sesame seeds, and glutinous rice flour. Why dragon’s beard? In Chinese art, the lucky mythical creature is often depicted with wispy chin hair.

By now, you might be craving a pink puff, and we say have at it. Just be sure to floss afterwards, and not with the sugary kind.

Word Buzz Wednesday: Centurion, fleurdeliser, piecaken


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: impersonating a Roman officer; fleur-de-lis, not just for royals; can’t decide between pie and cake? you’re in luck.


“It spoke of the ‘inappropriate, insistent and sometimes aggressive’ behaviour of Centurions, who charge between €5 and €10 ($5.3-$10.6) for a photo.”

Rome bans Centurions from tourist sites,” BBC, November 26, 2016

A centurion was a commander in the army of ancient Rome, so-called because he commandeered a company of 100 soldiers. The centurions of Rome today are impersonators of such soldiers and, as of this month, criminals in the eyes of the law.


“She ignored me and passed right by. ‘What year were you born?’ I called to her back. She kept walking, and replied ‘I’m almost a circle older than you.’”

Zheping Huang, “I was a 23-year-old guy at a 4,000-person Chinese singles party,” Quartz, November 25, 2015

In this context, a circle refers to a full 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac animals.


“The practice of fleurdeliser (a verb meaning ‘to mark with the fleur-de-lis’) traveled across the waters to French-controlled colonies, including America.”

Anne Quito, “The secret history of spots, stripes and other everyday patterns,” Quartz, November 25, 2015

The fleur-de-lis wasn’t just an iris pattern used by the aristocracy (including the French royal family and government) but also a way to mark criminals or anyone “controlled by the French state,” says Jude Stewart in his book, Patternalia, An Unconventional History of Polka Dots, Stripes, Plaid, Camouflage, & Other Graphic Patterns.


“When Kelly called restaurant David Burke Fabrick’s piecaken (created by Executive Pastry Chef Zac Young), ‘Pretty much the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, besides the birth of my children,’ the piecaken craze reached a fevered frenzy.”

Sarah Spigelman Richter, “You say piecaken, I say cherpumple. Can’t ridiculous dessert lovers just get along?” Mashable, November 26, 2015

The piecaken is a pie baked inside a cake. Its name is a play on turducken, a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. While the piecaken recently gained popularity, Mashable says the word goes back at least three years.

The cherpumple, arguably the original turducken of desserts, originated as a three-layer cake baked with a cherry, pumpkin, and apple pie in each layer, and was invented by foodie mad scientist, Charles Phoenix.


“The brand name Taser has become as synonymous with these devices as Kleenex or Xerox have to photocopies and tissues – a quirk of language known as a ‘proprietary eponym’.”

Jamiles Lartey, “Where did the word ‘Taser’ come from? A century-old racist science fiction novel,” The Guardian, November 30, 2015

The word for any high-voltage stun gun comes from the weapon’s original manufacturer, Taser International. However, “Taser” doesn’t refer to the inventor of the gun. That would be Jack Cover, who created the name as a “loose acronym” of Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, an early 20th-century science fiction YA novel.

The book mentions a “less lethal” electric gun as well as descriptions of Africans as “hideous in their savagery, wearing only the loin cloth, and with their kinky hair stuck full of sticks,” and as “wild, savage and ferocious … like little red apes.” Swift and his companions decide that the blacks “need to be controlled, guided or killed as determined by the more ‘civilized’ white outsiders.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: Duchenne smile, narwhal, variable reward


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: the science behind smiles; a non-mythical unicorn; and hooking users with cat videos.

disease model

“Besides using cloning technologies to improve livestock breeding, the new cloning factory, will be ‘the world’s only’ research institution to produce ‘disease models’ of large animals, Xu said.”

Zheping Huang, “China plans to clone everything from beef cattle to the family dog in this giant factory,” Quartz, November 23, 2015

A disease model is an animal that has been genetically engineered “to be predisposed to a certain human disease for research purposes.” For example, mouse models have been used to study a host of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s.

Duchenne smile

“Between two and six months, infants increasingly employ a so-called Duchenne smile—cheeks raised, eye muscles constricted—to respond to parents’ smiles, which researchers say indicates intense emotion.”

Melinda Beck, “What Your Baby’s Smile Can Tell You About Her Development,” The Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2015

The Duchenne smile is named for 19th century French physician Guillaume Duchenne, who studied facial expressions and found that while control of the zygomatic major, the muscles that raise the corners of the mouth, is voluntary, the contraction of the orbicularis oculi, those around the eyes, is involuntary.

Thus, Duchenne concluded that only “the ‘sweet emotions of the soul’ force the orbicularis oculi to contract,” and that “its inertia, in smiling…unmasks a false friend.”


“While regulators maintain that they’re sure the fish is safe to eat, the salmon— which was dubbed ‘Frankenfish’ by its critics — has drawn much contention along its swim to approval.”

Becca Stanek, “For the first time ever, the FDA has approved eating a genetically modified animal: A fast-growing salmon,” The Week, November 19, 2015

Frankenfish plays off the general slang term for genetically modified food, Frankenfood, which originated in the early 1990s, says the Oxford English Dictionary. The Franken- prefix comes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which Victor Frankenstein creates his “monster” through an “ambiguous method consisting of chemistry and alchemy.”


“And unlike unicorns, narwhals, a type of toothed whales, actually exist.”

Alice Truong, “Canadian tech unicorns are called ‘narwhals,’” Quartz, November 20, 2015

In the startup world, a unicorn refers to company valued at $1 billion or more. Originally a rare occurrence — hence, the equating with the mythological, much sought after creature — unicorns are becoming more common.

The CEO of an advisory firm in Vancouver coined the term narwhal to refer to such a startup in Canada. The narwhal, sometimes called the sea-unicorn or unicorn fish due to the ivory tusk jutting from its head, can be found in the Arctic waters around Greenland, Russia, and Canada.

The word narwhal comes from the Norwegian or Danish narhval, which comes from Old Norse nāhvalr, where nār means “corpse” — named for the whale’s pale color — and hvalr, “whale.”

variable reward

“With [a slot machine], the longer you’re engaged by variable rewards, the more money you lose. For a tech company in the attention economy, the longer you’re engaged by variable rewards, the more time you spend online, and the more money they make through ad revenue.”

Michael Schulson, “User behaviour,” Aeon, November 24, 2015

A variable reward is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re gonna get.

Hence, its appeal. On Facebook, for example, variable rewards might include a cute cat video, a moving news story, or someone’s bragplain post.

The variable reward is the third step in a four-step design model to get online users hooked. Step one is the trigger (whatever catches your attention), step two the action (the act of scrolling or clicking) which leads to the variable reward, and step four is making an investment such as Liking or sharing a post.