Word Buzz Wednesday: buckyball, pentaquark, thermopolia

Buckyball, Madison Square Park

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: a space puzzle solved; let’s get quarky; and ancient fast food.


“To prove buckyballs are the stuff in interstellar space, you’d want to see if they absorb light in a lab in the same way they do in space.”

Joe Palca, “‘Buckyballs’ Solve Century-Old Mystery About Interstellar Space,” NPR, July 16, 2015

Ever wonder what’s in the “wispy cloud of gas” that floats between stars? Astronomers sure have, at least since 1922 when Mary Lea Heger, an astronomy grad student, proposed that something was “absorbing specific frequencies of light coming from distant stars.”

In 1985, Harry Kroto, a chemist at Florida State University, and other scientists discovered a new form of carbon they called buckyball (full name, buckminsterfullerene) due to their resemblance to the geodesic domes Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller designed in the 1960s.

Kroto thought the buckyballs might solve the “space puzzle” of the wispy gas clouds, and his scientists friends in Switzerland agreed. They set out to help support his theory, which they finally did recently, at least enough for their own and critics’ satisfaction.

Jade Helm 15

“While much of the attention on Jade Helm 15 has focused on conspiracy theories, Army planners have spent months quietly persuading private property owners and small-town leaders to welcome them to their communities.”

Manny Fernandez, “As Jade Helm 15 Military Exercise Begins, Texans Keep Watch ‘Just in Case,’” The New York Times, July 15, 2015

Jade Helm 15 is an eight-week military exercise involving “Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other Special Operations troops. . .conducting drills on private property, military bases and at some public facilities.” It’s also a source of paranoia and conspiracy theories by conservative bloggers.

While we couldn’t find where the name of the military exercise comes from, we’re guessing it’s probably not from this poor woman with the real-life name of Jade Helm.

mirror-touch synesthesia

“For mirror-touch synesthetes like Salinas, that mental simulacrum is so strong that it crosses a threshold into near-tactile sensation, sometimes indistinguishable from one’s own.”

Erika Hayasaki, “This Doctor Knows Exactly How You Feel,” Pacific Standard, July 13, 2015

The general definition of synesthesia is “a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another,” such as sounds producing colors or odors. In mirror-touch synesthesia, synesthetes are “peculiarly attuned to the sensations of others.” For example, if one sees someone else get slapped, they might feel it on their own cheek.


“Scientists at CERN have announced that, using the Large Hadron Collider, they’ve discovered a new type of particle—the elusive pentaquark.”

Sarah Laskow, “Found: The Pentaquark, A New Form of Matter,” Atlas Obscura, July 14, 2015

A pentaquark is made of four quarks and an antiquark, and was “first predicted to exist in the 1960s.” It’s only recently that scientists think they’ve actually found it.

A quark is, in particle physics, “any of a group of six elementary particles having electric charges of a magnitude one-third or two-thirds that of the electron, regarded as constituents of all hadrons,” which is another class of subatomic particle.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the six quarks are designated as up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. The top and bottom quarks were formerly known as the much more interesting truth and beauty.

As for the word quark, in 1964 U.S. physicist Murray Gell-Mann told OED editors he took the word from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, who used it as a nonce word: “Three quarks for Muster Mark!” Another influence might be the German Quark, “curds, rubbish.” Quark is also a kind of soft, creamy cheese.


“These establishments have traditionally been called thermopolia, from a Greek work meaning something like ‘a place where hot things are sold,’ and they are thought to have been simple restaurants that resembled our own fast-food restaurants.”

Aaron Thier, “Fast Food Nation,” Lucky Peach, July 10, 2015

Ancient Pompeiians probably didn’t use the term thermopolia, says Lucky Peach, but would have referred to these “fast food” joints as popinae. In Oscan, an extinct Italian language, popina means “kitchen.”

For Whom the Words Toll: 10 Terms Coined by Ernest Hemingway


Ernest Hemingway, affectionately known by a slew of nicknames including Ernie, Oinbones, Champ, and of course Papa, was born on this day in 1899. An amateur boxer and bullfighting aficionado, a hunting enthusiast and marrier of many spouses, and, first and foremost, a writer, Hemingway was also a coiner of words. Here are 10 he created or popularized.


“I sorted out the carbons, stamped on a by-line.”

The Sun Also Rises, 1926

While Hemingway’s use is the earliest recorded in English, it’s unclear if he actually coined byline. In his early career as a journalist, he probably heard the term often, and merely popularized it through his first novel.


‘Ciaou!’ he said. ‘What kind of time did you have?’”

A Farewell to Arms, 1929

Have a pretentious friend who says ciao instead of goodbye and hello? You can thank Papa for that.

The word ciao in Italian comes from the dialectal ciau, an alteration of (sono vostro) schiavo, “(I am your) servant.”


“It takes more cojones to be a sportsman where death is a closer party to the game.”

Death in the Afternoon, 1932

Cojones, Spanish for testicles, refers to courage, pluck, or guts. The word comes from the Latin coleus, culleus, literally “a leather sack.” Related in English are cullion, which in addition to meaning testicle refers to a vile person, and cull, a shortening of cully, a fool or dupe.


‘’Do you know any dirt?’ I asked. ‘No.’ ‘None of your exalted connections getting divorces?’”

The Sun Also Rises, 1926

Tabloids owe Hem a Green Isaac’s Special for giving them another word for gossip. An earlier figurative meaning for dirt is a mean action or remark, which could have been an influence.

moment of truth

“The whole end of the bullfight was the final sword thrust, the actual encounter between the man and the animal, what the Spanish call the moment of truth.”

Death in the Afternoon, 1932

Moment of truth, or a crucial point in time, comes from the Spanish bullfighting term, el momento de la verdad, which refers to the final thrust of the sword that kills the bull.


“Then some shitfaced critic writes Mr. Hemingway retires to his comfortable library to write about despair.”

Selected Letters, 1932

Hemmy uses shit-faced here to refer to a contemptible person. Poet Allen Ginsberg employs it in the same way in his 1961 poem, In Society:

She glared at me and
said immediately: “I don’t like you.”
turned her head away, and refused
to be introduced. I said, “What!”
in outrage. “Why you shit-faced fool!”

Shit-faced didn’t gain its intoxicated meaning until the early 1960s as “student slang.”


“He would get to worrying and get so spooked he wouldn’t be any use.”

To Have and Have Not, 1937

The original meaning of spook, a ghost or apparition, is from around 1801, and comes from the Middle Dutch spoc, meaning “ghost.” Spook gained the verb meaning “to act like a ghost” in 1867,  and “to haunt” around 1883, says the Oxford English Dictionary.

In 1928, the word came to mean, in North American slang, to become alarmed. In 1935, Hemingway was the first to use spook to mean “to frighten or unnerve,” especially in hunting, and in 1937 he used spooked to mean scared or jumpy.

Spook as slang for “spy” is from 1942, perhaps with the idea of being hard to spot, while the derogatory term for a black person is from the mid-1940s. This might also come from the notion of invisibility, in this case the racist misconception that dark skin is “difficult to see at night,” says the Online Etymology Dictionary.

During World War II, African American Tuskegee airmen called themselves Spookwaffe, which translates from German as “spook weapon.” (See also Night Witches.)


“American word would be awkward bum, stumble-bum, flat-footed tramp.”

Death in the Afternoon, 1932

This term for a drunkard or a bumbling, inept person is also boxing slang for a punch-drunk or second-rate fighter.

The prizefighting usage is cited a couple of years after Hemingway’s, specifically in The Bruiser, a 1936 novel by American pugilist and writer Jim Tully:  “Don’t let these palookers around here laugh you outta seein’ me go—all you’ll ever get outta these stumble bums is the holes in the doughnuts.” A palooka is also an untalented fighter.

to have been around

“We’ve all been around. I dare say Jake here has seen as much as you have.”

The Sun Also Rises, 1926

To have been around means to have experience in worldly matters. A variant is to have been around the block.


“Maybe we can go over and fight the Yugos.”

Letter, April 27, 1919

Tatie seemed to be the first to use Yugo to refer to someone from Yugoslavia. The Yugo was also a mid-1980s car model “built in Soviet-bloc Yugoslavia.” Apparently the Yugo’s “engines went ka-blooey, the electrical system — such as it was — would sizzle, and things would just fall off,” at least according to TIME.

Word Buzz Wednesday: Godzilla El Niño, lek, velfie

10th Annual Prairie Chicken Festival

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: a monster storm, a display that’s for the birds, and yet another selfie.

Cobble Hook

“Andy Ricker’s Whiskey Soda Lounge shuttered over the weekend, and now Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen will be taking its place—in a neighborhood Hall has identified as Cobble Hook.”

Lauren Evans, “Is Brooklyn’s Hottest New ‘Hood ‘Cobble Hook’ Or Should We Burn It All Down?” Gothamist, July 8, 2015

Between Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill and Red Hook neighborhoods is Cobble Hook, an entirely fake neighborhood made up by Washington, DC celebrity chef, Carla Hall.

Other neighborhood mash-ups include Bedwick, a combination of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick; Parkwanus, the “unloved bastard child” of Park Slope and Gowanus; and San Francisco’s Tendernob, that semi-sketchy stretch between the “affluent Nob Hill” area and the “less affluent” Tenderloin.

Godzilla El Niño

“‘Not a puny El Niño but a Godzilla El Niño,’ adds Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.”

Craig Miller, “El Niño Update: California’s ‘Great Wet Hope’ Continues to Build,” KQED, July 9, 2015

The Godzilla El Niño is a super-sized version of El Niño, “an invasion of warm water into the surface of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru and Ecuador.” This “invasion” occurs “every four to seven years,” usually around Christmas time, hence the name, “The Little Boy,” a reference to the Christ child.


“They form groups known as leks and sing their hearts out, with the females sometimes choosing several males to mate with.”

Matt Simon, “Absurd Creature of the Week: The World’s Tiniest Bird Weighs Less Than a Dime,” WIRED, July 10, 2015

A lek is a gathering of male animals, especially birds, “for the purposes of courtship and display.” The word also refers to the patch of ground used for the courtship and display, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and to take part in such a gathering.

Lek probably comes from the Swedish leka, “to play,” which also gives us fartlek, a kind of interval training, especially in running. Fartlek translates from Swedish as “speed play.”


“He argued that the open-heartedness of poptimism was actually a guise that gave listeners ‘carte blanche to be less adventurous’.”

Chris Richards, “Poptimism: how critics betray pop music fans,” The Age, June 29, 2015

Poptimism, a blend of pop and optimism, is an ideology that says “all pop music deserves a thoughtful listen and a fair shake, that guilty pleasures are really just pleasures.” However, such an ideology also risks becoming “worshipful of fame,” treating “megastars, despite their untold corporate resources, like underdogs,” and granting “immunity to a lot of dim music.”


“Move over selfie, India is embracing the ‘velfie’, with Bollywood stars, sporting heroes and even politicians taking and posting videos of themselves online using a range of new mobile apps.”

Indians embrace the video selfie, or ‘velfie‘,” 3News, July 6, 2015

A velfie is a video selfie as well as an app that facilitates such videos.

Word Buzz Wednesday: body woman, ikemen, litefeet

litefeet-05Still from Litefeet via BOOOOOOOM

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: the ultimate assistant, a hot gorilla, and it’s showtime!

body woman

“After decades of rope lines — she started working for Clinton as a 19-year-old intern in the First Lady’s office — the role of body woman comes naturally to Abedin, and her hovering presence there, a few feet away from the candidate, is what normal feels like for Clinton.”

Annie Karni, “Hillary’s Shadow,” Politico, July 2, 2015

A body woman or body man is, in politics, a sort of “uber” assistant who takes care of a politician’s every need. The term may come from body servant or body valet.

While body woman may have come about around 2008, the exact origin of body man is unclear. The earliest mention we could find is from 1992:

Begala, the governor’s “body man”. . .wrote speeches, formulated strategy, tried to “keep the governor focused on the message” and served as “a bridge between the candidate and the campaign,” phoning Little Rock from the road as many as 20 times a day.


“Dubbed an ikemen (colloquial phrase for ‘hot guy’) due to his well-defined facial features, 18-year-old Shabani has attracted throngs of visitors to the gorilla habitat on weekends.”

Chunichi Shimbun, “Good-looking gorilla has crowds going gaga at Higashiyama Zoo,” The Japan Times, June 29, 2015

The word ikeman may have originated in Japanese around 2000 as a combination of ikeru, “cool,” and either the English word men or the Japanese men, “face.”


“In late 1938, [Britain] began a program, called Kindertransport, to admit unaccompanied Jewish children up to age 17 if they had a host family, with the offer of a 50-pound warranty for an eventual return ticket.”

Robert D. McFadden, “Nicholas Winton, Rescuer of 669 Children From Holocaust, Dies at 106,” The New York Times, July 1, 2015

Kindertransport, German for “children’s transport,” ran from 1938 through 1940 as a “series of rescue efforts which brought thousands of refugee Jewish children to Great Britain from Nazi Germany.”

leap second

“In the process, the leap second—through no fault of its own—puts at risk countless critical computer systems around the world.”

David Yanofsky, “The origin of leap seconds, and why they should be abolished,” Quartz, June 29, 2015

A leap second is a second that is inserted into clocks “to realign them with the earth’s rotation.” There have been 27 leap seconds since 1967 when scientists adopted an atomic standard and, presumably, determined the need for leap seconds. The 27th leap second was added on July 1.


Litefeet originated in Harlem and the Bronx as a style of dancing with its own moves (like the Chicken Noodle and the Tone-Wop) that you might see at parties, or during halftime at a basketball game.”

Two ‘Showtime’ Subway Dancers Give Us The Lowdown On Litefeet,” Gothamist, June 29, 2015

Those guys you see dancing, flipping, and showtiming on the subway? That’s litefeet, a style of dance which originated in the mid-2000s in New York and is named for the dancers’ light-on-their-feet acrobatic movements.

Philanthropy’s Kindly Origins: A Conversation with Ruth Ann Harnisch


Eight months ago we announced Wordnik’s not-for-profit status, and shortly after we launched our Adopt A Word program. To date more than 300 words have been taken into loving homes.

Each time a word is adopted we’re delighted and grateful — every cent helps to keep Wordnik ad-free — so you can imagine our surprise and delight when philanthropist and “recovering journalist” Ruth Ann Harnisch adopted not one, not two, but six words, and then going even farther by offering to sponsor a whole letter.

We had a chance to catch up with the founder of the The Harnisch Foundation (and 2014 honoree, along with Wordnik founder Erin McKean, of Forty over 40) and found out more about why she selected the words she adopted, how she arrived at sponsoring the letter S, and how anyone can be a philanthropist.

First of all, thank you so much for your sponsorship and adoptions! You adopted six words: feminism, feminist, philanthropy and philanthropist, and filmanthropy and filmanthropist. Why these words? How do they reflect your beliefs and what’s important to you?

I’m a feminist. I believe that women (and all genders) should be treated fairly and equitably, in equal rights under the law, and equal dignity in society. I’m grateful to everyone in history whose courage and cultural disruption are part of the change that will be a new way of life in the future.

I’m also a philanthropist. I know the joy and satisfaction of actively working to disrupt unfair institutions and helping to create a world that works better for everyone.

People are intimidated by the word or concept of “philanthropy,” but I’d love for everyone to look at the origin of the word and see that it’s not very intimidating at all. [Editor’s note: philanthropy comes from a Greek word meaning “kindliness, love to mankind”.] Philanthropy doesn’t equal money. Money is only one way to express one’s value of caring for others.

In addition to being a philanthropist, I’m a filmanthropist — I make philanthropic investments in film and other media. While others engage in filmanthropy to advance the environment, stop war, etc., my specific intention is putting more women’s stories on the screen, and hiring more women and other underrepresented people to direct, produce, write, edit, shoot, star, and fill the crowd of extras.

How about the letter S? What’s so special about it?

I picked the letter “S” because as is my custom in making philanthropic investments, I did research to see what would produce the biggest bang for the buck. When Erin told me about sponsoring entire letters, I asked if the “popularity” of the adopted letter affected the size of the donation required to sponsor it. When I was told that all letters were going for the same price at this time, I asked which letters would be the best bargains. Well, I’m always learning something new, and if you click the link you will too. Word to the wise: “C” what the next best bargain is!

What advice do you have for those who want to give more but may feel like they don’t have the time (or resources)?

Anyone can be a philanthropist. If you can give nothing else, giving your attention to a cause, an organization, or a leader you care about can be a welcome gift indeed. You’d be surprised how many opportunities there are for you to have impact by making the tiniest of contributions of time, skill, grunt work, or actual currency. Share their story on social media, retweet them, talk them up to others, and when an opportunity presents itself, be aware and be bold.

Word Buzz Wednesday: Night Witches; putsch; super-big

The Night Witches ready for a raid, 1944 (photo via Vanity Fair).

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: badass female pilots; another strange word from Justice Scalia; and basketball players, extra-large.


Featherbowling was born from that medieval family of games that endure in no small part because they can be played with a beverage in the shooter’s free hand.”

Chris Koentges, “Believe in Featherbowling,” ESPN, Jun 19, 2015

Featherbowling — or trabollen in Dutch — originated in Flanders, Belgium, and is similar to curling. ESPN describes it as bocce except instead of balls “you roll discs that have been slightly weighted to rotate unevenly across the earth, exposing the shooter’s secret divine grace.”

Night Witches

“By the end of the war, the Night Witches had flown somewhere in the vicinity of 30,000 bombing raids, delivering around 23,000 tons of munitions right to Nazi’s.”

Eric Grundhauser, “The Little-Known Story of the Night Witches, an All-Female Force in WWII,” Vanity Fair, June 25, 2015

This month marks the 73rd anniversary of the establishment of the Night Witches, a Soviet “all-female squadron of bomber pilots who ran thousands of daring bombing raids with little more than wooden planes and the cover of night.”

The squadron was started by the “Russian Amelia Earhart,” Colonel Marina Raskova, who “lobbied to finds ways for women to take a more active role in the war.” In early fall 1941, Raskova’s efforts paid off: Joseph Stalin himself ordered that she set up a trio of all-women air squads, including one team of night bombers.

To stay hidden, the pilots would kill their engines when they neared their targets, “making a light ‘whooshing’ sound.” Soon German soldiers began calling them Nachthexen, or “Night Witches,” and even thought the women had been given special pills that “gave them the night vision of a cat.”


“But despite the initial plea from the artist who created an online page for the word and asked others not to use it anywhere else on the Internet, ‘parbunkells,’ which means ‘coming together through the binding of two ropes,’ immediately popped up all over cyberspace.”

Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, “‘Parbunkells’ Conquers the Internet Against Artist’s Wishes,” DNAInfo, June 26, 2015

Julia Weist, a Brooklyn artist (natch), posted this rare 17th-century word on a billboard, which made a lot of people on the internet realize they don’t know everything. Weist unearthed the word in a 1627 publication housed in the New York Public Library’s Rare Book Division.

(H/t: Mededitor)


“He called the decision a ‘judicial Putsch’ and ‘a threat to democracy’, in which the majority discovered a right to marriage that all the US legal minds before them had overlooked.”

Anthony Zurcher, “Gay marriage: It’s a ‘judicial Putsch’ warns dissenting Scalia,” BBC, June 26, 2015

A putsch is similar to a coup, or “a sudden attempt by a group to overthrow a government.” The word putsch comes from the German Putsch, “revolt, riot,” or literally, “a sudden blow, push, thrust, shock,” which is imitative in origin.


“So often, super-bigs, as players like Meng and Sing are called, get overworked. Their feet, still growing, can’t handle the stress of carrying such large bodies up and down a court. They break down.”

Les Carpenter, “Satnam Singh: an NBA history-maker, and a new type of super-big,” The Guardian, June 26, 2015

Super-big is basketball slang for an enormous player — one who’s often over seven feet tall.

Word Buzz Wednesday: adorabilis, Brotox, symmetrization

Jellyfish 1

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: a totes adorabilis octopus; Brotox for brow’s feet; a self-healing jellyfish.


“‘One of the thoughts I had was making it ‘Opisthoteuthis adorabilis’ because they are just—yeah, they’re really cute,’ she says in the video by Science Friday.”

Gwynn Guilford, “This tiny octopus is so cute, scientists want to name it ‘adorabilis,’” Quartz, June 17, 2015

Looking like something out of Finding Nemo, this tiny pink octopus dwells in the deep sea and is part of the family nicknamed “flapjack” octopodes, so-called because they travel by “flapping a fringe of webbing” between their arms as they hover above the seafloor.

In case you were wondering, octopodes, not octopi, is the proper plural of octopus. The suffix -i as the plural of -us is Latin while the word octopus comes from the Greek oktopous, “eight-footed.”


“While women still supply most of the demand for cosmetic drugs, Allergan is betting that by marketing to men, it can squeeze more growth out of well-known drugs such as Botox and create new markets with treatments like Kythera’s Kybella, for double chins. Call it the ‘Brotox’ strategy.”

Ryan Sachetta and Cynthia Koons, “Worried About Wrinkles, Guys? Allergan Bets You’ll Want ‘Brotox’,” Bloomberg, June 17, 2015

Brotox, a blend of bro and Botox, is just one in a long line of products “repackaged” for men, including broga, brogurt, murse, and meggings.


“Pranksters behind the mysterious ‘Fridgehenge’ have been revealed.”

Jon Livesey, “‘Fridgehenge’ pranksters mark summer solstice with homage to Stonehenge – made out of white goods,” The Mirror, June 22, 2015

Fridgehenge refers to several refrigerators arranged like the stones of Stonehenge.

Thousands of people descend on Stonehenge every summer solstice to celebrate the longest day of the year around the mysterious stones that might have been used in religious rites “by early Britons 4,000 years ago.”

Fridgehenge shouldn’t be confused with Manhattanhenge, the twice-yearly lining up of the sunset with Manhattan’s street grid

Holocene Extinction

“You’ve probably heard about the Holocene Extinction by now, or the catchier, media-friendly Sixth Extinction.”

Dan Seitz, “What Is the Holocene Extinction? An Explainer,” Uproxx, June 22, 2015

In this latest mass extinction (the last one occurred 66 million years ago and was the one that wiped out all non-avian dinosaurs), animals are going extinct “more than a hundred times faster than the average background rate.” Because of human activity, the number of species that should have gone extinct over 11,400 years have disappeared in just one hundred.

Holocene refers to an epoch that began 10,000 years ago and continues today. The word ultimately comes from the Greek holos, “whole.”


“Because jellyfish often suffer from injuries—sometimes inflicted by unsuccessful predators—symmetrization is an important method to heal themselves.”

Carrie Arnold, “The Surprising Way Jellyfish Put Themselves Back Together,” National Geographic, June 15, 2015

Symmetrization is a newly discovered phenomenon which refers to when an organism, post-injury, rearranges itself so that it’s symmetrical, like a jellyfish that has lost two of its eight legs and repositions its other legs so that they are “once again evenly spaced.”

[Photo via Flickr: “Jellyfish 1,” CC BY 2.0 by L. Church]