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!

Word Buzz Wednesday: disease mongering; the Not Face; jawn

Pete and me

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: spreading fear of disease; active “no” face; an all-purpose Philadelphia-ism.


“In the past, digi-doubles could only be used at a distance or in the distracting frenzy of action sequences. Now, Snyder says, ‘you can get really close to them.’”

Logan Hill, “Plastic Surgery with a Mouse Click,” Vulture, April 4, 2016

Digi-doubles are digital body doubles, which are part of the wider field of beauty work, using special effects in movies to alter an actor’s appearance and even their expression.

disease mongering

“In his field, the tactic is known as ‘disease mongering.’ And to critics of consumer drug advertising, Belsomra is a perfect example of these practices at work.”

Jonathan Cohn, “Drugs You Don’t Need for Disorders You Don’t Have,” The Huffington Post, March 31, 2016

Think fearmongering, or spreading unsubstantiated fears, but with disease and illness. Disease mongering may convince people that their “usually mild ailment urgently needs drug treatment.” Large pharmaceutical companies have been accused of disease mongering in order to turn a profit.


“It is a completely acceptable statement in Philadelphia to ask someone to ‘remember to bring that jawn to the jawn.’”

Dan Nosowitz, “The Enduring Mystery Of ‘Jawn’, Philadelphia’s All-Purpose Noun,” Atlas Obscura, March 24, 2016

Jawn is a Philadelphia colloquialism that acts “an all-purpose noun,” says Atlas Obscura, “a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people.” The word originated as an alteration of the New York slang term joint, which became popular in the 1980s with the release of “That’s The Joint” by Bronx hip-hop group, Funky Four Plus.

Not Face

“There is no way I’m going to do this, there’s no way I agree – you would produce a Not Face.”

We All Know the ‘Not Face’ — Now We Have a Name for It,” NPR, April 3, 2016

Researchers have recently identified what might be a universal facial expression that just says no: what they’re calling the Not Face. The term for the mild scowl plus furrowed brow was coined by study author, Alex Martinez, a cognitive scientist and engineering professor at Ohio State University.

Panama Papers

“On Sunday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published a massive leak of documents, dubbed the Panama Papers.”

Jethro Mullen, “The Panama Papers: 7 Things to Know,” CNN, March 4, 2016

The Panama Papers allegedly “reveal a clandestine network involving associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” as well as business ties between a FIFA ethics committee member and FIFA officials and executives who were indicted for corruption.

So why Panama? The millions of documents are allegedly connected to a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca, which “helped establish secret shell companies and offshore accounts for global power players.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: bad boy clause, Polari, shock breakout


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: when billionaires are bad boys, a secret language, and some space slang.

bad boy clause

“Not only did Lightstone lose its $200 million equity in the deal, but Lichtenstein himself was also personally on the hook for $100 million as a result of what’s known as a ‘bad boy’ clause.”

Chloe Sorvino, “How Real Estate Billionaire David Lichtenstein Bounced Back From A $7.5 Billion Hotel Bankruptcy,” Forbes, March 23, 2016

A bad boy clause or provision is “a regulatory clause stating that certain persons are not entitled to any type of exemptions from registering their securities, because of their past conduct.” Some examples of bad boy-worthy past behavior include fraud, gross negligence that results in forfeiture of a mortgaged property, and misappropriation of rents.


“Many believe that’s unethical, but it can also make the transfers subject to what’s known as a ‘clawback’ or forfeiture if they occur in the five years before the elderly family member’s application for Medicaid.”

Jayne O’Donnell and Laura Ungar, “Navigating Medicaid for elder care can be as painful as the ailments,” USA Today, March 26, 2016

A clawback refers to already distributed money or benefits that are taken back. It can also mean “a retraction of stock prices or of the market in general.” Another meaning of clawback is a flatterer or sycophant.


“Vada (‘look at’), dolly eek (a pretty face), and chicken (a young guy) are all words from the lexicon of Polari, a secret language used by gay men in Britain at a time when homosexuality was illegal.”

Ella Morton, “The Forgotten Secret Language of Gay Men,” Atlas Obscura, March 25, 2016

According to Atlas Obscura, Polari “is derived from a mishmash of Italian, Romani, Yiddish, Cockney rhyming slang, backslang,” and cant. It was used in the 19th- and early 20th centuries “by merchant seafarers and people who frequented the pubs around London’s docks,” and in the 1930s by “the theater types of the West End, from which it crossed over to the city’s gay pubs.”

The name Polari comes from the Italian parlere, “to speak.”

shock breakout

“When a star goes supernova, it emits what’s known as as a ‘shock breakout,’ a brilliant flash of energy.”

Jim Festante, “NASA Captures the Crazy Shockwave of an Exploding Star,” Slate, March 26, 2016

A shock breakout is “130,000,000 times brighter than the sun” and lasts only 20 minutes. An example was recently captured for the first time in “visible light” by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

True Polar Wander

“A physical change in the moon’s spin axis is known as True Polar Wander, and this is the first physical evidence that the moon has undergone it.”

Deborah Byrd, “Moon’s tilt has changed over time,” EarthSky, March 24, 2016

Recently physical evidence, namely ancient lunar ice deposits, has shown that the moon has indeed undergone True Polar Wander, says EarthSky. Specifically, the moon’s axis rotation has shifted by at least six degrees.

8 Old-Timey Words for ‘Doctor’


In The Secret Language of Doctors by Dr. Brian Goldman, medical practitioners go by many names. Surgeons are cowboys while internists are fleas. ER physicians are triage monkeys and obstetricians are baby catchers. Urologists are plumbers and anesthesiologists are gas passers.

But how about those old-timey words for doctor? Today we look at eight such terms and the stories behind them.


“All alienists are agreed as to the greater frequency of mental alienation in the summer season.”

Henry Morselli, “Suicide,” The Academy, Volume 20, 1881

Alienist is an old term for psychiatrist, especially one that acts as an expert in a court of law. The word comes from the French aliéné, “insane,” which also gives rise to alienation, “emotional isolation or dissociation.” Alien meaning “strange” or “foreign” comes from the Old French alien, also meaning strange or foreign.


“When Barnaby True came back to his senses again it was to find himself being cared for with great skill and nicety, his head bathed with cold water, and a bandage being bound about it as carefully as though a chirurgeon was attending to him.”

Howard Pyle, Book of Pirates, 1921

The Online Etymology Dictionary says this hard-to-pronounce word is a “failed Renaissance attempt to restore Greek spelling to the word that had got into English as surgeon,” and is  “now, thank the gods, archaic.”

The much more accessible surgeon ultimately comes from the Latin chirurgia, “surgery,” which comes from the Greek kheirourgos, “working or done by hand.”


“There will be a learned young divine with some new doctrine; a learned leech with some new drug.”

Sir Walter Scott, The Abbot, 1820

Which came first, leech the physician or leech the blood-sucker that a physician of the past (and some in the present) might have administered? The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says it’s “commonly regarded” that leech the blood-sucker came from leech the physician, where the latter came from Proto-Germanic lekjaz, “enchanter, one who speaks magic words; healer, physician.”

However, the Old English lyce, early Middle English liche, and Middle Dutch lieke suggest that leech the parasite began as a distinct word and morphed into leech due to “popular etymology.”

medicine man

“In our walk through the town, I was accosted by the Medicine Man, or doctor, who was standing at the entrance of a lodge, into which we went.”

John Bradbury, Travels in the Interior of America, 1817

The term medicine man first appeared in English around 1801, says the OED, probably coming from the Ojibwa mashkikiiwinini, physician, where mashkiki means medicine and inini, man.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says the English word medicine was adopted by North American Indians in the sense of “magical influence,” and that they called the U.S.-Canadian boundary Medicine Line “because it conferred a kind of magic protection: punishment for crimes committed on one side of it could be avoided by crossing over to the other.”


“The mountebank now treads the stage, and sells His pills, his balsoms, and his ague spells.”

John Gay, The Shepherd’s Week, 1714

A mountebank is a charlatan who sells fake meds, also known as nostrum. The word mountebank comes from the Italian montambanco, which comes from the phrase monta im banco, “one gets up onto the bench,” with the idea of a con artist getting up a on bench to hawk his fake wares.


“It may likewise be observed that as patient who has once been under the hands of a quack is ever after dabbling in drugs.”

Washington Irving, History of New-York, 1809

A quack is another word for a sham doctor. The word is short for quacksalver, which is Dutch in origin and translates as “hawker of salve.” The Dutch quacken means “to brag or boast,” and literally, “to croak.”


“I thought everybody know’d as a Sawbones was a Surgeon.”

Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1837

Sawbones is slang for surgeon, and may have been coined by Charles Dickens. Curious about what an old-timey amputation saw looked like? Check it out.


“It was Dr Hilarius, her shrink or psychotherapist.”

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49, 1966

This slang term for a psychotherapist is a shortening of headshrinker. The word headshrinker seems to have first appeared in a 1950 Time magazine article about Hopalong Cassidy: “Anyone who had predicted that he would end up as the rootin’-tootin’ idol of U.S. children would have been led instantly off to a headshrinker.” According to Shrink: The Untold Story of Psychiatry, the article noted that headshrinker is “Hollywood jargon for psychiatrist.”

The OED’s lists Pynchon’s as the first use of shrink.