Word Buzz Wednesday: anandamide, giant weta, ‘Wild’ effect

Cook Strait Giant Weta

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: a cannabinoid of supreme joy; a cricket on steroids; and hikers who get annoyed.


“The lab also has studied how the chemicals in cannabis, as well as cannabinoids like the anandamide produced by our bodies, protect our brains against various types of insults, such as physical and emotional trauma.”

Hampton Sides, “Science Seeks to Unlock Marijuana’s Secrets,” National Geographic, June 2015

In 1992, an organic chemist in Israel named Raphael Mechoulam and his colleagues “isolated the chemical made by the human body that binds to the same receptor in the brain that THC does.” Mechoulam named the chemical anandamide, which comes from the Sanskrit word for “supreme joy.”

giant weta

Giant weta, for their monstrous size, are actually quite sweet. Not like cuddly sweet, though you’re welcome to try, but sweet nonetheless.”

Matt Simon, “Absurd Creature of the Week: This Bug Is as Big as a Gerbil. Fortunately It Loves Carrots,” WIRED, June 5, 2015

Giant weta, at 2.5 ounces, are the heavyweights of the insect world. There are about 70 known species of the cricket-like creature, ranging from extra-large, like the giant weta, to medium and small, like the tree, cave, and ground weta.

New Zealand’s signature bug, the weta is so entrenched in Kiwi-culture that Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson named his Wellington-based special effects and props company the Weta Workshop.

The word weta is Maori in origin.

ICU psychosis

“As a young doctor in the 1980s, Inouye pioneered efforts to diagnose and prevent the condition, which was then called ‘ICU psychosis.’”

Sandra G. Boodman, “The Overlooked Danger of Delirium in Hospitals,” The Atlantic, June 7, 2015

ICU psychosis is an old name for a type of delirium experienced by patients in intensive-care units, and characterized by “vivid hallucinations, delusions, and an inability to focus.” In older patients such delirium is sometimes misdiagnosed as dementia. Some studies say up to 85 percent of ICU patients experience it, even for months after discharge.

The word delirium comes from the Latin delirare, which means “be crazy, rave” and is translated literally as “go off the furrow.”

kill chain

“In the event of a war, China’s kill chain could locate, identify, and track enemy ships — especially big ones like aircraft carriers — and proceed to sink them.”

Kyle Mizokami, “How China stealthily built a ‘kill chain’ in the South China Sea,” The Week, May 21, 2015

Kill chain is a military term for a “web of sensors on manned and unmanned aircraft, spy satellites, surface ships, and submarines,” used to track and destroy enemy crafts. China’s kill chain is made up of island outposts that stretch from the South China Sea “all the way back to Beijing.”

‘Wild’ effect

“‘People are definitely worried about the ‘Wild’ effect, though we can’t really figure out what it is yet,’ said Dan Moe, a baker from Portland, Oregon who’s hiking this year.”

Claire Trageser, “The ‘Wild’ effect,” Mashable, May 17, 2015

The ‘Wild’ effect describes the surge in popularity of the Pacific Crest Trail after the publication of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir based on her experience of hiking the trail and the release of the film version of the book.

Other places that have enjoyed a tourism boom from movies or TV shows include Bruges, Belgium (In Bruges), Forks, Washington (Twilight), and Cardiff, Wales (Doctor Who and Torchwood).

[Photo via Flickr: “Cook Strait Giant Weta,” CC BY 2.0 by Sid Mosdell]

10 Fantastic Fog Words

Golden Gate Bridge, effect of fog

In the summer months, we here in the San Francisco Bay Area encounter a lot of fog. How much fog? The San Francisco rugby club is called the Fog. Our fog has its own Twitter handle (with almost 86,000 followers).

We love those roiling and rolling clouds of moisture and mist, and of course, just as much, we love the terms that describe them. Here are 10 of our favorite words about fog.


“In studying a 13th-century scroll where nine scaly dragons writhe through a sepia mist, Mr. Li focused on a spot near the center where the brume twists into a spiral.”

Lee Lawrence, “How to Talk Back to a Chinese Master,” The Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2011

Brume comes from the Latin word for winter, bruma, which also gives us brumal, relating to winter. Brumaire is “the second month in the calendar adopted by the first French republic, beginning October 22d and ending November 20th,” and is also known as “the month of mist.”


“Consider the Chilean ‘fog catchers’ of the Atacama desert, one of the world’s driest locales, who harness the camanchaca, or ‘creeping fog,’ with an ingenious system of nets that trap fog droplets and turn them into potable water.”

Life without water,” Harvard University Press, May 31, 2006

The camanchaca can be found on the coasts of Chile and Peru, and is Spanish in origin.


“With at least a day to spare you can also explore the Chongón-Colonche mountains, a little further inland, where dry forest morphs into cloud forest, with help from the garua, or sea mist.”

Sarah Gilbert, “Isle de la Plata — Ecuador’s Other Galapagos,” The Guardian, November 26, 2010

Similar to camanchaca is garua, which translates from Spanish as “mist.” Specifically, garua is “the heavy fog along the coast of Peru on which plants depend for their moisture.” It occurs from May to October and can rise to a height of a hundred feet.


“A regular St. Andrews ‘haar;’ and St. Andrews people know what that is. Miss Williams had seen it once or twice before, but never so bad as this–blighting, penetrating, and so dense that you could hardly see your hand before you.”

W.P. Livingstone, Mary Slessor of Calabar: Pioneer Missionary, 1927

Haar (in addition to what a pirate says) is “a wet mist or fog,” especially applied “on the east coast of England and Scotland, from Lincolnshire northwards, to a cold sea-fog,” says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The word comes from the Middle Dutch hare, a “keen cold wind.”


“The Rev. P.H. Newnham came to his bedroom in the early morning and asked him to look out of the window and see the fog covering Plymouth Sound. . . .Mr G.W. Ormerod had also described a similar phenomenon at Teignmouth known as The Larry.”

J.B. Cohen, “One Cause of Autumn Mists,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, Volumes 30-31, 1904

Larry (not to be confused with Karl) means misty and also refers to a specific kind of “land-fog” as distinguished from another particular kind of sea-fog in the area around the River Teign in the county of Devon, England.


“People living near Seneca Lake in upstate New York have long known of similar booming sounds, which they called ‘Seneca guns.’ In coastal Belgium, they are known as ‘mistpouffers,’ or fog belches.”

Charles Q. Choi, “Mysterious ‘booming sounds’ perplex scientists,” MSNBC, September 16, 2011

The mistpouffer is a “a mysterious noise heard over the ocean in quiet, foggy weather.” It’s also known as barisal gun.

The word mistpouffer comes from the Dutch mistpoeffer, which seems to translate as “fog swelling.”


“But he continued motionless and silent in that gloomy Niflheim or fog-land which involved him, and she proceeded on her way.”

Thomas Hardy, “The Woodlanders,” Macmillan’s Magazine, Volume 54, 1886

In Scandinavian myth, Niflheim is the misty, foggy realm of the dead, ruled by Hel, the goddess of death and the underworld. Niflheim can also be used figuratively, describing any hellish place. The word is Old Norse in origin, where nifl- means “mist” or “dark,” and heimr means “home.”


“The pea-souper fogs that once defined our capital city have long vanished, the last straw being the so-called Great Smog of 1952, when a thick cloud of pollution settled over London and penetrated deep into its inhabitants’ lungs for five days.”

Andrew Marszal, “Pollution: The biggest killer on Britain’s roads,” The Telegraph, February 16, 2010

A pea-souper is, according to the OED, a British colloquialism for “a dense, often yellowish fog or smog, usually associated with polluted urban areas,” especially in London. Related is Beijing’s orange fog warning, which indicates extremely high pollution levels.

Pea-souper is also a derogatory term for someone who’s French-Canadian, especially a Francophone from Quebec, perhaps because pea soup is a traditional Quebecois dish.


“In the western U.S., freezing fog often occurs in mountain valleys and may be referred to as pogonip, a Shoshone word that means ‘cloud.’”

Laura Moss, “What is freezing fog?” Mother Nature Network, February 25, 2015

Pogonip is based on the Native American Shoshone word pakenappeh, also defined as “fog,” and is commonly used in Nevada and other western states to refer to a thick, icy fog.


“Wave after wave of wet salt air was rolling in from the sea, pressing upon that which travelled slowly inland, so that the roke grew very dense, and the little house seemed to be cut off from all the world.”

J.E. Buckrose, The Privet Hedge, 1921

In addition to steam, vapor, fog, or mist, roke is also English and Scots dialectical for smoke. The word might come from the Old Swedish röker, “smoke, vapour.”

Want more fog words? Check out this list. And don’t miss this gorgeous and mesmerizing timelapse video of San Francisco fog in action.

[Photo via Flickr: “Golden Gate Bridge, effect of fog,” CC BY 2.0 by Dimitry B.]

Word Buzz Wednesday: dementor wasp, Googie architecture, sympathectomy

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: a Harry Potter-esque wasp; the Jetsons meets the ‘50s; and losing your sympathy.

dementor wasp

“It’s no wonder that when given the chance to name the yet unnamed insect, visitors to Berlin’s natural history museum voted to call it Ampulex dementor, after the soul-sucking Dementor spirits of the ‘Harry Potter’ series.”

Amanda Schupak, “Meet the soul-sucking ‘Dementor’ wasp,” CNET, May 28 2015

The Ampulex dementor, otherwise known as the dementor wasp, paralyzes its prey by injecting a poison, then drags it back to its nest for a zombie-fied feast.

Ampulex refers to a genus of wasps while dementor comes from the Late Latin dementare, “to drive out of one’s mind.”

Googie architecture

“A Los Angeles diner celebrated as a classic example of mid-20th century Space Age-style Googie architecture was granted historic monument status by city officials on Wednesday, protecting it from the threat of demolition.”

Daina Beth Solomon, “L.A. diner famed for ‘Googie’ architecture saved from threat of demolition,” Reuters, May 21, 2015

Pseudo-futuristic Googie architecture originated in 1949 with Googie’s, a coffee shop in West Hollywood designed by John Lautner, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Another famous example of Googie architecture is the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign designed by graphic designer Betty Willis, who passed away this April at 91.


“Caspin ranks as a Protodog, a spontaneous pooch that bonds easily and can solve problems on its own or with people, according to dog intelligence measures created by scientists and trainers.”

Sue Manning, “Don’t let the slobber fool you, your dog could be a brainiac,” AP, May 13, 2015

HowStuffWorks defines the protodog as the “original dog type,” which “evolved from wolves to take advantage of the niche that humans provide.” The Dognition Assessment‘s Protodog, capitalized, is a pooch profile determined through 20 games that measure a dog’s “level of empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning.”

Other profiles include the Ace, a problem-solver that is “socially elite,” bonds well, and is “good at almost everything,” and the Einstein, a dog that’s smart but socially awkward.

The prefix proto- comes from the Greek protos, “first.”


“In the not-so-distant past, when even medium-sized files could tax a network, many organizations resorted to ‘sneakernet’ — manually walking a disk, or later a thumb drive, from one computer to the next.”

Amanda Ziadeh, “Steering clear of ‘sneakernet’ at big data scale,” GCN, May 27, 2015

The term snearkernet originated around 1984, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).


“There is something Elna can think and do according to Dr. Drott, the surgeon– rather, something she could not do. It’s the simplest thing, and possibly more effective than the sympathectomy or drugs or anything else.”

Sean Cole, “Game Face: Frankly, Miss Scarlet,” This American Life, May 29, 2015

The sympathectomy, more formally known as Endoscopic Thoracic Sympathectomy, or ETS, is a surgery used to treat excessive sweating in the palms and face, as well as excessive blushing. The surgery involves the cutting of the sympathetic nerves that control those actions.

The OED’s earliest citation for sympathectomy is from 1900, and seems to have been used to treat glaucoma and Graves’ disease, and to “dilate arteries that have been stopped.”

The  -ectomy of sympathectomy comes from the Greek ektemnein, “to cut out.”

[Photo via Flickr: “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas,” CC BY 2.0 by ADTeasdale]

Wordniks Meet Up


Last Thursday Wordnik had its very first meet-up!

It was great to meet some Wordnik-enthusiasts in person, to hear about their projects (for example, a bot that trolls people who tweet the hashtag #disrupt with a foghorn — now that’s #disruptive), and to play a mean round of Snatch-It (think Scrabble on steroids).

So what’s next? Find out below.

The librarians are coming!

Our next meet-up will be held the evening of June 30 to coincide with the fabulous American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference which is happening right here in the City by the Bay.

Any librarian attending ALA who comes to the June Wordnik meet-up will get a sweet Wordnik notebook. Plus, stickers and snacks for everyone!

Would you like to play a game?

For our July 27 meet-up we invite word game creators and word game players alike for an evening of playtesting (and snacks of course).

Twitterbots for everyone!

You might already know Boston-based developer Darius Kazemi has used the Wordnik API to generate twitterbots like Metaphor-a-Minute — now it’s your turn! Come with your own computer (and maybe an idea or two) to build your very own Wordnik API-based twitterbot. Perhaps you can troll someone too.

Have an idea for a meet-up?

Let us know in the comments! Also, keep up on all upcoming events by joining the Bay Area Wordnik group.

Hope to see you all soon.

Are you a #wordnerd or a #languagegeek?

A very generous donor has given us an omakase word adoption — we can choose any word! So we thought we’d use this to see whether Wordniks are more likely to consider themselves ‘word nerds’ or ‘language geeks’. (We can never decide — some days we’re one, and and some days the other.)

From now until 9:30 AM PDT on June 1, show whether you’re a #wordnerd or a #languagegeek by tweeting about our adopt-a-word fundraiser with either hashtag. We’ll pick one lucky retweeter to be the official adopter-of-record for their term of choice!

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 8.26.27 PM

(Not on Twitter? Just leave a comment here or on our Facebook page!)

May the best quirky linguistic subculture win!

Word Buzz Wednesday: bottom rocker, Quiverfull, wife bonus

San Marcos Alternatives

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: the sartorial lives of motorcycle gangs; a quiverful of scary; and Glam SAHM shenanigans.


“Some Native Hawaiians disapprove of the name of a movie filmed and set in Hawaii, saying that titling it ‘Aloha’ is a disrespectful misappropriation of culture and simplifies a word that’s rich with meaning.”

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, “Some Native Hawaiians disapprove of ‘Aloha’ movie title,” AP, May 25, 2015

In simplest terms, aloha is a “traditional greeting or farewell” mostly used in Hawaii. However, according to Janet Mock, MSNBC show host and native Hawaiian, the word is more complicated than that.

Aloha comes from two Hawaiian words: alo, “which means the front of a person, the part of our bodies that we share and take in people,” and ha, the breath. “When we are in each other’s presence with the front of our bodies,” Mock says, “we are exchanging the breath of life.”

bottom rocker

“So they decided that they were going to wear the Texas bottom rocker—which is telling the Bandidos that they believe that this is their territory, and they’re willing to die for that claim.”

Leon Neyfahk, “A Former Informant Describes the Violent and Sartorially Complicated World of Biker Gangs,” Slate, May 18, 2015

A bottom rocker is a patch on the bottom back of a motorcycle gang vest that denotes the state to which the gang is claiming territory. The name might come from the shape of some of the patches and their resemblance to the “curved pieces upon which a cradle, rocking chair, or similar device rocks.”


“They call themselves kayaktivists. They’re concerned about global climate change and the risk of an oil spill in the remote and icy Arctic Ocean. “

John Ryan, “Hundreds Of ‘Kayaktivists’ In Seattle Protest Shell’s Arctic Drilling,” NPR, May 18, 2015

Kayaktivists are activists in kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards who have who have gone after “a floating oil rig that Shell is taking to the waters off Alaska’s coast.”

Quiverfull movement

“But the Duggars are different than your standard evangelical Christians—they’re followers of a particularly scary fundamentalist sect known as the Quiverfull movement, which adheres to a deeply patriarchal and highly authoritarian set of beliefs about gender and culture.”

Jennifer C. Martin, “Quiverfull of Shit: A Guide to the Duggars’ Scary Brand of Christianity,” Gawker, May 25, 2015

Quiverfull is an extremely conservative evangelical Christian movement that began in the 1980s. Their name comes from Psalm 127 that states “as arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.”

wife bonus

“Further probing revealed that the annual wife bonus was not an uncommon practice in this tribe.”

Wednesday Martin, “Poor Little Rich Women,” The New York Times, May 16, 2015

In her observation of Upper East Side Glam SAHMs, writer and social researcher Wednesday Martin found that some received wife bonuses, or financial incentives dependent on “performance,” such was how well they managed the home budget and whether or not their children got into prestigious schools.

[Photo via Flickr: “San Marcos Alternatives,” CC BY 2.0 by Michael Witzel]

Surf Words Are Up! The Language of Surfing

Stand up paddle surfing on the huge waves off Sunset Beach

Since hitting the waves hit the mainstream in the early 1960s, surfing has spawned an entire culture — clothes, music, movies, and a bitchin’ lexicon.

While the act of surfing got its start by Polynesian fishermen thousands of years ago, the word surf is from the 17th century. Originally used to describe the coast of India, surf may come from an Indian language, or else is a variant of sough, a soft, rustling noise.

The verb to surf came about much later, around 1917. It was then, says HowStuffWorks, that surfing gained popularity with renowned boardsmen Duke Kahanamoku and George Freeth, often dubbed the “father of modern surfing” (and who passed away, sadly, at 35 during the 1918 flu pandemic). The word surfing entered English more than 40 years later, in the mid-1950s.

Of course surfing is nothing without a surfboard (or surfbort, as Bey would say). In Hawaii back in the day, the length of your board echoed your status in the community: the longer your board, the more important you were. Nowadays, surfers use a variety of sizes, depending on their needs.

According to SurfScience, the longboard is the most traditional and good for beginners; the shortboard “reinvented surfing in the 1970s”; and the funboard is wider than but not as long as the longboard. The fish is fish-shaped, the egg egg-shaped, and the gun is for “chasing big game,” ie big waves, and is also known as the rhino chaser or elephant gun. A whole collection of boards is a quiver.

Now that you’ve got your surfboard, you’ll need to get past the breaking waves. With a shortboard, you can duck dive, or push your board nose-first underwater, like a duck diving for food. With a longboard, you’ll have to turtle roll, which involves rolling your board upside down as the wave gets close, then right side up once the wave passes. (Turtles do indeed roll, specifically when they’re fighting or mating.)

Next is standing up. Are you regular foot? That means your left foot is forward, like most right-handed surfers. Or are you goofy-foot, right foot forward? Perhaps you can surf regular or goofy, in which case you’re a switch-foot.

As a novice surfer, you might get called lots of names. Grommet for instance, which might come from the Old French grommet, “boy, young man,” or jake, perhaps from a 19th century meaning, “rustic lout.” You might get branded a kook, a barney, or a gremlin. And watch out if someone dubs you a quimby: they could mean a beginning surfer but they could also mean jerk or loser, especially if you’re guilty of snaking, or “stealing” a wave from a fellow surfer although he has the right of way.

Another jerk-term is hodad, someone who comes to the beach with surf gear but never surfs. Where the word comes from is unknown although one theory says it’s a contraction of hoodlum.

Surfing enthusiasts in general are surf-bums, surfies, and waxheads, referring to the wax used to make surfboards less slippery. If you’re a a woman who surfs, you might be referred to as a gurfer, a girl surfer, or a wahine, a Hawaiian term for a Polynesian woman as well as surf slang for a female surfer.

Another Hawaiian surfing term is big kahuna, which originally referred to a prominent priest or sage in Hawaii, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and now means an expert surfer, a really big wave, or any bigwig. Kahuna comes from the Hawaiian word for shaman or wizard.

Now how about those moves? Ride with all 10 toes over the nose of your board and you’re hanging ten. Cheat with just one foot and you’re cheating five. Performing superbly? You’re shredding.

Do a misterioso and you’re bending over with your head hidden in your hands. Perform a quasimodo and you’re hunched — like Victor Hugo’s hunchback of Notre Dame — at the front of your board with “head down, one arm forward and one arm back,” as per the OED. As for the name Quasimodo, that comes from a Latin Easter psalm, quasi modo geniti infantes, “as newborn babes,” referring to the hunchback’s being abandoned as an infant at Notre Dame on Easter Sunday.

Even for experts accidents are unavoidable. When a surfer is rubbished, she’s tipped off a wave, resulting in a wipeout, which, thanks to the Surfaris, most of us are familiar with. A tombstone is what a wiped-out surfer’s surfboard looks like, and getting rag dolled means getting shaken like, you guessed it, a rag doll by a powerful wave.

A wave that might rag doll you is a very large one known as the pipeline, which also refers to the hollow part of such a wave. A greenie is a large wave before it breaks. Small yet perfect waves are nugs, perhaps from the meaning a piece of marijuana, while waves too small to surf are ankle busters.

Point break (in addition to being a movie) refers to “a long-lasting type of wave,” says the OED, which forms “when the swell moves around the land almost at a right angle to the beach and a break which begins near the point gradually progresses along the wave.”

A tube is a wave with a hollow space. Macks or mackers are giant tubes and get their name from the idea that they’re so big, you could drive a Mack truck through them. The inside of a tube is known as the green room or glass house due to its appearance, as well as the pope’s living room, perhaps with the idea that the inside of a wave is a heavenly place.

Tube also gives us tubular: tubular waves are excellent for riding, therefore tubular means excellent. Other “excellent” slang terms that have transcended waves are radical, surfing that’s challenging or extreme, and gnarly, conditions that are dangerous.

Finally, while cowabunga has become associated with surf culture, it didn’t begin that way. The interjection originated in 1954 as a fake Native American word on The Howdy Doody Show. A character, Chief Thunderthud, used the term as an “exclamation of surprise and anger.” By the 1960s, cowabunga was used as a “shout of triumph” by surfers, and by the late 1980s had “spread worldwide” with The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Now what are you waiting for? Put on your wettie, get out the longboard, and catch some waves.

[Photo via Flickr: “Stand up paddle surfing on the huge waves off Sunset Beach,” CC BY 2.0 by Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ]