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.

Word Buzz Wednesday: fika, graveyard orbit, jungle primary

Fika hos mormor Valborgshelgen 2011

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a true coffee break; where spacecraft go to die; welcome to the jungle primary.


“In Sweden, where workers are among the least stressed worldwide, the secret to happiness is a four letter word: fika.”

Anne Quito, “This four-letter word is the Swedish key to happiness at work,” Quartz, March 14, 2016

According to The Kitchn, fika is a Swedish custom, “a kind of social coffee break where people gather to have a cup of coffee or tea and a few nibbles,” and can be used as both a noun and a verb.

Quartz says the word comes from kaffe, which is Swedish for “coffee,” and “unlike the American-style caffeine jolt,” when you fika you leave work behind. Fika is also the (fitting) name for a Swedish coffee chain in New York.

garbage person

“‘Garbage person,’ like ‘bloodsucker’ or ‘Neanderthal,’ is the type of descriptor that pretty much defines itself.”

Cara Giaimo, “The Linguistic Appeal Of ‘Garbage Person,’ The Internet’s Favorite Insult,” Atlas Obscura, March 16, 2016

Not to be confused with a garbage man, a garbage person is, as Atlas Obscura says, “someone terrible beyond belief, but in an everyday sort of way.”

Some examples of garbage people include “someone who ends their texts with a period” and someone “who refuses to chase down runaway napkins when they blow off their table.” May we also add someone who puts their bag on the seat next to them on a crowded subway.

graveyard orbit

Graveyard orbits are losing popularity because a lot of orbital debris experts argue that they simply exacerbate the ever-increasing problem of space junk and do nothing to help remediation efforts.”

Neel V. Patel, “Russia Sends Another Rocket to the Spacecraft Cemetery,” Inverse, March 21, 2016

A graveyard orbit, also known as a junk orbit, is where “spacecraft are moved at the end of their operational life to make sure they don’t collide with spacecraft we currently need.”

jungle primary

“California’s gubernatorial race is what’s called a ‘jungle primary’ – only the top two vote-getters make it to the playoffs.”

Beth Cone Kramer, “The Run for Calif Governor: Villaraigosa’s Name Still in Play,” City Watch, March 21, 2016

A jungle primary is a primary election in which all candidates run at once, regardless of political party. As a result, it’s possible that two candidates from the same party would run against each other in the next round. The jungle primary is also known as nonpartisan blanket primary and the top two primary. Louisiana has used such a system since 1977.

We couldn’t find an exact origin of the phrase although Elections A to Z suggests it’s due to its “wide open, few-holds-barred structure.”


“What if children under four-years-old experience and use metacognition but are just bad at realizing it and letting anyone know?”

Cathleen O’Grady, “Babies know when they don’t know something,” Ars Technica, March 13, 2016

Metacognition is essentially thinking about thinking. Besides humans, metacognition is also found in chimpanzees and orangutans.

Word Buzz Wednesday: ego depletion, olm, Witzelsucht


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: willpower for everybody, the baby of dragons, a pun addiction.

ego depletion

“The authors called this effect ‘ego depletion’ and said it revealed a fundamental fact about the human mind: We all have a limited supply of willpower, and it decreases with overuse.”

Daniel Engber, “Everything Is Crumbling,” Slate, March 6, 2016

While the idea of ego depletion in psychology has long been accepted, a recent study has shown a “zero-effect” for the phenomenon, says Slate, and “no sign that the human will works as it’s been described.”

generalized negative reciprocity

“Just about everybody’s experienced this at one time or another, which underscores how important it could be to try to cut off generalized negative reciprocity before it starts.”

Nathan Collins, “The unexpected benefits of writing letters,” The Week, March 9, 2016

Generalized negative reciprocity is a fancy way of saying “somebody was mean to me so now I’m going to be grumpy and mean to everybody.”


“While technically an amphibian, the pink, eyeless, cave-dwelling olm bears a charming resemblance to a miniature fairy tale creature.”

Corinne Purtill, “A new generation of baby ‘dragons’ is about to hatch in Slovenia,” Quartz, March 9, 2016

According to Quartz, the hearty olm can live up to a century and “survive as long as a decade without eating.” As for the origin of the word, the Oxford English Dictionary says it’s uncertain although it might be a variant of the Old High German molm, “newt.”


“What’s a Sandersnista?”

Benjamin Goggin, “Just The Good Stuff From Wednesday’s Democratic Debate,” Digg, March 10, 2016

The term Sandersnista, a blend of Sanders and Sandinista, refers to Bernie Sanders praising Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, in a 1985 interview.


“Mendez diagnosed him with a condition called Witzelsucht (addiction to wisecracking), brought on, it seems, by two strokes, five years apart.”

David Robson, “The curse of the people who can’t stop making puns,” BBC, March 9, 2016

While many sufferers of Witzelsucht, which is caused by brain damage in the frontal lobes, find their own jokes hilarious, they often don’t respond to the jokes of others. The word Witzelsucht is German in origin.

Word Buzz Wednesday: geographic profiling, gridgate, helicopter money

Crossword Anyone?

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: finding Banksy; a word-nerdy scandal; and dollars from heaven.

geographic profiling

“‘Geographic profiling’, a technique used to catch serial criminals, has proved that the elusive artist Banksy really is Robin Gunningham, according to academic research.”

Adam Sherwin, “Banksy: Geographic profiling ‘proves’ artist really is Robin Gunningham, according to scientists,” The Independent, March 3, 2016

Geographic profiling is, according to The Independent, “a sophisticated form of statistical analysis used in criminology” to narrow down where repeat offenders might reside.

A “geoprofile” was developed for the mysterious street artist based on 140 of his attributed works in London and Bristol. From there, hot spots were determined and correlated to, among other locations, four addresses in those cities, which were linked to Robin Gunningham.


“Dubbed ‘gridgate’, it centres around claims that a senior crossword compiler in the US copied themes, answers, grids and clues from rival compilers at the New York Times.”

Crossword enthusiasts left puzzled after plagiarism scandal,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, March 7, 2016

Last week FiveThirtyEight exposed the possible plagiarism of New York Times crossword puzzles by Timothy Parker, the editor of the USA Today and Universal crosswords. Parker has since stepped down as editor, at least temporarily.

helicopter money

“He argued last month that helicopter money will boost consumer spending by injecting money ‘directly into the veins of the real economy.’”

‘Helicopter money’ for the global economy?” The Week, March 5, 2016

The term helicopter money was coined by American economist Milton Friedman in 1969 and refers to “free money” given to the public — as though dropped from the sky — in order to boost the economy.

super bloom

“For the past two months, the suddenly fertile ground has been coloured by wildflowers. Called a ‘super bloom’, this beauty of nature happens rarely.”

Rare super bloom springs from Death Valley’s depths,” Al Jazeera, March 6, 2016

According to the National Park Service, super bloom isn’t an official term but one employee and long-time Death Valley resident describes how he has heard the term since the early 1990s when “old timers [would] talk about super blooms as a near mythical thing.”


“Trump and the Trumpvangelicals are revolutionizing the culture wars. The priorities now are immigration, Islamophobia, and guns.”

Trumpvangelicals are the new evangelicals,” The Week, March 3, 2016

Trumpvangelicals are evangelical Christians who support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Traditional evangelicals are “aghast” at this, says The Week. While abortion, religious freedom (such as that “at issue in the Hobby Lobby case”), and Israel have long been evangelical priorities, they’re not for Trump.


‘Downton Abbey’ Takes the Biscuit: Our Favorite Words of Season 6


We don’t want to believe it but it’s true: Downton Abbey is coming to a close. We’ve been there since (almost) the beginning, collecting British idioms, cultural references, and plenty of anachronisms.

This final season doesn’t disappoint. Check out our favorite words and expressions from Downton Abbey, season 6.


Mary: “You don’t really mind, do you?”
Lord Grantham: “No, but I think it’s crackers.”

Episode 6, February 7, 2016

Crackers, British English slang for insane or crazy, has been around since 1925, the year this episode takes place. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term began as soldier and sailor slang — “To get the crackers, to go off one’s head” — and comes from cracked, “mentally unsound.”

But would Lord Grantham be using such a new slang term? Perhaps: he did serve in the military (although he wasn’t active in the trenches of World War I) and the word was widely used in print beginning in 1928, which means it might have been used in everyday speech shortly before then.


Lord Grantham [to Mary]: “I suppose you were a widow after all and not a deb in her first season.”

Episode 1, January 3, 2016

Deb is short for debutante, a young woman formally introduced into society. While debutante entered English from French in the early 19th century, deb began as U.S. slang around 1920, says the OED. F. Scott Fitzgerald used debbie in his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise: “Tom and Amory had outgrown the passion for dancing with mid-Western or New Jersey debbies at the Club-de-Vingt.” In 1922, James Joyce used deb in Ulysses: “Josie Powell that was, prettiest deb in Dublin.”

hold onto your hat

Mr. Finch: “If you could just tell me who’s replaced him.”
Mary: “Hold onto your hat, Mr. Finch, but I’m afraid I have.”

Episode 2, January 10, 2016

Hold onto your hat or hang onto your hat means “get ready for something big.” The idiom has been in use since the early 1900s with the OED’s earliest citation from American journalist Damon Runyon: “Hang onter yer hat—th’ cavalry’s comin’ through!”


Mary: “I thought all the fatstock shares took place before Christmas.”

Episode 2, January 10, 2016

Fatstock is a British term referring to marketable livestock and comes from the idea that farm animals such as pigs or cattle have been fattened for market. The term has been in use since either 1880 or 1812, depending on if you’re referring to the OED or Merriam-Webster, respectively.

golly gumdrops

Lord Grantham: “Golly gumdrops, what a turn-up!”

Episode 8, February 21, 2016

While we couldn’t find an exact origin of golly gumdrops, we assume it’s an alteration of golly, a euphemism for God or by God used to express wonder or surprise. Golly originated in the U.S. around 1743, says the OED. Another phrase involving gumdrops, goody gumdrops, is also a U.S. expression and came about in 1930.

I’ll say

Lady Rosamund: “This must be a strange and unsettling time for you.”
Bertie: “I’ll say.”

Episode 8, February 21, 2016

Used to express emphatic agreement, I’ll say originated around 1919.

Madame Defarge

Daisy: “’Not possible’? Don’t give me ‘not possible.’
Mrs. Patmore: “All right, Madame Defarge, calm down and finish that mash.”

Episode 4, January 24, 2016

Madame Defarge is a character from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and a “tireless worker for the French Revolution.” In this episode Daisy is angered about the ill treatment she thinks her ex-father-in-law has received at the hands of the upper class, namely her employer Cora Grantham.

make a pass

Mary [to Henry]: “I hope this means you’re boiling up to make a pass before we’re done.”

Episode 4, January 24, 2016

The term to make a pass, to make a sexual or amorous advances upon, originated in the mid-1920s as U.S. slang, says the OED, and possibly by Dorothy Parker: “Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses.” Confusingly, the expression also means to make a threat of violence against.

medium smart

Mary [to Anna]: “Pack something for the evening. Medium smart.”

Episode 6, February 7, 2016

Smart here means “attractively neat and stylish,” as the OED puts it, or “relatively formal.” We couldn’t find any references for medium smart, beyond those for the show itself, but we’re guessing it means something like a little less formal.


Carson: “Before we take our seats, I believe, as the groom, that I have the right to a few words. I will not be prolix, but it must be right that I mark that I am the happiest and luckiest of men.”

Episode 3, January 17, 2016

Prolix is a rather stuffy term well-suited for Carson: it means overly long or wordy, and comes from the Latin prōlixus, “poured forth, extended.”

sex appeal

Lord Grantham: “What’s he got that fascinates Mary when poor old Tony’s rolling acres and glistening coronet didn’t? You’ll say sex appeal, but isn’t Mary too sensible?”

Episode 7, February 14, 2016

In addition to making us uncomfortable coming out of Robert’s mouth, the term sex appeal originated around 1904. Twenty years later, a verb form of the phrase arose: “She’d sex appeal me all right!”


Mary: “A table of singletons at our age. Well done.”

Episode 6, February 7, 2016

Anachronism alert! While the word singleton has been in use since the late 1800s, says the OED, it began as a bridge or whist term referring to the only card of a suit left in a player’s hand. About 20 years later it came to mean “a single thing” and “a single entry in a competition,” and 10 years after that, a child born from a single birth as opposed to twins, triplets, etc.

It wasn’t until the late 1930s, more than a decade after this episode takes place, that singleton came to mean an unaccompanied or unmarried person.

take the biscuit

Gladys Denker [to Septimus Spratt]: “Well, if that doesn’t just take the biscuit.”

Episode 7, February 14, 2016

The British idiom take the biscuit might be used to express surprise. In this scene, Denker’s having the opportunity to accompany Lady Grantham on her trip to the South of France is what takes the biscuit. The American expression take the cake could mean being ranked first, but is also an expression of surprise, either good or bad.

To make matters even more complicated, in Canadian English, to take or have the biscuit means to be of no further use or to be near death. The biscuit, says World Wide Words, refers to the Communion wafer taken during extreme unction, a Roman Catholic sacrament, and implies that if you take the biscuit slash wafer, you’re nearing the end of your life.

Not enough Downton Abbey for you? Check out our favorite words from more seasons past.