Word Buzz Wednesday: stochastic terrorism, jinji ido, bomb pulse


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: words matter, the salaryman shuffle, carbon-dating sharks.

stochastic terrorism

“In other words, what Trump just did is engage in so-called stochastic terrorism.”

David S. Cohen, “Trump’s Assassination Dog Whistle Was Even Scarier Than You Think,” Rolling Stone, August 9, 2016

Stochastic terrorism, says Rolling Stone, is “using language and other forms of communication ‘to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.’” In Donald Trump’s case, he put out the “dog whistle” for Second Amendment-ers to do “something” to stop Hillary Clinton, knowing that some dog will hear although he doesn’t know which.

The word stochastic refers to statistics involving random variables, chance, or probability, and comes from the Greek stokhastēs, “diviner.”


“The bruises are minor—and so is the likely positive impact on performance. Cupping might not be helping Olympic athletes prepare for competition as much as they think.”

Kelsey Kennedy, “Cupping is the latest unproven therapy Olympians have turned to in the hope of winning gold,” Quartz, August 8, 2016

Cupping is a traditional Chinese medicinal practice, says Quartz, used for everything from “coughs to shingles.” Glass cups are placed against the skin, using heat or a pump to create “intense suction.” Hence, the circular bruises sported by the likes of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and actress-cum-Goop-guru Gwyneth Paltrow.

double double

“Bolt is also the first athlete to achieve what’s known as the ‘double double’…which is when an athlete wins both the 100m and 200m titles in back-to-back Olympics, a feat which he accomplished in 2008 and 2012.”

Jeff Smith, “A Brief History of Usain Bolt’s Path to the 2016 Rio Olympics,” Mic, August 13, 2016

Other double doubles include a coffee with two creamers and two sugars, and a double cheeseburger with cheese on each burger.

jinji ido

“No one is safe from the ‘jinji ido’ – some number of bosses, fresh employees, and veterans are all shuffled around every year.”

Scott Wilson, “5 strange Japanese office occurrences,” Japan Today, August 14, 2016

Jinji ido translates from Japanese as “moving people around,” says Japan Today, in which employees are shifted “from department to department.” In a country where people still tend to work for one company their entire lives, jinji ido is a way for “people to develop in their careers and keep from getting stagnant.”

bomb pulse

Bomb pulse signatures are often used in dating marine animals that are about 60 years old or younger, and in this case the readings were indeed proof that the three shark’s small size was an indicator of youth.”

Jeffrey Kluger, “Scientists Discover Sharks That Can Live for 400 Years,” TIME, August 11, 2016

According to TIME, the term bomb pulse refers to a “period of elevated radioactive isotopes [found in organisms] that corresponded with atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s.” Such a marker was found in the eye lenses of those “too young” sharks.

Word Buzz Wednesday: express kidnapping, dark social, Jedi phenomenon


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: quickie kidnappings, secret social, the wrong religion.

express kidnapping

“He says he was kidnapped by two people in military police uniforms on Saturday and forced to withdraw hundreds of dollars from ATMs, in what’s known as an express kidnapping.”

Kiwi kidnapped in Rio claims terrifying new twist to story,” TVNZ, July 26, 2016

An express kidnapping is one in which the victim is abducted for a short time and forced to pay their own ransom through ATM withdrawals. Sometimes relatives are the ones to cough up the “relatively moderate quantities of cash,” says The Sydney Morning Herald.


“This was not a Baird’s beaked whale at all, but an entirely new species—a smaller, odd-shaped black cetacean that Japanese fishermen have long called karasu, or raven.”

Craig Welch, “Mysterious New Whale Species Discovered in Alaska,” National Geographic, July 26, 2016

Not surprisingly, karasu is also the name of characters in various mangas and animes, including Yu Yu Hakusho, Noein: To Your Other Self, and Naruto.

dark social

“The vast majority of content sharing and chatting that marketers call second screening is done directly to friends or small groups, locked away on what’s called ‘dark’ social.”

Sean Hargrave, “Why Twitter Is Doomed To Disappoint Wall Street,” MediaPost, July 29, 2016

The term dark social was coined by journalist Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic, according to Techopedia. Links are shared through chat, email, and perhaps text, rather than public — and measurable social channels. The Atlantic discovered that more than half of their social traffic “came from untrackable sources, or dark social.”

See also dark web.

Jedi phenomenon

“It’s known as the ‘Jedi Knight phenomenon,’ and it started in 2001. But now an atheist group is tired of the joke.”

Kate Irby, “Atheists ask you not to list ‘Jedi’ or ‘Pastafarian’ as your religion,” Centre Daily, August 1, 2016

The Jedi phenomenon began as a joke, says the BBC, when over 390,000 people described their religion as “Jedi” on the UK’s 2001 census. In 2011, census numbers came in at 176,000 in England and Wales and 65,000 in Australia, enough to irk the Australian Atheist Foundation who encourages wannabe-Jedi knights to proclaim “No religion” instead to avoid skewing numbers.


“An anti-immigration Progress Party, part of the conservative-led government, is promoting a backlash against what’s known as ‘naving,’ or living off welfare.”

Baz Dreisinger, “Norway Proves That Treating Prison Inmates As Human Beings Actually Works,” The Huffington Post, August 3, 2016

The term naving comes from NAV, the acronym for Nye arbeids- og velferdsetaten, or the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration.

Word Buzz Wednesday: Biles, qubit, trumpery


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: an athletic eponym, an excellent WWF word, a telling name.


“In the second tumbling pass of her floor exercise routine, she does what’s called a ‘Biles,’ two back flips followed by a half twist, all with a straight body position and landing blind.”

Jessica Marmor Shaw, “How Simone Biles has become the most dominant gymnast of all time,” MarketWatch, July 30, 2016

Simone Biles first performed the signature move that’s named after her at the 2013 World Gymnastics Championships. Check it out in action.

More sports moves named after athletes include the axel, salchow, and lutz in figure skating, named for, respectively, Axel Paulsen, Ulrich Salchow, and Alois Lutz; the Fosbury flop in the high jump named for Dick Fosbury; and the Mendoza line in baseball named for Mario Mendoza.

Curie point

“The Curie point is why when a stream of molten iron is poured directly next to a magnet with tremendous amounts of pull, the iron falls in a straight line instead of being pulled towards the magnet.”

Jake Swearingen, “Why Molten Iron Just Isn’t Attracted to Rare Earth Magnets,” Popular Mechanics, July 27, 2016

The Curie point of Curie temperature is the point at which “a ferromagnetic substance loses its ferromagnetism and becomes paramagnetic.” Substances that are ferromagnetic include “iron, nickel, or cobalt and various alloys” and are “easily magnetized.” Paramagnetic substances “have an induced magnetic field [that] is parallel and proportional to the intensity of the magnetizing field but is much weaker than in ferromagnetic materials.”

The Curie point is named for physicist Pierre Curie (and husband of Marie).


“‘Whatever our disagreements may be, we must put them aside for the good of our country,’ Bloomberg said, calling Clinton ‘the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue.’”

Michael Bloomberg appeals to Clinton skeptics in Trump takedown,” The Week, July 27, 2016

You might have heard the term demagogue a lot lately, but what exactly does it mean? A demagogue is a leader who gains power by appealing to the “emotions and prejudices of the populace.” The word has been in use since the mid-17th century and comes from the Greek demagogos, “popular leader” or “leader of the mob.”


“But a quantum computer obeys the seemingly magical principles of quantum mechanics, the physics of things like atoms and photons. It stores data in what’s called a ‘qubit.’”

Cade Metz, “Quantum Computers Don’t Make Sense. But This One Makes Music,” WIRED, July 30, 2016

Qubit, in addition to being an excellent Scrabble or Words With Friends word, is a unit of measurement, specifically a quantum bit. The term originated in the mid-1990s. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation is from 1994 in Nature: “Quantum physical bits are also called ‘qubits’, so we are trying to find the minimum number of qubits per quantum symbol.”


“Anti-Trumpers propelled lookups for trumpery, delighting in the word’s definition of ‘something fallaciously splendid.’”

Katy Steinmetz, “Donald Trump’s Comments Make Dictionary Lookups for ‘Treason’ Spike,” TIME, July 27, 2016

The word trumpery refers to “showy but worthless finery,” as well as nonsense, rubbish, trickery, and fraud. Trumpery comes from the Middle English trompery, “deceit.”

(H/t James Currie.)

The language of roller coasters


Earlier this summer was the 132nd anniversary of the opening of the first roller coaster in America. A main attraction of Coney Island, the Gravity Switchback Railway traveled at a whopping six miles an hour and cost all of five cents, says History.com. (Coney Island’s famous wooden coaster, the Cyclone, opened in 1927.)

Of course the roller coaster is hardly just an American phenomenon, which got us wondering how one might say roller coaster in other languages. Let’s take a ride and see.

The origin of ‘rollercoaster’

While the first roller coaster in America opened in 1884, the first instance of the word, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), was the year before in a September 30 issue of the Chicago Tribune: “A curious structure is now in course of construction… It will be known as ‘The Roller Coaster’, and the objects claimed for it are health and amusement.”

As for where the name comes from, linguist Barry Popik says the structure is “said to have originated from an early French design where slides or ramps were fitted with rollers over which a sled would coast.” While the design changed to that “of fitting the wheels to the sled or other vehicles,” the name roller coaster stuck.

A Russian ancestor

According to How Stuff Works, “direct ancestors” of modern-day roller coasters were ice slide rides popular in 16th and 17th century Russia. The wooden slides were long and steep, “some as high as 70 feet,” and sliders rode on “sleds made out of wood or blocks of ice” and crash-landed in sand piles.

In addition to sounding absolutely terrifying, this might explain why the roller coaster is known as “Russian mountain,” or some variation thereof, in so many languages. In French it’s montagnes russes; in Spanish, montaña rusa. The Italians say montagne russe while the Portuguese use montanha russa.

Icelandic calls it like it is: rússíbani, which translates as “Russian death” or “Russian killer, bane, slayer.”

American influence

So if roller coaster is “Russian mountain” in all those languages, what is it in Russian? “American slides” (amerikanskiye gorki) of course. In Urkainian it’s also “American slides” (Amerykansʹki hirky) while in Latvian it’s “American coaster” (Amerikāņu kalniņi). In Estonian and Kyrgyz it’s “American mountain” (Ameerika mäed and Amerika toosu, respectively).

A mountain high enough

Speaking of mountains, some languages stick with that theme. The Uzbek word translates as “merry hills attraction” (quvnoq tepaliklar attraktsioni). In Bosnian and Serbian it’s “mountain railroad” (brdska željeznica and brdska železnica, respectively) while in Czech it’s “mountain path” (horská dráha). Swedish rolls with berg och dalbana or “mountain coaster.”

A different kind of eight track

In some languages the roller coaster is named for the figure eight design of some tracks: achtbaan in Dutch, Achterbahn in German, and Achterbunn in Luxembourgish.

The need for speed

And sometimes it’s all about velocity. The Indonesian kecepatan roller coaster translates as the rather redundant “speed roller coaster” while in Japanese it’s jettokōsutā, or “jet coaster.” As you might have guessed, roller coasters are big in Japan.

And medium in Mongolia

We’re not sure what’s more surprising, that sparsely-populated Mongolia has an amusement park or that roller coaster translates literally from Mongolian as “crazy mouse” (galzuu khulgana).

Why crazy mouse? It appears to be a brand name gone generic. The Crazy Mouse is a type of roller coaster, of which China is the leading manufacturer. Hence, the import of the crazy mouse roller coaster to the Ulaanbaatar National Amusement Park.

Take the fast train to Luna Parksville

Our favorite translations have to be from Turkish and Greek. The Turkish Lunapark hız treni translates as “speed train to Luna Park” while the Greek trenáki loúna park is “the train to Luna Park” direct references to Luna Park of Coney Island.

Luna Park opened in 1903 along with Coney Island’s other amusement parks, Sea-Lion Park and Steeplechase Park. Decked out with 250,000 lights, Luna Park soon garnered the nickname, “Electric Eden.” While it closed in 1946, the park reopened in 2010.

Want even more roller coasters? Check out the Roller Coaster Database.

Word Buzz Wednesday: yuru-kyara, scolding, strange loop


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: more than just a mascot; angry birds; blowing your mind with flavor.


“Kumamon is a yuru-kyara, or ‘loose character’, one of the cuddly creatures in Japan that represent everything from towns and cities to airports and prisons.”

Neil Steinberg, “What’s Behind Japan’s Obsession With Cuteness?” Digg, July 19, 2016

Yuru-kyara is sometimes translated as “mascot,” says Digg, but is “significantly different” from the likes of the Philadelphia Phanatic and Mr. Met. For instance, Kumamon, a permanently blushing bear and the yuru-kyara for Kumamoto Prefecture, is “more than a symbol for that region, more than merely a strategy to push its tourism and farm products.” He “is almost regarded as a living entity, a kind of funky ursine household god.”


“The transition from the old grays to the current bluish grays (or ‘bley’) is a hot-button topic for many Lego fans.”

Joel Carron, “67 Years of Lego Sets,” Mode Blog, July 21, 2016

Bley, a blend of blue and grey (or gray), was a point of contention among AFOL, or adult fans of LEGO. The company changed the gray and dark gray colors around 2004, resulting in a more blueish gray widely disliked because they looked “awful if used together with the existing old grey pieces.”


“When faced with a person holding a dead crow, other crows will send out a warning call, called ‘scolding.’”

Katherine Ellen Foley, “When a crow dies, other crows investigate,” Quartz, July 20, 2016

Crows practice scolding when encountering a “natural predators,” says Popular Science. Not only that, they never forget a predator’s face. In an experiment conducted at the University of Washington, a professor and students sporting caveman masks captured and tagged seven crows. Later, when they walked past wearing the same masks, the crows gave the experimenters a noisy scolding.


“He’s talking about the Chinese crepe called jianbing — bing for short — that’s suddenly turning up all over the country.”

Tasting Table Staff, “This Chinese breakfast food is taking America by storm,” The Week, July 18, 2016

Jianbing translates from Chinese as “pan-fried pancake.” Unlike its Western counterpart, jianbing are savory and “made with any combination of mung bean, wheat, rice, or millet flour,” says The Week, and “filled or topped with egg, scallion, cilantro, chile sauce, and pieces of fried cracker.”

Legend says that jianbing was invented almost 2,000 years ago in Shandong Province when “military strategist Zhuge Liang had his soldiers cook batter on shields held over the fire after their woks were lost.”

strange loop

“When you hit a strange loop like this, it shifts your point of view: Suddenly you aren’t just thinking about what’s happening inside the picture; you’re thinking about the system it represents and your response to it.”

David Chang, “The Secret Code to Unleashing the World’s Most Amazing Flavors,” WIRED, July 19, 2016

A strange loop, says WIRED, is when “mathematical systems or works of art or pieces of music fold back upon themselves.” M.C. Escher’s drawing of two hands drawing each other is an example: “it’s impossible to say where it starts or ends.”

Chef David Wang describes the strange loop of eating something that is both undersalted and oversalted and therefore perfectly salted and a stew that is “both totally foreign and deeply familiar.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: biohybrid, hyperuniformity, corn sweat

Corn field

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: skinjob Cylons, here they come; the hidden order of chicken eyes; never let ‘em see you corn sweat.

word gap

“But these efforts to close the ‘word gap’ often overlook a fundamental problem. In high-poverty neighborhoods, books—the very things that could supply so many of those 30 million-plus words—are hard to come by.”

Alia Wong, “Where Books Are All But Nonexistent,” The Atlantic, July 14, 2016

The term word gap refers to the difference between the number of words “a typical child in a white-collar family will hear” and the number a child in welfare will hear before age 4. According to The Atlantic, the gap is 32 million words.


“Our ray outperformed existing locomotive biohybrid systems in terms of speed, distance traveled, and durability (six days), demonstrating the potential of self-propelled, phototactically activated tissue-engineered robots.”

Lisa Calhoun, “Scientists Create Successful Biohybrid Being Using 3-D Printing and Genetic Engineering,” Inc., July 11, 2016

A biohybrid is something composed of biological and nonbiological components. Inc. describes an artificial stingray made up of “a 3-D-printed rubber body” and skeleton, and rat heart cells adapted so they can “respond to light by contracting.”


“Beyond bird eyes, hyperuniformity is found in materials called quasicrystals, as well as in mathematical matrices full of random numbers, the large-scale structure of the universe, quantum ensembles, and soft-matter systems like emulsions and colloids.”

Natalie Wolchover, “A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order,” Quanta Magazine, July 12, 2016

The term hyperuniformity was coined in the early 2000s by Salvatore Torquato, a professor of theoretical chemistry at Princeton University. It seems to be a shortening of disordered hyperuniformity, a type of “correlated disorder at large length scales,” and considered another type of matter beyond solids, liquids, gases, and plasma.


“While bombing, the guys kept one eye on the wall and on scanning for possible undercover cops.”

Ray Mock, “I Went Bombing with Hong Kong’s Biggest Graffiti Writers,” VICE, July 17, 2016

Bombing in graffiti-speak means to cover an area with graffiti. Analogous is yarn bombing, which uses knitted items instead of spray paint or ink.

corn sweat

“Midwest cities such as St. Louis, Kansas City and Minneapolis can get very humid, especially during a summer heat wave. One of your favorite veggies could be partly to blame.”

Jennifer Gray and Dave Hennen, “High temperatures, ‘corn sweat’ form dangerous heat dome over U.S.,” CNN, July 17, 2016

Apparently corn sweats like a human. Its leaves release water, says CNN, which is released into the atmosphere as the wind sweeps across, resulting in higher humidity levels in the surrounding air.

Word Buzz Wednesday: aerotropolis, ballhawking, pork chop island

Museum Tower rendering seen with the Downtown Dallas Financial District to its left, Woodall Rodgers Urban Park rendering to its right, and the completed and illuminated Margaret McDermott Bridge rendering behind it and to the right, June 2010.

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: Airport City, USA; stealing balls; not a paradise for pork lovers.


“Drinkard’s vision is for a full-fledged offshore ‘aerotropolis’: a floating structure that, as well as being able to handle medium-sized airliners…[would] host a whole range of economic and research activities, from experimentation with renewable energy technology to aquaculture and yachting.”

Miquel Ros, “Floating airports: Could they finally become a reality?” CNN, July 4, 2016

According to World Wide Words, the term aerotropolis was coined in 2000 by John Kasarda of the University of North Carolina. The word blends aero-, meaning “air, atmosphere; aircraft; gases,” and metropolis.


“Hample, understandably, took issue with my negative characterization of him and the wider ballhawking hobby, of which he is its most visible and most successful member.”

Barry Petchesky, “Against Ballhawking,” Deadspin, July 1, 2016

Ball hawk, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is U.S. sports slang for a player who’s skilled at stealing the ball, and specifically in baseball, a talented outfielder. The term originated around 1917. Ball hawk referring to a spectator who “specializes in catching home-run and foul balls” most likely came about later.

emergent gameplay

“When emergent gameplay works, it feels almost as if the player is conversing with the unseen creator, and in the case of Survivor, the producers play off the players to help introduce interesting new twists; some more successful than others.”

Matt Perez, “What Survivor Can Teach Us About Emergent Gameplay,” Kill Screen, July 6, 2016

Emergent gameplay is a design concept that “refers to a style of play not necessarily intended by the creator” and that allows for a robust range of solutions and “possible strategies for success.” In terms of video games, Technopedia says the concept refers to “mechanics that change according to the player’s actions.”


“In the case of what’s called ‘soft-titling,’ the subtitles are timed—sometimes by the translator—to an unsubtitled print of the film as it screens.”

Max Nelson, “To Surprise a Voice,” The Point, July 2016

Soft-titling is a kind of live subtitling in which the subtitles are projected onto the film while it’s being run rather than “burnt in” beforehand.

pork chop island

“A Preferred Concept image, designed by Fehr and Peers Transportation Consultants and obtained by members of Isla Vista’s PTA reveals the removal of street lights, modified turn lanes and the installation of what’s called a ‘pork chop island.’”

Beth Farnsworth, “Concept Design For Isla Vista Intersection Creates Controversy,” KEYT, July 7, 2016

Not a vacation getaway for porkivores, a pork chop island is a type of traffic island named for its shape.