Word Buzz Wednesday: the Dollies, the lipstick effect, su filindeu


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: an offensive nickname; lipstick courage; and angel hair pasta’s got nothing on this.


“By the end of the day on Oct. 17, #ChaiWala (tea seller) was the top trending item on Twitter Pakistan.”

Harish C. Menon, “A Pakistani tea vendor snapped by a passing photographer has become an internet sensation,” Quartz, October 18, 2016

Chaiwala comes from Urdu. While chai meaning “tea” seems straightforward, the definition of wala seems more complex. According to this forum, the word could refer to a vendor or seller but “also possessor of certain sorts” as well as “the one,” as in, when asking for paratha, a fried flat bread, you could say, “Ghee wala,” the butter one, or “Meetha wala,” the sweet one (which both sound delicious).


“The Dollies were stuck in place, consigned by decades of tradition to a secondary role, with little hope of promotion.”

Manuel Roig-Franzia, “How a fed-up group of ‘Good Girls’ beat the ‘Mad Men’-era sexists,” The Washington Post, October 25, 2016

The Dollies was a derogatory nickname for the national researchers at Newsweek magazine in the 1960s, says The Washington Post. The researchers were all women — while the “boys did the writing and got the glory,” the Dollies “did the journalistic spadework and fetched the coffee.”

The moniker is reminiscent of trolley dolly, a British and Australian term for a female flight attendant.


“There were always some who objected to gibbeting for its barbarity, but the courts saw it as a way to prevent crime.”

Andy Wright, “The Incredibly Disturbing Medieval Practice of Gibbeting,” Atlas Obscura, October 11, 2016

Gibbeting, which dates back to medieval times, is also known as “hanging in chains,” says Atlas Obscura, and refers to hanging a body in a body-shaped cage after death. The practice was officially mandated “by the 1752 Murder Act, which required bodies of convicted murderers to be either publicly dissected or gibbeted,” and was “formally abolished in 1834.”

The word gibbet was originally synonymous with gallows, and comes from the Old French gibet, a diminutive of gibe, “staff.”

lipstick effect

“The lipstick effect isn’t just about lipstick, but rather everything from makeup, skincare, and hair products to clothes and shoes.”

Tracy E. Robey, “A Totally Rational, Research-Backed Argument in Favor of Shopping,” Racked, October 11, 2016

With the lipstick index, says Racked, Leonard Lauder of Estee Lauder claimed that during economic recessions, lipstick sales went up because the cosmetic is “an affordable extravagance that women seek when more costly items like vacations and luxury vehicles are no longer within reach.”

The lipstick index was eventually discredited, but what’s being called the lipstick effect suggests a level of strategic thinking “going on in women’s minds when they shop for cosmetics and clothing while worried about money.” One study suggests that when women are concerned about finances, they use makeup “to feel more confident in their ability to find a romantic partner and to get (or keep) a job.”

su filindeu

“In a modest apartment in the town of Nuoro, a slight 62-year-old named Paola Abraini wakes up every day at 7 am to begin making su filindeu – the rarest pasta in the world.”

Eliot Stein, “The secret behind Italy’s rarest pasta,” BBC, October 19, 2016

Su filindeu, which translates as “the threads of God,” comes from Sardo, a language spoken on the island of Sardinia and “the closest living form of Latin,” says the BBC. What makes the pasta so rare is that only three women in the world “still know how to make it,” the recipe and technique having been passed down through the women in this particular family for more than 300 years.

The pasta is also difficult to make. It involves “pulling and folding semolina dough into 256 perfectly even strands with the tips of your fingers, and then stretching the needle-thin wires diagonally across a circular frame in an intricate three-layer pattern.”

The process is so difficult and time-consuming, “the sacred dish has only been served to the faithful who complete a 33km pilgrimage on foot or horseback from Nuoro to the village of Lula for the biannual Feast of San Francesco.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: hygge, king tide, Trumpkin

donald trumpkin

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a cozy Danish concept, the tide is extremely high, and a trove of Trump-manteaus.


“Unfortunately for native English speakers, the first step to achieving hygge is trying to pronounce it.”

Christina Cauterucci, “A Guide to Hygge, the Danish Concept of Coziness That Basically Means ‘Candlelit Uterus,’” Slate, October 7, 2016

Hygge is a Danish word that means a sort of blissful, cozy contentment. Denmark has hyggelig cafes, says Slate, where hyggelig translates as nice, friendly, cozy, homey, and awesome.

king tide

“If you went for a walk this week on Boston’s Long Wharf and are wondering why your shoes are soaked, they’re called king tides.”

Nik DeCosta-Kilpa, “What’s a king tide and why are they flooding Boston’s waterfront?” Boston.com, October 18, 2016

King tide is a colloquialism, says Boston.com, and refers to the highest tide of the year. King tides occur “when the Earth, sun, and moon are as close to each other as possible in their relative orbits.”


“Such products helped Yoshinori Ohsumi claim the prestigious award for his work in what’s known as autophagy, a process by which cells degrade and repair themselves.”

Min Jeong Lee, “Don’t Believe the Hype, Says Japan Bio CEO, as Nobel Lifts Stock,” Bloomberg, October 13, 2016

Autophagy refers to “the process of self-digestion by a cell through the action of enzymes originating within the same cell,” also known as cell cannibalism.

Nobel Prize recipient Yoshinori Ohsumi’s “discoveries could be applied in numerous health-care products, and even help to mitigate damage from cancer,” says Bloomberg.


“The small but growing craft community has invented the term ‘Trumpkin’ to describe their vegetable homages to the Republican nominee.”

Patrick Evans, “‘Trumpkins’ and Clinton pumpkins keep carvers busy this Halloween,” BBC, October 12, 2016

Trumpkin is a blend of “Trump” and “pumpkin.” Other Trump-manteaus include Trumpmentum (as in, “A certain GOP candidate is losing Trumpmentum”); Trexit, “exit from the U.S. on account of Donald Trump”; and Trumpenfreude, pleasure derived from the Donald’s misfortune.


“She opted for what’s called a ‘pussy-bow’ blouse—a sartorial reverberation of her husband’s lewd remarks, apparently by Gucci in silk crepe de chine.”

Marc Bain, “Melania Trump’s ‘pussy-bow’ shirt at her husband’s second presidential debate was ‘not intentional,’” Quartz, October 10, 2016

A pussy bow is “a large, floppy bow on an item of clothing.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term is a shortening of pussy-cat bow, “a large floppy bow, usually worn at the neck.”

While the OED’s earliest citations of pussy-cat bow and pussy-bow are, respectively, 1932 and 1946, Grammarphobia antedates both. Pussy-cat bow “first showed up in the late 19th century” while the first example they’ve seen for “pussy bow” is from a 1908 book called Business and Advertising.


Welcome to the Internet, Green’s Dictionary of Slang!


We’re very happy to present this guest post by Jonathan Green, the Green behind Green’s Dictionary of Slang, which launches today online!

The road to Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online

‘We do not,’ announced my new publisher at our first meeting, ‘want to do this book.’ This is not, as one nears the end of seventeen years of research on a project that has not simply taken over one’s life but pretty much come to represent it, what one wishes to hear. I did not, however, wholly blame them. Those same 17 years had seen a vast change in their industry. The commissioning publisher no longer existed, that which followed had announced, at around year twelve ‘well, we’ll publish it if we have to’, and a successor had been consigned to the scrapheap a few months before. Ironically, the new uber-company, a global name, had already thrown me out once, before finding themselves in charge once more, thanks to a takeover. I had fantasies of meetings in some distant office: ‘No, not that bloody slang dictionary again…’

So I was not surprised. The new imprint had no experience of this variety of reference, the book – many pages, lengthy editing, the complex typography that informs any dictionary – would be expensive. The twin gods of profit and loss were unhappy. But their bosses had placed a gun at their head, and they in turn placed one at mine. We will publish, they continued, but despite your contract, we will not produce the on-line edition that had been part of that contract. Take it or leave it.

In 1998, when I signed the contract for Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS) as an expansion (there would be citations and doubtless many more entries) to my Cassell Dictionary of Slang, the Internet was up and running. There was something called an ‘e-book’. Its definition was somewhat vague; today’s e-book had yet to take off. The term meant no more than a digital version. I saw an all-singing, all-dancing, ‘live’ edition of the dictionary. The then publishers may have seen something different but we did not discuss it. There was enough to do.

It was this, then, that the new owners rejected. If I still wanted to take the dictionary online, it was up to me.

Take it or leave it? I took it. The book appeared, was kindly reviewed, won a prize, even achieved a reprint. The author Martin Amis, in a footnote, had christened me ‘Mr Slang’. I worked on the brand. Two years on there was a second meeting: do you intend to support my continuing work? Absolutely not. OK: the slang lexicographer is traditionally a soloist. We do not do teams. But we do need help.

There were three avenues to explore. A publisher, an academic institution, a commercial business. I set off looking. The first had been solved. Reference publishing in the UK was vastly reduced. I had already had a long flirtation with the most important of all such companies as a possible backer of the print book. We had danced, ever more intimately, almost to the altar. But their pre-nup proved unsignable. Like Dickens’ Miss Havisham I kept the wedding dress. I wrote to universities, some seemed amenable. Again, there were suitors. The most prestigious seemed very keen. Our first conversation ended ‘We look forward to working together.’ The last, nine months on, admitted ‘We don’t actually know how to do this.’ I know few business people. I called in favors from friends that do. The experience was, let’s say, educative. I would offer my pitch. My host cut invariably to the chase: what’s in it for me? The word ‘monetize’ reared up. I had no useful answer. The concept of patronage, of simply backing something worthwhile, cut no ice. We parted. I envisaged a secretary bringing a restorative drink. The magnate amused. ROFL as the textspeak has it.

I did not give in. The wedding dress grew stained, tattered, the wedding feast crumbled to dust. Backed by my wife, who in a second career has made herself a peerless mistress of cite extraction, I continued to work. This was not noble or otherwise plucked from the self-help manuals: what else was there to do? I research slang much as I breathe. And there was so much on offer. The Internet was a cornucopia of material. If my predecessors had sometimes struggled to find examples of slang in use, my problem was no more than one of choice: where should I go today? Newspaper databases and contemporary journalism, TV and movie scripts, lyrics from every type of popular music, social media… I even read more books, often from newly formed digital archives. Unprecedented, incomparable riches. How could I give up when every day my own database expanded and thus, I hoped, improved?

It is fitting, therefore, that the net would save me. Like many writers looking for exposure, I had signed up for Twitter. In April 2014 a tweet appeared; I had no idea of the poster, I could not resist the content: ‘Do you want to put the dictionary online?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘Would you like me to do it?’ ‘Yes please. How much?’ ‘Nothing. The work should be there.’ This was a relief: I have no funds and other programmers – I had approached several – had demanded megabucks. We met. The sender was a twenty-year-old programmer, David Kendal. He was impressively knowledgeable, not only of programming but of the possibilities for putting it to lexicographical use. We made a deal. I turned over the data, he set to work. What followed was not always simple nor smooth, but the task advanced. The three volumes of print, much augmented, and with the potential for regular improvement, emerged in digital form.

If the rest is not history, then it is what is launched today. Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online. It is here: https://greensdictofslang.com. Those who wish only for a simple headword plus etymology plus definition may access it for free. Those who wish to see the underlying citations, its heart, must pay a subscription. We have tried to keep it low. There will be regular updates. New research tools will be added. Like the Internet which hosts it, the possibilities are endless.

Word Buzz Wednesday: chaohuan, meflection, neophobic


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: an ultra-unreal literary genre, a narcissistic blend, and a fear of the new.


“To help bridge this gap, Beijing-based novelist Ning Ken has created a new literary genre to properly convey the absurdity of modern life in China: chaohuan.”

Adrienne Matel, “A new literary genre critiques the scariest, most unbelievable part of life in China—reality,” Quartz, September 20, 2016

Chaohuan, translating from Chinese to mean “ultra-unreal,” is intended to describe what traditional literary tropes have struggled with, says Quartz.  Mystery, satire, and horror can’t seem capture “China’s day-to-day corruption, warp-speed modernization, supersonic development, and political oppression.” Hence, chaohuan.

Chaohuan is similar to magic realism in that “bizarre events [are] normalized,” but unlike Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s genre of choice, it “focuses on real-life events, not supernatural occurrences.”

coil-curl merger

“This feature, known as the coil-curl merger, is really only heard in New Yorkers born before World War II.”

Dan Nosowitz, “Why Linguists are Fascinated by the American Jewish Accent,” Atlas Obscura, September 26, 2016

The curl-coil vowel merger is particularly associated with now little-heard dialects of New York, New Orleans, and Charleston in the early 20th century. The example Atlas Obscura uses is Mel Brooks as Yoda sendup Yogurt in Spaceballs: “You hoid of me?” instead of “You heard of me?”

creep response

“The research team managed to stabilize a copper alloy microstructure capable of resisting what’s called ‘creep response,’ which refers to how materials lose their form under the stress of very high temperatures.”

Kevin McCaney, “With military research into nanomaterials, the future looks light,” Defense Systems, September 30, 2016

Creep, in materials science, refers to “the tendency of a solid material to move slowly or deform permanently under the influence of mechanical stresses.” The word creep is quite old, originating as a verb in the ninth century, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).


“We saw several instances of meflection at the debate, with Trump using just about any issue principally to aggrandize himself and deflect from the actual issue, often by wedging a remark about how great or important or beloved he is into contexts that can’t support them.”

Lili Loofbuorow, “The Trump Glossary,” The Week, September 27, 2016

This narcissistic portmanteau is a blend of me and deflection.


“Rats are neophobic – they avoid what they don’t know.”

Jordan Kisner, “Man v rat: could the long war soon be over?” The Guardian, September 20, 2016

According to the OED, the word neophobic originated in 1923 in Science Monthly: “The neophobic patient shows marked aversion and resentment at the sight of anything new.” Neophobia is from an October 1886 issue of Popular Science Monthly: “In the student, curiosity takes the place of neophobia.”

The Oxford Roald Dahl, an “extra-usual” dictionary: Talking with Dr. Susan Rennie

Dr. Susan Rennie

Early last month, in celebration of what would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, Oxford University Press published the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary. Aimed at young logophiles, the dictionary includes both everyday words and those invented by the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

We had the chance to speak to the compiler of the book, lexicographer Dr. Susan Rennie, and to hear about the process behind putting together such an “extra-usual” dictionary, the excitement of defining some of Dahl’s invented words for the first time, and what Dahl words are the most fun to say.

What’s your favorite Roald Dahl word?

A particular favourite of mine is zozimus. That is what the BFG calls the stuff that dreams are made of, which he whisks with his magical egg-beater. It has a wonderfully mystical sound to it, and it uses Z which is one of Roald Dahl’s favourite letters, as in words like phizz-whizzing, zippfizzing and zoonk.

How did you go about compiling these words?

We began by creating a special database which allowed us to search and analyse all of Roald Dahl’s writings for children. That helped us to identify 393 words that Roald Dahl invented, and to find quotations to show how he used them in his books. It also helped us to find ordinary words, like alarm-clock and glove, which have special significance in his stories.

Throughout the project I also reread Roald Dahl’s books many times to help keep his spirit to the forefront, as we wanted the dictionary to be both authoritative and a little bit mischievous.

Was the process different from a “traditional” dictionary?

This has been a very extra-usual dictionary to work on, because it has involved so much creative thinking and experimentation. It is a rare treat to be able to define a word for the very first time, and I’ve been able to do that for all of Roald Dahl’s invented words, from aerioplane to zozimus. It is also the first dictionary where I have been able to write a definition backwards (in the entry for Esio Trot) and in the form of a limerick (for limerick of course).

What Dahl word do you think everyone should have in their vocabulary?

Biffsquiggled! I use it all the time now as it is so much more expressive than saying “confused” or “puzzled.” Another word that I find myself using is sizzlepan, which is far more fun to say than “frying-pan.” The words redunculous and exunckly are particularly useful for grown-ups as we can get them into all sorts of everyday conversations.

Are there dialect or jargon words that Dahl picked up that you wouldn’t expect in children’s books?

Roald Dahl uses some old-fashioned British slang like blithering, blighter and ruddy. You wouldn’t normally find those words in a children’s dictionary, but they are very much part of Roald Dahl’s world and the dictionary is there to help readers navigate through that.

He also uses some words that children are less familiar with these days, such as breeches (in Matilda) and steeplejack (in James and the Giant Peach), so we explain those too. The word crockadowndilly, which is the BFG’s name for a kind of crocodile, is based on a dialect word daffadowndilly meaning “daffodil.”

The dictionary doesn’t include pronunciations. Are there words where you would have liked to include them? What Dahl word do you think is the most fun to say?

The one word where we do indicate pronunciation is Knid, as Willy Wonka is very clear that the K should be pronounced, as in K’NID. He doesn’t tell us how to pronounce Gnooly (another nasty creature in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator), or knickle (which is what Gnoolies do to you if they catch you), but I like to think they would both have their first letters pronounced too.

All of Roald Dahl’s invented words are fun to say out loud, which is why children love them, but I think those where he uses an internal rhyme, like Oompa-Loompa and rumpledumpus, or those which are very onomatopoeic, like lickswishy and uckyslush, are especially satisfying.

Are there are any other authors you think should have their own dictionary?

I would love to write a Lewis Carroll dictionary, as he was also very creative with language. Carroll came up with the name portmanteau for a word that combines two other words, and he invented the words chortle and galumph which are now part of everyday language.

Dr. Susan Rennie has worked on many dictionaries for both children and adults, including the Oxford Primary Dictionary, Oxford Primary Thesaurus, Oxford English Thesaurus for Schools and the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. She also writes books in Scots for children, and has translated the first Scots edition of Tintin. She is currently a Lecturer in English Language at the University of Glasgow, where she teaches lexicography and the history of Scots and English.

Word Buzz Wednesday: adulting, work martyr, trolley problem


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: grow up, millennials!; relax, milliennials!; and would you pull the trolley switch?


Adulting occurs when someone who is, in fact, an adult manages to complete a basic chore anyone of average competence and circumstances should be able to accomplish without a second thought — and then wants to be praised for it.”

Bonnie Kristian, “How millennials are rewarding their laziness with an absurd participation award,” The Week, September 19, 2016

According to American Speech (by way of TIME), to adult means “to behave in an adult manner; engage in activities associated with adulthood,” or “to make someone behave like an adult; turn someone into an adult.”

In TIME, Katy Steinmetz assume more self-awareness in millennials, suggesting that “to say you are ‘adulting’ [creates] distance between you and what are implied to be actual adults who are adulting 100% of the time and therefore have little reason to acknowledge it.”

work martyr

“Nearly half (48%) of the millennials surveyed said it is a good thing to be seen as a work martyr by the boss, far outpacing the average (39%), Gen Xers (39%), and Baby Boomers (32%).”

Christopher Tkaczyk, “Millennials Are to Blame for America’s Vacation Problem,” Travel and Leisure, August 2016

So are millennials not working enough or too much? Many are work martyrs, according to Travel and Leisure, those who sacrifice vacation, weekends, free time, etc. to put in more hours at the office, often necessarily. Martyr in this case refers to someone “who makes a great show of suffering in order to arouse sympathy.”

The earliest citation we could find for work martyr was from 2003 in Judi James’s book, More Time, Less Stress: How to Create Two Extra Hours Every Day:

It could be that you are a work martyr and that you are only happy when you are handling everyone else’s workload, purely because you enjoy the suffering and the accompanying self-pity it brings.


“Smitheram triumphed after three rounds when he produced the crucial word braconid, meaning a parasitic wasp.”

Braconid: Briton wins Scrabble world title with 181-point word,” The Guardian, September 4, 2016

The word braconid may come from the Greek brakhus, meaning “short.”

onion routing

Onion routing was first developed by the U.S. Naval Research Lab to ensure secure intelligence communication.”

Charles Graeber, “The Man Who Lit the Dark Web,” Popular Science, August 30, 2016

Onion routing, says MakeUseOf, is “like an advanced form of proxy routing.” Instead of “routing through a single unprotected server, it uses a network of nodes that constantly encrypt your data packets at every step.” The “multiple layers of encryption” —resembling the layers of an onion — make it “extremely difficult to trace your information back to you as the source.”

trolley problem

“In a 2014 paper led by Albert Costa, volunteers were presented with a moral dilemma known as the ‘trolley problem.’”

Julie Sedivy, “How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language,” Scientific American, September 14, 2016

In the trolley problem, says Scientific American, you’re asked to imagine:

that a runaway trolley is careening toward a group of five people standing on the tracks, unable to move. You are next to a switch that can shift the trolley to a different set of tracks, thereby sparing the five people, but resulting in the death of one who is standing on the side tracks. Do you pull the switch?

Or do you do something else entirely?

According to How Stuff Works, the trolley problem was first introduced in a 1967 paper by Phillipa Foot, and is an example of consequentialism, a philosophical view that says “morality is defined by the consequences of an action, and that the consequences are all that matter.”

A ‘Basket of Deplorables’: Exploring the origins


Hillary Clinton recently declared that half of Donald Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables.” In other words, they were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

The Democratic presidential candidate has since expressed regret over the statement, but that hasn’t stopped us from wondering about the phrase.

Steve Katz of Mother Jones asked us if Clinton was the first to utter it:

Katy Tur of NBC points out it’s not the first time Clinton has used “the deplorables”:

But how about the “basket” half of it?

Let’s start with the latter. Nowadays deplorable is mostly used as an adjective. It originated in the early 1600s, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), to mean “lamentable, very sad, grievous, miserable, wretched,” and comes from the French déplorable. The verb form, deplore, “to weep for, bewail, lament,” is about 50 years older.

Around the mid-1800s, the verb form gained the meaning of regarding something “as scandalous,” or “to feel or express strong disapproval of.” The OED’s earliest citation is from Herman Melville in Moby-Dick: “It is much to be deplored that the mast-heads of a southern whale ship are unprovided with..crow’s-nests.”

It was around 1828 that deplorables was first used as a noun. Referring to “deplorable ills,” it was perhaps first used by Sir Walter Scott: “What better is an old fellow, mauled with rheumatism and other deplorables?”

Another early instance of deplorables appears in a September 1901 issue of The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness, referring to some unsavory individuals: “He turned to the east and took a Third avenue car down town. It carried a load of deplorables; all uninteresting, some offensive.”

Now, how about that basket? We couldn’t find any uses of “basket of deplorables” from before Clinton’s. But we did find a couple of new-to-us “basket of” idioms.

There’s basket of currencies, an economics term meaning “an agreed range of currencies, goods, etc. whose combined values can be used as a basis for calculating an average or comparative value.”

Then there’s basket of chips. According to the Dictionary of Regional American English (DARE), the idiom is used in comparisons — for  instance, “as smiling as a basket of chips” means “showing great happiness.” The OED’s earliest citation of basket of chips is from 1788: “He grins like a basket of chips.” DARE also cites “polite as a basket of chips,” meaning “extremely or obsequiously polite.”

Could Clinton have been channeling basket of chips when she came out with basket of deplorables? Perhaps: DARE includes Arkansas, Clinton’s longtime home, as a region where one might hear a “basket of chips” variation.

We admit it’s a bit of a stretch. What we do know is that basket of deplorables is sure to give binders full of women a run for its money.

Be sure to also check out Ben Zimmer’s Language Log post on the phrase.