Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: Rudolph the law-abiding reindeer, a really big box of gifts, and button, button, who’s got the fear of buttons.
“In the 1984 case of Lynch v. Donnelly, the court established a precedent that became known as the ‘reindeer rule,’ a legal standard that has governed public displays of holiday cheer ever since.”
Shaunacy Ferro, “The Legal Reason Why Public Christmas Displays Often Feature At Least One Reindeer,” Mental Floss, December 5, 2016
The reindeer rule is a nickname for a legal standard that governs “public displays of holiday cheer,” says Mental Floss. Basically it says that if you want to display a nativity scene at a place like a courthouse or public park, you’d better include “secular elements,” such as a reindeer.
“As the most iconic symbol of the Filipino diaspora, the balikbayan box serves as an emotional bridge between parents and siblings who part with their families to earn a higher wage abroad collectively known as ‘Overseas Filipino Workers’ (OFW).”
Anne Quito, “The ultimate 100-lb. gift box Filipinos send their relatives every Christmas,” Quartz, December 7, 2016
According to Quartz, the word balikbayan “is a Tagalog compound word that translates to ‘return [to] country,’” and the balikbayan box:
is typically stuffed with a random assortment of everyday, household goods—canned meats, small electronics, gently used clothing, tubes of toothpaste, vitamins, toiletries, and of course, “imported” chocolates in bulk.
Quartz goes on to say that the “ordinariness” of balikbayan gifts is by design, and that perhaps “the assortment of seemingly random items convey a kind of intimacy among separated relatives,” mapping “migrants back into the household economy by reproducing their labor and participation in their absence.”
“Variants on seasteading led to the founding of the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with the caveat that conquest was involved, as these territories were not unsettled at the time.”
Tyler Cowen, “Go Wet, Young Man,” Bloomberg, December 7, 2016
Seasteading refers to “the founding of new and separate governance units on previously unoccupied territory, possibly on the open seas,” says Bloomberg. Seasteading plays on homesteading, the act of claiming “unclaimed” land, especially under the Homestead Act of 1862.
“Andy’s condition is called koumpounophobia. It is not as common as some phobias – but still affects around one in every 75,000 people.”
Sirena Bergman, “The misery of weird phobias: ‘In the office, there are buttons everywhere’,” The Guardian, December 5, 2016
Koumpounophobia is the morbid fear of buttons. People with this particular phobia, says the Guardian, “report losing contact with family and friends because they are unable to attend weddings and funerals, or abandoning their careers and doing jobs that allow for remote working or casual clothing.” In addition, “because of the ridicule sufferers are often met with, people tend to suffer in silence and phobias go untreated.”
While the suffix -phobia comes from the ancient Greek phobos, “fear,” koumpouno- may come from a modern Greek word meaning button, according to this thread. One poster says koumpouno “comes from the ancient Greek word for ‘bean’ (κύαμος, kuamos), which makes sense, because the ancients didn’t have buttons, but some buttons resemble beans.”
“VHS tapes were easy to copy, so samizdat editions began circulating, and the video was prominently displayed in stores during the holidays because it was the most recent Christmas movie available.”
Sam Kashner, “How A Christmas Story Went from Low-Budget Fluke to an American Tradition,” Vanity Fair, November 2016
Samizdat refers to “the secret publication and distribution of government-banned literature in the former Soviet Union”; “the literature produced by this system”; or “an underground press.” The word came into English around 1967, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and comes from the Russian samizdat, which translates as “self-publishing.”