Word Buzz Wednesday: Waffle House Index, Scunthorpe problem, poshtel

Waffle House

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your weekly roundup of some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a surprisingly reliable indicator, some unreliable profanity filters, a non-scary hostel.

Waffle House Index

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency even monitors a ‘Waffle House Index,’ a color-coded indicator of what restaurants are open, closed or offering a limited menu, to gauge how well an area will recover from a hurricane, tornado or other hazard.”

Ashley May, “How the Waffle House Index will help FEMA determine just how bad Hurricane Florence gets,” USA Today, September 16, 2018

The Waffle House Index was invented in 2004 by Craig Fugate, a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says The Economist. The index is so called because Waffle House, a breakfast chain in the South, is known for its reliability. It stays “open every hour of every day” and is quick to reopen even after “extreme weather, like floods, tornadoes and hurricanes,” making “them a remarkably reliable if informal barometer for weather damage.”

Scunthorpe problem

“The internet-related woes of people with dirty-sounding last names are officially known as the Scunthorpe problem.”

Edmund Heaphy, “Innocent people with dirty-sounding last names face the ‘Scunthorpe problem,’” Quartz, August 29, 2018

The Scunthorpe problem, says Quartz, occurs when websites with “overzealous filters and poorly written code … flag innocent phrases that either happen to contain obscene words within them, or are legitimate use cases of such words.” The name comes from a town in England, which around 1996 was censored by AOL because it contains a certain substring of letters.

masu gomi

“The actions can turn political pretty quickly — masu gomi was basically ‘fake news’ before U.S. President Donald Trump even opened his Twitter account — but it also tends to be deployed by both sides of the spectrum.”

Patrick St. Michel, “Japanese media face hostility in disaster coverage on social media,” Japan Times, September 15, 2018

Masu gomi is a Japanese slang term for “trash,” says Japan Times, and is often used to refer to the Japanese media when it behaves “badly,” whether by using videos or images from social media as part of their news stories or swooping in with cameras following natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons — behavior which might seem perfectly normal for media in other countries.


“‘Transhumanism’ is a relatively new word for the very old belief that humans can transcend the limitations of our mortal bodies, perhaps even mortality itself.”

Michael Hardy, “Meet the Transhumanists Turning Themselves into Cyborgs,” WIRED, September 17, 2018

Transhumanism is the belief that “the use of science and technology, especially neurotechnology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology” can “overcome human limitations and improve the human condition.” WIRED says that in “its modern form,” transhumanism “encompasses a wide variety of techno-utopian ideas ranging from life extension to body hacking to virtual reality and artificial intelligence.”


“The U.S. is the last holdout against the poshtel wave, where the upscaling of low-cost accommodation lags far behind Europe, Australia, or Latin America, mostly thanks to the embedded motel culture.”

Mark Ellwood, “How Hostels Become Poshtels: The Remaking of a Backpacker’s Hangout,” Conde Nast Traveler, September 12, 2018

A poshtel is basically a high-end hostel, says Conde Nast Traveler. It’s nicer than a “bare-bones” dorm “where every item that isn’t bolted down or padlocked away feels as if it could vanish overnight” but more inexpensive than a traditional hotel. Poshtels are often inhabited by flashbackers, “backpackers with higher disposable income and flashier electronics than backpackers.” The word poshtel is a blend of “posh” and “hostel.”

James Fenimore Cooper: An A No. 1 Word Coiner


James Fenimore Cooper, born on this day in 1789, is considered America’s first major novelist. While he’s perhaps best known for books such as the Leatherstocking Tales, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Deerslayer, the New York native was also a coiner of words, several of which we still use today. Here we take a look at six.

A No. 1

“I set all the Effinghams down as tip-tops, or, A No. 1, as Mr Leach calls his ship.”

Homeward Bound, 1838

A No. 1, meaning first-class or outstanding, is an alteration of A1, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The term A1 originally referred a wooden ship being “first-class in respect of both hull and fittings,” especially “as classified in Lloyd’s Register,” a maritime classification society. The figurative meaning of A1 was first used by Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers: “‘He must be a first-rater,’ said Sam. ‘A, 1,’ replied Mr. Roker.”


“A sailor’s blessing on you—fair winds and a plenty.”

Water Witch, 1830

This word meaning in plentiful supply or abundant is still used aplenty since Cooper coined it. From a recent article in The Huffington Post: “Jeremy can find work aplenty in today’s job market and good wages, too.”

hoi polloi

“If there are to be knights and nobles and academicians, they must be of the number; not that such distinctions are necessary to them, but that they are necessary to the distinctions; after which the oi polloi are enrolled as they can find interest.”

Recollections of Europe, 1837

Of course Cooper didn’t invent this ancient Greek phrase meaning “the herd,” but his was the earliest use in English transliteration. The earliest to use the Greek characters for hoi polloi in English was John Dryden in 1668: “If by the people you understand the multitude, the οἱ πολλοὶ.”


“Marry him I don’t think I will—unless he becomes steadier and more of a homebody.”

Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground, 1821

Stay-at-homers everywhere can thank Cooper for this cozy word.

muscle man

“I suppose these muscle men will not have much use for any but the oyster-knives, as I am informed they eat with their fingers.”

Homeward Bound, 1838

While Cooper’s meaning of muscle man is, well, a muscular man (especially a wrestler or bodybuilder), around 1929 the term gained the meaning of someone “who uses violence or threats to intimidate people, [especially] on behalf of another,” says the OED.

old chap

“‘Come, old chap,’ said Billy, good-naturedly, ‘don’t be crabbed, but hear what a man has got to say.’”

Pioneers, 1823

While Cooper is American, this familiar term of address is chiefly British, says the OED. The word chap meaning lad or fellow once meant “customer” and comes from the now obsolete chapman, a peddler or merchant.

Want more author-coined words? Check out our posts on terms invented by Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Cooper’s frenemy, Mark Twain.

Word Buzz Wednesday: lodestar, shadow banning, sitzfleisch

M101 - Pinwheel-Galaxie

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your weekly roundup of some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a (possible) telltale word, banning (but not really), one good thing about sitting on your keister.


“In the editorial, the writer, who claims to be ‘part of the resistance’ inside the administration, refers to the late Senator John McCain as a ‘lodestar for restoring honour to public life and our national dialogue’.”

Does ‘lodestar’ guide us to anti-Trump op-ed author?” BBC, September 6, 2018

Some have speculated that the writer behind the anonymous New York Times op-ed criticizing Trump is none other than “Vice-President Mike Pence, because he has used the word [lodestar] – otherwise rarely heard – with some regularity,” says BBC. A lodestar is a star, especially Polaris, used as a point of reference. It’s also a guiding principle, interest, or ambition.

shadow ban

“The storm over ‘shadow banning’ of Republicans on Twitter broke out in July after Vice News reported that some politicians didn’t show up in a drop-down menu of automatically suggested searches, even when typing in the politicians’ names.”

Twitter CEO says ‘shadow ban’ not impartial,” PBS, September 5, 2018

According to Lifehacker, a shadow ban “is a form of ban that isn’t immediately obvious to the user.” In other words, “the user is allowed to keep posting, but their posts don’t show up to anyone but themselves.” Twitter claims not to engage in shadow banning although some accounts might disappear from search results and followers suggestions if “they’re linked to abuse and spam.”

trash panda

According to Business Insider, in early 2014, Redditor /u/CarlPeligro made a comment on a photo of a raccoon: ‘Raccoons = trash pandas.’ That description stuck.”

Leada Gore, “What is a Trash Panda? Slang word for raccoon gives Alabama baseball team its name,” AL.com, September 6, 2018

The term trash panda is at least half right. Raccoons will eat almost anything, says Living with Wildlife, and those that live near humans will often “eat garbage and pet food.” But despite their similar eyemask-like markings, giant pandas and raccoons are not closely related.

lawnmower parents

“Although the term lawnmower parenting — describing moms and dads who will do just about anything to ensure their kids don’t have to deal with any type of struggle — isn’t new, a teacher’s viral essay on the subject has brought the parenting style into the spotlight.”

Alessia Santoro, “8 Signs That You’re Definitely a Lawnmower Parent,” Popsugar, September 7, 2018

Move over helicopter parents, lawnmower moms and dads are here. In an anonymous essay published at We Are Teachers, lawnmower parents are described as going “to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure,” and “instead of preparing children for challenges, they mow obstacles down so kids won’t experience them in the first place.”


“To impress a boss in the workplace, however, there is a single quality that’s similarly best expressed auf Deutsch: something called sitzfleisch.”

Emily Schultheis, “Sitzfleisch: The German concept to get more work done,” BBC, September 4, 2018

Sitzfleisch translates from German as “sitting meat” or “sitting flesh” – in other words, says BBC, “a term for one’s behind or bottom.” The term refers to having “the ability to sit still for the long periods of time required to be truly productive,” as well as “the stamina to work through a difficult situation and see a project through to the end.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: logo soup, sando, posca


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your weekly roundup of some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a sometime-unappetizing soup, a delicious-sounding sandwich, an interesting ancient health drink.


“A new word has been coined to describe this apparently unstoppable process: parquetematización – the act of becoming a theme park.”

Stephen Burgen, “How tourism is killing Barcelona – a photo essay,” The Guardian, August 30, 2018

According to The Guardian, Barcelona, Spain has become so overrun with tourists, it might as well be Disneyland. Hence, the Spanish neologism, parquetematización. A similar term is Disneyfication. From The New York Times: “It truly is the Disneyfication of Times Square.”

logo soup

“But in addition to being somewhat effective, the logo soup can be wildly deceptive.”

Anne Quito, “Decoding ‘logo soup,’ the way design firms appear more impressive,” Quartz, August 29, 2018

Logo soup, says Quartz, refers to “the grid of logos” that often appears “under the heading ‘clients’ or ‘partner’” on companies’ websites, offering “an at-a-glance summary” of their experience. Designers often use logo soup as a “shortcut” and “speedy way” to show they’re accomplished “without having to show any work or explain what [they] did.” An expert warns this  is “why it’s so crucial to probe about the actual project behind the logo.”


“She seems so relaxed these days. Her new job has given her much more arbejdsglæde.”

More Danish words the world should start using,” The Local dk, August 31, 2018

Arbejdsglæde is made up of the Danish words for “work” and “happiness,” says The Local dk, and is “used to describe the feeling of contentment derived from one’s job satisfaction.”


Sandos are inverted sandwiches, in a way, because the point is to savour the filling and get almost no flavour from the bread.”

Lucy Holden, “So long, sourdough: why sliced white bread is the latest restaurant trend (yes, really),” The Telegraph, September 4, 2018

In England is a new sensation called the sando, “named after the Japanese and Australian slang for ‘sandwich,’” says The Telegraph. It’s “made with ‘terrible’ white bread and served without crusts.” The most popular version is the katsu sando, which has “a breadcrumbed then fried filling” such as pork, chicken, or fish.


“Enter posca. This blend of vinegar and water—though sometimes salt, herbs, and other stuff—holds a special place in beverage history thanks to its role as the Gatorade of the Roman army.”

Gwyn Guilford, “My Favorite Beverage Is a 2,000-Year-Old Energy Drink from Ancient Rome,” Quartzy, September 2, 2018

Quartzy says that this ancient Roman version of switchel may have been Greek in origin and that the name might come from “the Greek word epoxos, which means ‘very sharp.’” However, the Oxford English Dictionary, begs to differ, saying posca comes from the Latin pōsca, a mixture of vinegar and water. This Latin word means literally “drink” and gives rise to potare, which gives us words like “potion” and “poison.

[Image via Quartzy:Metropolitan Museum of Art/The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1949]

August Food Word Origins: s’mores, sponge-cake, and chop suey


Every month seems to be chock-full of food holidays. For instance, August has no fewer than five pie days. While it all might be a bit much, so many delicious special occasions still make us hungry, not just for treats but for words.

Here we take a look at the origins of some of the most interesting (and yummy) celebrated dishes of this past month.


Heavenly crisp (Also known as S’mores)… Toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crisp, gooey state and then put them inside a graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich.”

Snyder and C. F. Loomis, The Outdoor Book, 1934

Chances are you’re familiar with this deliciously gooey snack celebrated every August 10. But did you know it wasn’t always known by its contracted name? While the earliest s’mores appears in print is 1934, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), some-more predates it by 11 years. From a September 1925 issue of the newspaper, Norwalk Hour: “At the supper, two Camp Andree ‘dishes’—‘Kabobs’ and ‘Some-mores’—were introduced.”


“Pour into thin glass and insert an Orange Creamsicle. Serve soda spoon and straws on the side.”

Let’s Sell Ice Cream, 1939

Creamsicle, like popsicle, is still an official trademark name of the Unilever company although it might be used now to mean any similar frozen sweet. While a popsicle is basically frozen sugary fruit juice on a stick, a creamsicle has vanilla ice cream at its center with another layer of ice in a variety of flavors. Lauded each August 14, the earliest appearance of creamsicle in print was in 1932, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.


“You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.”

Jane Austen, Selected Letters, June 1808

That’s right, the earliest known citation of the light and airy dessert is from none other than the Pride and Prejudice author, according to the OED. We’re guessing, however, Austen didn’t coin the term and that the baked good must have existed well before her mentioning it. You can celebrate the sponge cake every August 23.


“Everywhere, too, you get wafen; our wafles, and made and eaten in the same way.”

Aaron Burr, Private Journal, August 26, 1809

Yes, that Aaron Burr. While Burr’s usage is one of the earliest, the delightful-sounding compound waffle frolic predates it by 65 years: “For my own part I was not a little grieved that so luxurious a feast should come under the name of a wafel frolic.” The word waffle comes from the Dutch wafel.

chop suey

“A staple dish for the Chinese gourmand is chow chop svey [sic], a mixture of chickens’ livers and gizzards, fungi, bamboo buds, pigs’ tripe, and bean sprouts stewed with spices.”

Current Literature, October 1888

Legend says this dish of mixed meat and vegetables in a corn-starch-thickened sauce was invented on August 29, 1896 by a visiting Chinese statesmen. However, the above citation from the OED clearly debunks that. The Smithsonian chop suey most likely comes from Chinese immigrants who settled in the U.S. in the mid-1800s, “adapted to locally available foods and tame European-American tastebuds.” The word originates from the Cantonese shap sui, which translates roughly as “mixed bits.”

[Image: “Sponge cake at Top Cantonese Restaurant,” Roland Tanglao, CC BY 2.0]

Word Buzz Wednesday: props, rosehip neuron, pool spray


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your weekly roundup of some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: mad props to the Queen of Soul, a rosehip isn’t a rosehip isn’t a rosehip, a tweet-sized press conference.


“Regardless of whether ‘propers’ might be concealing something less than proper, the word has had a lasting impact on the lexicon, particularly when it got shortened to a single syllable: ‘props.’”

Ben Zimmer, “Aretha Franklin Finally Gets Credit for the Term She Popularized,” The Atlantic, August 27, 2018

In her 1967 hit, “Respect,” Aretha Franklin sings:

I’m about to give you all of my money / And all I’m askin’ in return, honey / Is to give me my propers when you get home.

According to The Atlantic, when New York Times “On Language” columnist William Safire asked the Queen of Soul about my propers, she said she “got it from the Detroit street,” that it “was common street slang in the 1960s,” and it meant “‘mutual respect’—what you know is right.” My propers gave way to the abbreviated props, which “exploded in popularity [in the 1990s] thanks to its widespread usage in hip-hop.” In 2007, props was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.


“It is likely cwtch is a Welsh version of couch, which itself was a medieval adoption of the French ‘coucher’, derived from Latin ‘collocāre’ – ‘to lay in its place, lay aright, lodge’.”

Rob Penhallurick, “What the Welsh-English Word ‘cwtch’ Tells Us About Dialects Everywhere,” The Independent, August 17, 2018

Cwtch, which is Welsh-English, has been voted Wales’s favorite word and means “hug” or “cuddle,” says The Independent. Moreover, cwtch can “be a noun or a verb,” refer to “a small storage place used for food or odds and ends” or a hiding place, and mean “to squat down or crouch.”

rosehip neuron

“It’s compact, bushy, and responsible for telling other neurons to shush. Beyond that, nobody is entirely sure what a newly discovered variety of brain cell called a rosehip neuron does.”

Mike McCrae, “Scientists Have Found a New Type of Brain Cell And It Looks Like It’s Unique to Humans,” Science Alert, August 28, 2018

The newly discovered rosehip neuron, with its “rather compact” and “bushy” shape, is “reminiscent of a rose with its petals removed,” says Science Alert. However, the rosehip, which is the fruit of the rose plant, actually resembles a cherry tomato.


“In addition to pepperoni and sausage, giardiniera (JAR-DIN-AIR-UH) is a standard-issue, much-beloved topping, heaped under the cheese and into the sauce.”

Kate Knibbs, “The Best Pizza Topping That You’ve Probably Never Heard About,” The Ringer, August 28, 2018

Giardiniera, which seems to translate from Italian as “gardener,” is a relish popular in the Chicago area, says The Ringer. It’s “a blend of chopped vegetables (celery, peppers, carrots, cauliflower, and sometimes olives, although they are a controversial element) pickled in vinegar.” It’s also “marinated in a blend of oils, and frequently seasoned with sport peppers for added heat.”

pool spray

“‘Any thoughts on John McCain?’ a media representative asked at what’s known as a ‘pool spray.’ No thoughts, as it turned out.”

Erik Wemple, “President Trump really doesn’t want to talk about John McCain,” The Washington Post, August 27, 2018

A pool spray, where “pool” refers to a press or media pool, is a brief meeting with a small group of news reporters or photographers. A longer meeting with a larger group would be a press conference. Pool sprays, says NPR, “are to presidential communication what Twitter is to online prose.” The earliest citation we could find in a cursory search is from 2009 in The New York Times: “At the White House today, news photographers streamed into the Oval Office for what’s known as a ‘pool spray,’ a very brief photo opportunity.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: bleisure, vomit fraud, pronkstilleven

"Still Life," Willem Kalf (c 1660)

“Still Life,” Willem Kalf (c 1660)

After a short hiatus, Word Buzz Wednesday is back! Every week we bring you a roundup of some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: combining work and pleasure, a disgusting scam, a useless pain.


“Beyond the business and ‘bleisure’ travelers, the main reason visitors came to Boise were outdoor attractions – proximity to whitewater rafting key among them.”

Allison Maier, “It’s called ‘bleisure,’ and it’s a tourism mix that can be a boon for Boise,” Idaho Statesman, August 15, 2018

According to the Idaho Statesman, bleisure travelers are those “who make time for vacation activities” while traveling on business. The word is a blend of “business” and “leisure.”

vomit fraud

“It’s called ‘vomit fraud,’ a scam repeatedly denounced in social networks yet still taking place around the world.”

Catalina Ruiz Parra, “It’s called vomit fraud. And it could make your Uber trip really expensive,” Chicago Tribune, July 24, 2018

With vomit fraud, Chicago Tribune says, an Uber driver might claim a passenger has thrown up in their car — complete with fake photo as evidence — and attempt to charge said passenger a clean-up fee.


“In some traditionally Islamic countries, families or groups of families may choose to purchase a sheep, goat or other livestock animal for what’s known as qurbani, an animal to be sacrificed, representing Ibrahim’s sacrifice of a ram in place of his son Ishmael.”

Steve Longo, “Eid al-Adha 2018: Everything you need to know,” The Daily Mail, August 21, 2018

The sacrificing of the qurbani traditionally occurs on Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, an Islamic holy holiday celebrated by millions of Muslims around the world, says The Daily Mail.

dirty pain

“To take up the challenge of separating clean from dirty pain is a small but meaningful step in reducing suffering generally—most of all our own.”

Virginia Heffernan, “The Importance of Letting Go of So-Called ‘Dirty Pain,’” WIRED, July 26, 2018

Dirty pain, says CNN, refers to the pain associated with ruminating and worrying over an issue, rather than the issue itself. In other words, clean pain comes from a painful reality while dirty pain is from painful thoughts about that reality.


“These artists were masters of the Dutch still life paintings known as pronkstilleven.”

Jenni Avins, “17th-Century Dutch Painters Were the Original Instagram Influencers,” Quartzy, June 28, 2018

Pronkstilleven translates from Dutch as “showy still lives,” says Quartzy. The paintings aimed to visually convey “the social aspirations of their owners” and acted as “catalogues of what well-to-do families aspired to possess.”