Word Buzz Wednesday: diamond ring effect, Zaltair hoax, 99


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: shining bright like a diamond; an Apple prank up for grabs; soft serve with a flaky twist. 

diamond ring effect

“Together with the corona circling the disk, the burst of light creates what’s known as the diamond ring effect.”

Andrew Fazekas, “Amazing Sights You Can Only See During a Solar Eclipse,” National Geographic, August 17, 2017

The diamond ring effect, says National Geographic, occurs “about 15 seconds before the moon completely covers the sun.” At this time, “only a tiny crescent of sunshine is left and the sun’s faint upper atmosphere, or corona, begins to come into view,” at which point “the sliver of bright sunlight transitions into a stunning burst of radiance concentrated in one region along the sun’s edge.”


“Queen says this is an example of ‘metapragmatics,’ or speakers understanding how to use their speech.”

Adam Rogers, “What a Border Collie Taught a Linguist about Language,” Wired, August 18, 2017

The example Wired refers to is between handlers and their border collies. When the handlers’ “commands have to come faster or more urgently,” they “simplify and remove the parts of the shared language that they don’t need.”

Zaltair hoax

“Last but not least, the lot comes with a copy of a flyer from what’s known as the Zaltair hoax.”

Caroline Cakebread, “Apple fans prepare yourselves: One of the original Apple I computers is going up for auction in September,” SFGate, August 18, 2017

The Zaltair hoax was perpetrated by Apple co-founder and prank-lover Steve Wozniak. Back in 1977, says SFGate, he “printed up a couple thousand brochures advertising a non-existent ‘Zaltair’ computer that was supposed to be cheaper and better than any other on the market.” Zaltair is a play on the Altair computer.


“The company is pushing what it calls the ‘bothie’ as the next evolution of the selfie.”

Samuel Gibbs, “Nokia 8 hopes to beat Apple and Samsung with ‘bothie’, a new version of the selfie,” The Guardian, August 16, 2017

Not to be confused with an ussie or youie, a bothie, at least according to Nokia, is a photo or video in which both the subject and the photo- or video-taker are present.


“In Britain, Ireland, Australia, and South Africa, many ice cream vendors sell what’s called a ‘99,’ which is a cone of soft serve ice cream with a Cadbury Flake bar stuck into it.”

You Can Thank A Flat Tire For Soft Ice Cream,” South Florida Reporter, August 19, 2017

The 99, or ninety-nine, has been around since at least the 1930s, says the Oxford English Dictionary. It first referred to “an ice-cream wafer sandwich containing a similar stick of chocolate” or “a wafer cone or chocolate stick for an ice cream.”

The origin of the name is unknown. While Cadbury produced a candy bar called ‘99’ Flake, that might have come from the ice cream, and “the suggestion that something really special or first class was known as ‘99’ in allusion to an elite guard of ninety-nine soldiers in the service of the King of Italy appears to be without foundation.”


Word Buzz Wednesday: mamihlapinatapai, extra, antifa


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: the world’s most succinct untranslatable, dressing to the max, a false equivalence.


“Listed in the 1994 Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most ‘succinct word,’ mamihlapinatapai stems from the language of the Yaghan (or Yamana) tribe of Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago split between Chile and Argentina at the southern tip of South America.”

Zoe Baillargeon, “How the Internet Changed the Meaning of ‘Mamihlapinatapai,’” Atlas Obscura, August 11, 2017

The approximate translation of mamihlapinatapai is “a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin.” It was mentioned in 2011 documentary, and since then has gained popularity on the Internet.

However, says Anna Daigneault of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, “outside of its parent culture, mamihlapinatapai is being viewed and interpreted differently from its original meaning.” Through a Western lens, the word might seem to have a romantic undertone, “but it might not be used in that way in the Yaghan language.” Instead, “it may be closer to ‘a strong, shared glance that connects the two speakers in some way that is beyond words.’”

hot hand

“Using a new method that focuses on fastball velocity, we found a way to detect whether a pitcher is actually throwing with a hot hand — and just how big of a difference it can make.”

Rob Arthur and Greg Matthews, “Baseball’s ‘Hot Hand’ Is Real,” FiveThirtyEight, August 11, 2017

A hot hand is a streak of good luck or success, along with the idea that because someone has had that streak, the more likely they are to continue to have it. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term began as basketball lingo in the 1920s. Today hot hand might be used in sports in general, gambling, and financial investing.


“Never ones to shy away from making a statement, it should come as no surprise that Gen Z’s approach to style is anything but minimal. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite: ‘extra,’ if you will.”

Kelly Agnew, “Gen Z Gives A Whole New Meaning To Dressing Extra,” Refinery29, August 10, 2017

While extra seems to have started as meaning over the top or dramatic in negative sense, it now might refer to a kind of maximalist style, or as Paste Magazine describes it, “loud colors, clashing prints, overstated makeup and dresses over jeans.”


“Many acknowledged that resting and vesting was a common, hush-hush practice at their own companies. Internally, these people are often referred to as ‘coasters.’”

Julie Bort, “Inside the world of Silicon Valley’s ‘coasters’ — the millionaire engineers who get paid gobs of money and barely work,” Business Insider, August 6, 2017

Coasters, also known as resters and vesters, are “engineers who get paid big bucks without doing too much work, waiting for their stock to vest.”


“Members of the ‘alt-right’ broadly portray protesters who oppose them as ‘antifa,’ or the ‘alt-left,’ and say they bear some responsibility for any violence that ensues — a claim made by Mr. Trump on Tuesday.”

Liam Stack, “Alt-Right, Alt-Left, Antifa: A Glossary of Extremist Language,” The New York Times, August 15, 2017

Antifa is a shortening of “anti-fascist,” says The New York Times, and “was coined in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s by a network of groups that spread across Europe to confront right-wing extremists.” According to analysts,  “comparing antifa with neo-Nazi or white supremacist protesters was a false equivalence.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: honjok, Shepard tone, Wizard of Oz experiment


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: YOLO, solo style; you’re just hearing things; a non-bot.


“Now, many businesses advertise themselves as friendly to the number of people who self-identify as honjok, or loners.”

Isabella Steger, Soo Kyung Jung, “Exhausted by the herd, single South Koreans are gingerly embracing the ‘YOLO’ lifestyle,” Quartz, August 2, 2017

While honjok means loner, says Quartz, honsul means drinking alone and honbap means “eating alone,” as opposed to hamkkebap, or “eating together.” Some bars in Korea are catering to such a preference with signs proclaiming, “Drinking alone is welcome here,” while a barbecue restaurant in Seoul embraces honbap by showing the various levels of solo dining mastery, from easiest (“eating ramen at a convenience store”) to the most difficult (“Korean barbecue, the ultimate group meal”).


“The clip featured somewhat rightist personality Dana Loesch promising, among other things, that she and the NRA would fisk The New York Times.”

Chris Matyszczyk, “Fisk: The word that’s all the rage at Dictionary.com,” CNET, August 6, 2017

Fisk apparently means to “rebut an argument line by line, especially on the Internet,” and seems to come from Robert Fisk, an English writer and journalist.


“In American political internet discourse, you’re either a snowflake or a broflake. Or you’re a smart person who’s deleted their Twitter account.”

Heather Dockray, “There’s a new kind of bro in town. We call him the ‘Broflake,’” Mashable, August 7, 2017

Broflake is a play on snowflake, “a derogatory term used against progressives deemed to be too soft on issues of national importance.” Like snowflakes, broflakes “are especially sensitive to issues of race, class and gender,” but are “the inverse of the snowflake community demographically and are disproportionately likely to be white, male, and making prank videos on YouTube.”

Broflakes defend traditional power hierarchies instead of challenging them, and are “more narcissistic than the typical bro and more sensitive to slights.” They also don’t mind letting everyone they’re “smarter than the average bro” by “tweeting approximately 12 times a minute.”

Shepard tone

“If you’ve never heard of a Shepard Tone, buckle in for some super interesting music knowledge.”

The Fascinating Sonic Illusion That Makes Christopher Nolan’s Movies So Tense,” Digg, July 2017

According to this video from Vox, the Shepard tone is designed to cause an auditory illusion. It “consists of several tones separated by an octave, layered on top of each other,” and “as the tones move up the scale, the highest pitched tone gets quieter, the middle pitch remains loud, and the lowest bass pitch starts to become audible.” As a result, “your brain is tricked into perceiving a constant ascending tone.”

The Shepard-Risset glissando occurs when the tones are looped together, sounding like “an ascending piano scale going on for infinity,” which “can sound really spooky” and be used to create “the sound of rising tension” in a movie.

The Shepard tone is named for Roger Shepard, a cognitive scientist, while the Risset of the Shepard-Risset glissando comes from Jean-Claude Risset, a French composer.

Wizard of Oz experiment

“The fake driverless car experiment is a version of what’s known as a Wizard of Oz experiment—where subjects interact with a computer system they believe to be autonomous but that is actually operated by an unseen human being (at least partially).”

Andrew Small, “Here’s the Real Science Behind That Fake Driverless Car,” CityLab, August 6, 2017

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! The term Wizard of Oz, or WOz, technique is credited to John F. Kelly, whose “original work introduced human intervention in the work flow of a natural language processing application.”

The language of sneakers


Adidas or Reeboks. Pumas or Jordans. Keds or Vans. Whatever kind you wear, they all have one thing in common. They’re called sneakers.

Or are they? Just as there are innumerable sneaker brands and styles, there are a plethora of names for that casual, rubber-soled shoe. Here we take a look at some of them from across the United States and around the globe.

“Sneaker” or “tennis shoe”?

Sneaker and tennis shoe are neck and neck for most popular term in the U.S. According to the Harvard Dialect Survey, 45.5% of Americans say sneaker while 41.34% say tennis shoe.

The use of sneaker, says the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), is widespread but somewhat more frequent in the Northeast and North Central states. Meanwhile, tennis shoe is less frequent in the Northeast.

While sneaker is slightly more popular than tennis shoe, the latter is about eight years older. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from Rudyard Kipling’s 1887 short story, “The Bisara of Pooree“: “It was his wizenedness and worthlessness that made him fall so hopelessly in love with Miss Hollis, who was good and sweet, and five-foot-seven in her tennis-shoes.”

Some sneaky (and tennie) variations

While sneaker and tennis shoe dominate U.S. vernacular, you might hear some variations thereof.

In the Northeast, someone might say sneaks for sneakers. In western Pennsylvania and the Great Lakes region, tennis shoes might be called tenners. Scattered throughout the country but chiefly in the western Great Lakes, Iowa, and the West (but not the Northwest), you might get tennie, while in the Northwest the preferred term seems to be tennie-runner. In the Southern region, you might hear tennie-pump, tennies, or simply tennis.

More U.S. sneaker slang

Regional variations don’t stop at these alterations. Back in the day, you might have heard ball shoe in the South Midland states. Going for a run in southern Louisiana? You’ll need your decks, short for the sneaker-esque deck shoe. In Montana, Ohio, and Mississippi, your tennies might be known as quick starts while in the Gulf States and South Carolina, you might take a walk in your easy walkers.

Highs and lows

Sneakers are referred to by their style. Low-top meaning any low-topped shoe or boot originated in 1892, says the OED, and came to refer specifically to sneakers in the late 1980s. As for high-top, the OED’s first mention is from 1895, again meaning a regular shoe or boot, while the sneaker meaning is from 1985.

So that’s how sneaker slang runs in the U.S. How about across the pond?

Running shoes, training shoes, and runners

The oldest term for a rubber-soled athletic shoe in British English seems to be running shoe, which originated around 1666, says the OED. (According to the Harvard Dialect Survey, about 1.42% of Americans refer to their Nikes as such.) Almost 200 years later, training shoe came about, and another 130 years later, the shortened trainer, which is also used in Glasgow, Scotland, says lexicographer Susie Dent in her book How to Talk Like a Local: From Cockney to Geordie, a national companion. The Australian English runner is from 1970.


First appearing in print in 1885, according to the OED, the now genericized brand name was suggested in 1876 by “an energetic sales representative” of the Liverpool Rubber Company “for the new canvas rubber shoes or sand shoes then becoming fashionable for wear on seaside beaches.” The shoes’ rubber band reminded the sales rep of the Plimsoll Line, which marks “the limit of safety to which merchant ships can be loaded.” Similarly, the shoes’ own “water-band” marked how far they could be immersed in water and still remain “water-tight.”

Variations include plimmies and plimsoles, influenced by sole, the underside of a shoe or foot, and used by James Joyce in Finnegans Wake: “Their blankets and materny mufflers and plimsoles.”

For even more on plimsolls and sneaker speak, check out this great post from Fritinancy.

Pump(s) up the jam

Like Dent says, the word pump has been used to describe a variety of shoes since 1555, including a “close-fitting, low-heeled shoe,” slippers, and a shoe for acrobats and dancers. It seems to be around 1897, says the OED, that pumps also referred to sneakers. From the Sears, Roebuck catalog: “Men’s gymnasium shoes… Men’s low cut canvas pumps, canvas sole, [etc.].” Now pump is a regional term, which, says Dent, “dominates the North and Midlands.”

Track shoes and daps

About a decade after pump came track-shoe, followed in 1924 by dap, which might come from the verb sense of the same word meaning to dip lightly, or to skip or bounce.

Sannies, gutties, and tackies (oh my)

According to Dent, sandshoes or sannies have been around since the mid-19th century, and are standard terms in Scotland as well as “the North-East as far south as Hull.”

Gutties is another sneaker saying from Scotland. According to the Herald Scotland, guttie comes from gutta-percha, “a rubbery substance derived from the latex” of certain tropical trees, and “used as an electrical insulator, as a waterproofing compound, and in golf balls” (A gutta or gutty is a golf ball made of such material.) Gutta-percha is Malay in origin, where getah means “sap” and perca, “strip of cloth.”

Tackies is said in South Africa, but the word is “apparently not Afrikaans,” says the OED. It might come from tacky meaning slight sticky or gummy to the touch.

What are you wearing? Mutton dummy.

The curious and wonderful mutton dummy is a Northern Irish term. According to the Oxford Living Dictionaries, it might have originated in the 1930s, “possibly from mutton cloth, ‘a type of cotton cloth used to wrap meat’ (from the resemblance to the material from which the shoes are made),” and dummy, “with reference to the lack of noise they make.”

Puss boot is from Jamaican English, and probably represents “a humorous folk reference to the soft tread of a person in such shoes,” says the OED.

What do you call sneakers?



Word Buzz Wednesday: shiok, double Dutch, shrinkflation

Double Dutch Street Performance by 祭 - Matsuri @ Vancouver City Centre Station

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: Frappalicious, Singapore style; insulting the Dutch; a skinny repeal on chocolate.


“The name comes from ‘shiok,’ which reportedly is a slang term for pleasure — a name that makes more sense than wherever/however ‘Frap’ came about, but no matter.”

Lilian Min, “Starbucks Just Announced A New Frappuccino — But There’s a Catch,” Cosmopolitan, August 1, 2017

Shiok is a Singaporean English interjection that means “cool!” or “great!” as well as an adjective that refers to a delicious or superb meal, and a general term of approval. The term was added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in June 2016. The Shiok-ah-ccino mixes toasted coconut with caramelized palm sugar, says Cosmo, but is only available in Singapore.

go Dutch

“To ‘go Dutch’ or to have a ‘Dutch treat’ is to eat out with each person paying for their own bill, possibly from a stereotype of Dutch frugality.”

Thu-Huong Ha, “The phrase ‘going Dutch’ is a 300-year-old insult to Dutch people,” Quartz, July 26, 2017

Back when “England found itself fighting pretty much everyone in Europe,” says Quartz, “haughty digs toward other nations pervaded everyday language,” including insults to those in the Netherlands which remain “embedded in the English spoken by people all around the world.”

Besides going Dutch, there’s Dutch courage, bravado from drinking alcohol, “possibly related to a stereotype of the Dutch being heavy drinkers,” and Dutch bargain, “a deal struck over booze.”

double Dutch

Double Dutch may sound like child’s play, but it’s more than just skipping rope.”

Gia Kourlas, “The Art and Artistry of Double Dutch,” The New York Times, July 25, 2017

Double Dutch originated in 1876 as a derisive term for a language “one does not understand,” or “gibberish,” says the OED. It seems to now more popularly refer to “a game of jump rope in which players jump over two ropes swung in a crisscross formation by two turners.” According to the OED, this jump rope sense originated in North America around 1895.


“It is a process known as ‘shrinkflation’, which companies are probably hoping your existential doubt will mask.”

Rhik Samadder, “Mock chocs: is Poundland’s cut-price confectionery the answer to shrinkflation?” The Guardian, July 30, 2017

After the Brexit referendum, says The Guardian, some brands chose to reduce “the size of their most popular items” while keeping prices the same. Shrinkflation is a blend of “shrink” and “inflation.”

positive psychology

“Sandberg — a tragically young widow — outlines how the practices I’ve come to identify with positive psychology helped her emerge from the crippling morass of grief and reclaim a measure of joy in her life.”

Leslie Turnbull, “I skeptically tried practicing gratitude. It completely changed my life,” The Week, July 20, 2017

Positive psychology focuses on people’s “strengths and resiliency,” says The Week, “rather than their negative experiences and wounds.” It was started in the late 1990s by researchers Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Christopher Peterson.

Word Buzz Wednesday: skinny repeal, extreme commuting, monster parent

Sleepy commuters

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: starving healthcare, a long day’s journey into work, move over tiger mothers.

skinny repeal

“A so-called skinny repeal bill that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s penalties for individuals who go without insurance and companies that don’t offer it. It would also remove a tax on medical-device manufacturers.”

Benjy Sarlin, “Here’s the Lowdown on ‘Skinny Repeal’ of Obamacare,” NBC News, July 25, 2017

A skinny repeal is a slimmed-down version of a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare, and “could be a placeholder for a broader legislative plan down the road,” says NBC News.

extreme commuting

“It would be an overstatement to say extreme commuting is a major trend. After all, how many people can withstand 200 hours a month traveling back and forth?”

Bryan Miller, “Extreme Commuting,” The New York Times, July 21, 2017

The New York Times defines extreme commuters as people who travel “a minimum of two hours each way, five days a week” for work, while the United States Census Bureau says they’re workers who travel at least 90 minutes one way. Also called mega or super commuters.


Shakerato, it’s when they put a shot of espresso into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake it, shake it, shake it, until it gets foamy and the ice kind of melts and crystalizes and then they pour it into a goblet. And that’s fantastic!”

Sylvia Poggioli, “Italy’s Coffee Culture Brims With Rituals And Mysterious Rules,” NPR, July 14, 2017

Other Italian coffee lingo includes mano, “the skill of the barista”; caffé’ macchiato, “stained with a swirl of milk”; and caffé corretto, “an espresso corrected with a shot of grappa or cognac.”


“It’s used to describe that little coughing noise one makes, often before giving a speech or dislodging cinnamon bun pieces from their throat.”

Oliver Gee, “26 untranslatable Swedish words,” The Local, July 20, 2017

More Swedish untranslatables include vobba, “working, even though you’ve taken a (paid) day off because your child is sick”; blåsväder, literally “stormy weather,” figuratively, “trouble”; and jobbig, troublesome, annoying, or difficult.

monster parent

“Chinese cultural pressures to succeed, an increasingly competitive education system and job market, and uncertainty over the future prosperity of Hong Kong have all been cited as factors in the monster parent trend.”

Jessica Mary Turner, “Are you a ‘Monster Parent’? Experts say trend worsening in Hong Kong,” South China Morning Post, July 22, 2017

Move over tiger mothers, the monster parent is here. According to the South China Morning Post, a monster parent has “ultimate control over their child,” discourages “individual thought,” believes “academic results come first,” suggests free time doesn’t exist, and at the same time thinks “their child is always right.” A 2013 study from Chinese University of Hong Kong “warned monster parents were producing a generation of spoiled brats who have an inflated view of their abilities.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: o-fer, fontgate, omurice


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a losing streak; an extra nerdy scandal; a somewhat western Japanese dish.


“The only way that changes is if the president starts hurting the Republican brand, and judging by the Democrats’ o-fer in the four special congressional elections since Trump’s shocking victory in November, it’s going to take some dirt that sticks to bring down President Trump.”

Anthony L. Fisher, “What will happen to Donald Trump Jr. now?” The Week, July 11, 2017

O-fer or oh for means lack of success after multiple attempts. The phrase comes from sports lingo.


“Social media users have derided Sharif for this apparent misstep, coining the hashtag #fontgate.”

Sune Engel Rasmussen and Pádraig Collins, “‘Fontgate': Microsoft, Wikipedia and the scandal threatening the Pakistani PM,” The Guardian, July 13, 2017

This typography-related scandal involves Mariam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of Pakistan’s prime minister. Sharif is under investigation regarding a “purchase of high-end London property acquired through offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands,” says The Guardian. February 2006 documents saying she was only a trustee of the company are suspected of being forged since the font, Microsoft Calibri, was only available starting in 2007.


“Chef Motokichi Yukimura has spent years perfecting ‘omurice,’ an egg omelet that, when cut, unfolds into gooey goodness — can a normal guy figure out how to make it?”

Man Attempts To Make The Most Difficult Omelet In The World,” Digg, July 2017

Omurice is an example of yoshoku, Western-influenced Japanese cuisine. (Another example is Okinawan taco rice.) Omurice is a kind of gooey omelet made with fried rice and topped with ketchup or gravy. The word is a a blend of the English omelette and rice, and is an example of gairaigo, a loan word in Japanese.

urban lumber

“Wine Glass Bar specializes in producing what’s known as ‘urban lumber’ – usable wood from city-cut trees.”

John Genovese, “The trees in your yard could have a second life,” ABC15, July 12, 2017

The Construction Specifier defines urban lumber as “wood that is obtained from trees located in cities, towns or suburbs not harvested for their timber value, but removed because of insect, disease or circumstance.” Not to be confused with urban lumberjack.

watch your six

“She’s become very good at what’s called watching your six. So if he’s facing one direction say at Walmart looking at the shelf, she’ll be behind him looking at the opposite direction.”

Priscilla Liguori, “Graduation day for VT service dogs,” WCAX, July 18, 2017

Watch your six appears to come from aviation slang, where check your six basically means “look behind you.” This is based on clock positioning, in which 12 o’clock refers to the position right in front of you and six o’clock is the opposite.