Philanthropy’s Kindly Origins: A Conversation with Ruth Ann Harnisch


Eight months ago we announced Wordnik’s not-for-profit status, and shortly after we launched our Adopt A Word program. To date more than 300 words have been taken into loving homes.

Each time a word is adopted we’re delighted and grateful — every cent helps to keep Wordnik ad-free — so you can imagine our surprise and delight when philanthropist and “recovering journalist” Ruth Ann Harnisch adopted not one, not two, but six words, and then going even farther by offering to sponsor a whole letter.

We had a chance to catch up with the founder of the The Harnisch Foundation (and 2014 honoree, along with Wordnik founder Erin McKean, of Forty over 40) and found out more about why she selected the words she adopted, how she arrived at sponsoring the letter S, and how anyone can be a philanthropist.

First of all, thank you so much for your sponsorship and adoptions! You adopted six words: feminism, feminist, philanthropy and philanthropist, and filmanthropy and filmanthropist. Why these words? How do they reflect your beliefs and what’s important to you?

I’m a feminist. I believe that women (and all genders) should be treated fairly and equitably, in equal rights under the law, and equal dignity in society. I’m grateful to everyone in history whose courage and cultural disruption are part of the change that will be a new way of life in the future.

I’m also a philanthropist. I know the joy and satisfaction of actively working to disrupt unfair institutions and helping to create a world that works better for everyone.

People are intimidated by the word or concept of “philanthropy,” but I’d love for everyone to look at the origin of the word and see that it’s not very intimidating at all. [Editor’s note: philanthropy comes from a Greek word meaning “kindliness, love to mankind”.] Philanthropy doesn’t equal money. Money is only one way to express one’s value of caring for others.

In addition to being a philanthropist, I’m a filmanthropist — I make philanthropic investments in film and other media. While others engage in filmanthropy to advance the environment, stop war, etc., my specific intention is putting more women’s stories on the screen, and hiring more women and other underrepresented people to direct, produce, write, edit, shoot, star, and fill the crowd of extras.

How about the letter S? What’s so special about it?

I picked the letter “S” because as is my custom in making philanthropic investments, I did research to see what would produce the biggest bang for the buck. When Erin told me about sponsoring entire letters, I asked if the “popularity” of the adopted letter affected the size of the donation required to sponsor it. When I was told that all letters were going for the same price at this time, I asked which letters would be the best bargains. Well, I’m always learning something new, and if you click the link you will too. Word to the wise: “C” what the next best bargain is!

What advice do you have for those who want to give more but may feel like they don’t have the time (or resources)?

Anyone can be a philanthropist. If you can give nothing else, giving your attention to a cause, an organization, or a leader you care about can be a welcome gift indeed. You’d be surprised how many opportunities there are for you to have impact by making the tiniest of contributions of time, skill, grunt work, or actual currency. Share their story on social media, retweet them, talk them up to others, and when an opportunity presents itself, be aware and be bold.

Adopt a Mother’s Day Word


Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and what better way to honor Mom than by adopting a word in her name? And to further the maternal celebration, from today through Sunday, May 10, we’re letting you name the price for any unadopted, mother-esque word.

You might already be familiar with our Adopt the Word program, in which for just $50 you can “own” a word for a year. Plus your name and Twitter handle will appear on that word page, and you’ll get a downloadable certificate, suitable for framing (and giving).

Over 200 words so far have found loving homes, but that still leaves lots of “orphan” words. Each day we feature one special orphan, which, instead of the usual $50, you can pay any price for. Take a look at all the orphan words still in need of adopters.

Now what about those mother words? There’s mother of course, which we can hardly believe is still motherless, and other mother monikers like ma, mama, and mommy; mum and mummy, if you’re British; mudder, if you’re from Brooklyn; and the American-as-apple-pie mom.

Or you may want to honor the mom-like figure in your life, such as your stepmother; mother-in-law (once known as good-mother); your aunt, auntie, tia, and tante; or your grandmother, grandma, gram, granny, grandam, nana, or oma. You might also want to give a shout-out to all the nannies, amahs, au pairs, governesses, and other professional caretakers out there.

Symbolic mothers deserve love too, like Mother Earth, the motherland, and the mothership. Or you might prefer mom-in-charge terms like matriarchy, a community governed by women; matrilineage, line of descent through the mother’s side; materfamilias, a woman who’s head of a household; and mother-right, “alleged supremacy of the mother in the primitive family and clan.”

Another word for babytalk? That’s motherese. Innate intelligence or common sense? Mother wit of course. A mother’s love? Well, mother-love. Or perhaps you’d like to give some lovely mother-of-pearl, mother-of-emerald, or mother of amethyst.

For even more orphan mother words to adopt, check out these mummy dearest words, this mother of a list, and these motherhoodish neologisms.

Happy Mother’s Day words and happy adopting!

[Photo via Flickr: “Mum,” CC BY 2.0 by Jonathan Rolande/]

Orphan Words: Let the Bidding Wars Begin!

Joe Michl's fifty little orphans. [front]

Last week you may have noticed that we started featuring “orphan” words on Twitter.

First off, what the heck is an orphan word? It’s any word that has yet to be adopted in our Adopt a Word program. A featured orphan word is up for bidding — that is, it goes to the highest bidder regardless of price, even if it’s under the standard $50.

And like with all adopted words, not only will the orphan word winner “own” the word for a year, his or her Twitter handle and name will appear at the top of the word page. And, as always, you’ll help keep Wordnik ad-free.

If you didn’t have a chance to bid yet, don’t worry! You can do so on any featured orphan word any time, whether by replying to us on Twitter or by email to

To remind you, these are the featured orphan words so far:


Keep your eye out for new featured orphan words every weekday. You’ll also be able to find them all here.

What are you waiting for? Start bidding!

[Photo via Flickr: “Joe Michl’s fifty little orphans. [front],” CC BY 2.0 by Boston Public Library]

Adopt-a-Word Un-Birthday Sale

Happy birthday!

We say it’s our birthday! Well, sort of.

You may remember back in February 2012 when Wordnik turned one. But wait a minute, you might be thinking, hasn’t Wordnik been around longer than that? It has.

We were incorporated on Leap Day 2008, which means that technically we have a birthday only once every four years. But! technicalities, schmechnicalities, we’re celebrating this weekend anyway with an Adopt-a-Word “un-birthday” sale.

In October, we announced Wordnik’s new not-for-profit status. As part of that effort, and to help keep Wordnik ad-free, we’re offering an Adopt a Word program, in which you can “own” a word for a whole year.

For this weekend only, we’re running an un-birthday sale: adopt a word for just $29 ($29 for February 29, get it?). That’s almost half off the original price, but please note this is for a limited time only: from today, Friday, February 27 through Sunday, March 1 at midnight PST.

As for those “early adopters” who paid full price, you have our thanks and gratitude. You’ll also be getting a special “artist” certificate and indication of your special Early Adopter status on your word page(s). Membership has its privileges. 🙂

Since our initial roundup of adopted words, even more words have found loving homes. Bot-master and Wordnik friend Darius Kazemi very appropriately adopted bot. Blogger Felix Jung bought blog; copywriter Katie Sweeney acquired copywriter; and namer Anthony Shore snagged name.

On the grammarly front, Jan “Throw Grammar from the Train” Freeman picked up idiolect. Susan Rooks, aka the Grammar Goddess, got Grammar and Grammarian. Meanwhile, Grammar YUNiversity will be taking very good care of grammar (lower case) this year.

Some adopters got all literary, like Dr. Mardy Grothe who opted for metaphor; poem_exe who picked poem; and Edward Banatt who, after much deliberation, selected the Joycean monomyth.

Then there were the words we just liked, such as WOTY runner-up bae, a word before all else for Huy Hong. We’re not sure which we love more, fritinancy the word or Fritinancy the person. We loved being reminded of the wonderful word compersion, “the feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another; contrasted with jealousy,” when adopter Winnie Lim tweeted it on, very fittingly, Valentine’s Day.

Have we inspired you to adopt your own word? We hope so! Remember, our un-birthday $29 sale runs through this Sunday. Get your words while they’re hot!

Congratulations! It’s a Word!

Magnetic Fridge Poetry

Late last year, Erin McKean announced at PopTech Wordnik’s new not-for-profit status, and along with that, our Adopt a Word program.

You’ve probably heard of Adopt a Highway: in exchange for keeping a section of the highway clean, an organization is allowed a sign with its name posted along that section.

Wordnik’s Adopt a Word program works in a similar way, only without the manual labor. For less than a dollar week, you can adopt a word for an entire year. This means your name and Twitter handle will appear on that word page, much like an Adopt a Highway sign.


Also like Adopt a Highway, you’ll help keep Wordnik litter-free — of ads, that is.

To date, we’ve had 120 words adopted. Library and librarian found the perfect home with the American Library Association (ALA). As ALA president Courtney Young tells us:

Libraries and librarians can be found wherever people gather around information. So we hope Wordnik users will appreciate finding our adopted words and think of the roles libraries and librarians play in all of our lives.

Our hope isn’t just that the Adopt a Word program helps keep Wordnik going but that it will provide even further context for the words themselves. Now when you visit a word like design, you won’t just get definitions, examples, images, lists, and pronunciations, you’ll learn something about its adopter, design guru John Maeda. Visit kindle and TiVo, and you’ll see they were adopted by Karin Hibma, who, along with her husband, the late Michael Cronan, coined these now household names.

Go to API and also discover adopter Steven Willmott of 3Scale, aka APIs-R-Us. Check out avocado and get some real avocado facts. Looking up podcast? Pay a visit to language podcaster Lexicon Valley while you’re at it.

But sometimes adopting words is just fun (maybe too fun — just ask Daniel Shiffman). Why not adopt your namesake? Beau Gunderson adopted beau. Jake Kaufman embraced jake (and we agree that he must now change his display name to “a juvenile wild turkey”). Wordnik patron Roger “Chubby Wombat” McNamee went for wombat.

Or you might want something that represents your identity. Emma Jane, a beekeeper, picked up beekeeper. The presumably bearded Patrick Rodriguez chose beard while Paul McFedries, aka Word Spy, opted for logophilia.

Some words are just awesome, for instance the perfectly cromulent cromulent, picked by Max Mechanic. Colin Mitchell selected pizza (and was extremely happy about it); Kate Kiefer took taco; and thricedotted bought butt. Meanwhile, Kelsey Gilmore-Innis opted for a word that would make the Strong Language blog proud.

We also learned a thing or two, for instance that a bobbasheely, taken in by DARE Chief Editor Joan Houston Hall, means “a good friend”; that hoke, via the epically bearded @h0ke, means to give an impressive yet artificial quality; and thanks to Linda Stone, we now know about email apnea.

Then there are the perennial favorites such as defenestrate by Bob Garfield; petrichor by Elecia White; and serendipity by Caroline Philips. We have our own favorites as well: merrythought by Mary Dickson (aka @marythought, get it?); quiddity by Tank Hughes; recombobulate by Filip Salomonsson (who celebrated his adoption with evil laughter, as one does); and hella by Ascander Dost (hellstorm, by the way, is still available).

Don’t forget, you can also sponsor a word for someone else. Kate C got squid for Chris Lassig, while Will Claiborne got teacher for wife Christine (everybody together now: awwww).

That’s just a small sample of the 120+ words that have already been adopted, which leaves you with more than eight million left to choose from. So what are you waiting for? Adopt a word today.

[Photo via Flickr: “Magnetic Fridge Poetry,” CC BY 2.0 by Steve Johnson]