Sochi Slang: Our Favorite Winter Olympic Lingo

We can hardly believe it but the Olympics are almost over. In addition to keeping up with the latest on problems in Sochi, Olympic fashion (our favorites include the Norwegian curling team’s pants, skeleton competitors’ wicked helmets, and this Mariachi ski uniform), and oh yeah events, we’ve been keeping our ears open for fun slang terms. Here are our 12 favorites.

chicken salad

“There’s more to the Winter Olympics than wongbangers, tucks and chicken salads.”

Lawrence Baretto and Aimee Lewis, “Snowboarder Looking for Love,” BBC, February 19, 2014

Chicken salad in this context is not a sandwich filler but “when a snowboarder puts their hands between their legs and grabs the heel-side edge of the board,” according to The Telegraph .

We have no idea where this phrase comes from (and neither does the internet, at least as far as we can tell). All we know is that the chicken salad is more difficult than the melon (short for melancholy) and may be combined with a roast beef (“Back hand grabs through the legs to the heel edge and put head through legs”) to make a beef carpaccio.

double Japan

“Then, left side double corked 1260 double Japan on the first booter, to switch right side dub 1080 tail grab, and a switch right side triple corked 1260 Japan on the big booter.”

Josh Brown, “Junio strong candidate to be Canadian flag-bearer for putting team first,” Guelph Mercury, February 13, 2014

Did you get all that? Let us help: a double Japan, according to NPR, is, in slopestyle, a “a grab with one hand behind your foot, one hand in front on the same ski.” A Japan — which also seems to be known as a Japan air — is “a type of grab (when a skier grabs his skis while in the air).”

Other grabs include the China or Korean air (depending if you’re on the west or east coast, respectively), which are apparently earlier versions of the Japan air, and the Taipan air, which has nothing to do with the James Clavell novel but is a blend of tail and Japan air.


“The skater must take off using the more difficult outside edge. If she doesn’t, the jump is considered easier and gets fewer points. We call that a ‘flutz.’”

Robert Samuels, “Your complete guide to Olympic women’s figure skating,” The Washington Post, February 19, 2014

A flutz, says Nancy Friedman, is “an incorrectly executed lutz jump” that has devolved into a flip jump. Hence, the word is a blend of flip and lutz. The lutz is named for Australian skater Alois Lutz, the inventor of the jump.

huck it

“As every snowboarder knows, when Morgan said he figured he would ‘just huck it,’ he meant that he decided to go all out with a big jump, throwing his body wildly down the hill.”

Ben Zimmer, “An Olympic Snowboarder said ‘Huck It,’ and the BBC Freaked out,” Slate, February 9, 2014

According to Zimmer, the origins of huck or huck it are unclear but huck “has been developing as a verb for at least 25 years in a number of outdoor sports, as a way of talking about hurling an object or one’s own body with great force.”

BBC thought British snowboarder Billy Morgan uttered another four-letter word that ends in u-c-k, cut short his interview, and apologized for Morgan’s “offensive” language.


“In the world of skiing, the ladies took to the Slopestyle course with a plethora of tricks up their wizard sleeves, including my new favorite sports trick ever named after my #1 yo-yo dieter and tank-topped love, the K-Fed.”

Michelle Collins, “Winter Olympics Day 6 Recap: Welcome to the Winterfell Games,” Vanity Fair, February 12, 2014

The K-Fed is a rail trick, or a trick performed on an obstacle such as a rail, specifically, “a front switch-up blind 270 out.” What the heck does that mean? Perhaps it’s best to take a look.

Although it’s unclear why, the K-Fed is named after Kevin Federline, “dancer, rapper, fashion model,” and erstwhile husband of pop diva Britney Spears. The Britney, by the way, is “a blind switch-up front 270 out.”


“On keen days the concave keeps the ice well; and on dull ones the convex lends itself readily to ‘kiggle-caggle’ — or the oscillating motion which skilful players who want to reduce friction communicate to their stone on very baugh ice.”

John Kerry, History of Curling, 1890

Kiggle-caggle is curling term that seems to have been around since at least 1890, as per the History of Curling. While we couldn’t find an etymology (if anyone can enlighten us, please do so in the comments), we’re guessing the term is imitative in origin.

kiss and cry

“Long a cherished, finger-biting scene on telecasts, the kiss-and-cry zone holds skaters and their coaches captive beside the rink, with cameras in their faces, as they nervously wait for, and then receive, word of their fate from the judges.”

Mary Pilon, “With Team Skating, It’s Now Kiss, Cry, Squeeze In,” The New York Times, February 8, 2014

Kiss and cry, referring to the “the place where skaters waited with their coaches to receive their marks from the judges marks,” says Slate, “was coined by a Finnish skating official named Jane Erkko” in the 1970s. Erko and some young skaters “noticed that the competitors kissed and cried while waiting for their scores,” and the term “remained a joke among the skaters and with Jane as the place where the skaters would sit down after skating their programs.”

shred the gnar

“It’s also a powerful reality check for those who take their physically-intact bodies for granted — or assume people with disabilities can’t shred the gnar.”

Sam Laird, “Canadian Paralympics Ad is a Powerful Reality Check,” Mashable, February 4, 2014

Shredding the gnar refers to skiing a gnarly or difficult terrain, says NPR. To shred means “to ride aggressively.” In our cursory search, we couldn’t find a year of origin for this meaning, nor if it came before or after the meaning “to play very fast (especially guitar solos in rock and metal genres).”

Gnarly was originally a surfing term meaning “dangerous; challenging,” perhaps “with reference to the appearance of rough sea,” says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The term originated in the late 1970s.


“In a sport that prides itself on linguistic innovation (Mr. Kotsenburg, for instance, is fond of the all-purpose approbation ‘spoice’), ‘stoked’ is an old standby to describe a snowboarder’s feeling of euphoria about a good run.”’

Ben Zimmer, “‘Stoked,’ From 1960s Surfers to Sochi,” Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2014

Spoice is apparently “an exclamation of gratitude towards life,” and has been popularized these Olympics by American snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg. We’re guessing the word is an alteration of spice, perhaps in reference to the expression, “variety is the spice of life,” which has been attributed to poet William Cowper.


“If you have been watching figure skating throughout the 2014 Winter Olympics, it is impossible not to notice the term ‘twizzle’ that is constantly being dropped by Tara Lipinksi and Johnny Weir throughout the Sochi Games.”

Jose Sanchez, “Sochi Olympics, ice dancing: What is a twizzle?” Fansided, February 17, 2014

Originally referring to simply “a turning, twisting or spinning motion,” a twizzle is, in ice dancing, “three consecutive turns across the ice,” says The Wire. According to Pilar Bosley, a former competitive dancer:

Three turns in general aren’t considered one of the most difficult moves in skating, but when a twizzle is done properly the three turns are done so quickly that the naked eye can’t really tell that that turn is happening.

There are increasing degrees of twizzle-difficulty, such as the catch-foot twizzle, in which the skaters “hop into the first twizzle and then immediately catch their blade with one hand.”

The word twizzle may be an alteration of twissel, “double; twofold,” or else may be an imitative formation suggested by twist, says the OED.

Wagner face

“Ashley Wagner sparked memes and #wagnerface hashtags across the internet after she looked absolutely shocked when her score was revealed at the figure skating competition at Sochi Saturday.”

Brandi Fowler, “Move Over McKayla Maroney, Figure Skater Ashley Wagner Is ‘Not Impressed’ By the Olympics Either,” E! Online, February 9, 2014

While gymnast McKayla Maroney’s “not impressed” expression was the meme of choice for the 2012 London Olympics, Wagner face, referring to figure skater Ashley Wagner’s candid mein, is apparently the 2014 pick.

YOLO flip

“Whether it’s learning to ride a bike, walking in high heels on snow or doing a YOLO flip on the half-pipe, you have your cerebellum to thank.”

Brooke Horton, “Why Some Olympic Athletes Choke, While Others Are Unstoppable,” PolicyMic, February 19, 2014

The YOLO flip, “a double-cork 1440 — four full twists packed inside of two flips,” was invented and named by Swiss snowboarder Iouri Podladtchikov (who goes by the nickname I-Pod). It was also the trick that caused American Shaun White to lose the gold to the 25-year old I-Pod.

And in case you’ve been living in a snow bank all year, YOLO stands for “you only live once.”

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Stefan Krasowski]

A Brief History of Newspaper Lingo

New York Times Building, NYC

The first issue of The New York Times was published on this day in 1851, and to celebrate we’re taking look at a brief history of some of our favorite newspaper words and slang.

Before newspapers, there were government bulletins. The Acta Diurna or Daily Acts of ancient Rome were carved in metal or stone and posted in public places. In ancient China, tipao, news sheets produced by the government, were “handwritten on silk and read by government officials.”

In 16th century Venice, a monthly notice was published and sold for one gazeta, a small copper coin, which may be where we get gazette, another word for newspaper.

However, gazeta also means “little magpie,” so it’s unclear if we get the word from the paper’s “price or its association with the bird (typical of false chatter),” says the Online Etymology Dictionary. What we do know is that gazette predates the word newspaper by about 60 years.

Workers at a printing press

By 1649, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), newspapers, journals, and periodicals were collectively referred to as the press. This of course comes from printing press, which was invented in the 15th century and quickly gained popularity in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. By the late 1860s press came to refer to journalists in general, and to journalistic coverage by 1908: “Mr. Leaf. . .has not had a good press lately.”

Both newsman and journalist came about in the late 17th century, says the OED. By then what’s considered the first American newspaper was published in Boston, although “only one edition was published before the paper was suppressed by the colonial officials.” A few years later, a weekly called The Boston News-Letter “became the first continuously published newspaper in the colonies.”

By 1734, you could insult a newspaper by calling it a rag. Know where the bodies are buried? You could make a living as a death-hunter, “one who furnishes a newspaper with reports of deaths,” says the OED.

Reporters weren’t called reporters until about 1776, as per the OED. By 1810, if you were a writer for hire, you might be called a hack, and in the 1870s, a story you got before a competitor was called a beat or scoop.

By the late 19th century, competition betweens papers was fierce. Some resorted to keyhole journalism, says the OED, with “allusion to the action of eavesdropping or spying through a keyhole.”

The Yellow Kid

The term yellow journalism was coined around 1898 during the peak of the “circulation battles” between Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. Yellow journalism is “journalism that exploits, distorts, or exaggerates the news to create sensations and attract readers,” and comes from “the use of yellow ink in printing ‘Yellow Kid,’ a cartoon strip in the New York World.”

Pulitzer and Heart’s sensationalistic exploits were even blamed for the United States’ entry into the Spanish-American War, although historians have noted that “yellow journalism was largely confined to New York City, and that newspapers in the rest of the country did not follow their lead.”

In 1901, the term tabloid was being used to describe newspapers that gave stories in condensed form, “usually with illustrated, often sensational material.” The word tabloid was originally a trademark referring to a “small tablet of medicine,” says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and eventually came to refer to “a compressed form or dose of anything.”

Lead meaning the “introductory portion of a news story” is from around 1912. The spelling didn’t change to lede until 1965, perhaps “to distinguish this sense from other possible meanings of the written word,” such as the molten lead “used in typesetting machines.” The term bury the lead, beginning a story with secondary information and revealing the important points later, is from 1977, says the OED.

Lonely-hearts referring to lonely-hearts columns originated in the early 1930s while agony aunt, a British English term for the writer of an advice column, is from 1974. In 1950, if you wrote a story of “exaggerating praise,” you’d be writing a puff piece. Paparazzi, photographers who “pursue celebrities and attempt to obtain candid photographs,” comes from the “surname of the freelance photographer in Federico Fellini’s 1959 film ‘La Dolce Vita.’”

Tabloid Rack

Tabloid Rack

Supermarket tabloids arose in the 1960s, says Vanity Fair. Neighborhood newsstands and family-owned shops were closing as supermarket chains opened up. Generoso Pope, Jr., the creator of The National Enquirer, perhaps the most famous (or infamous) supermarket tabloid, “understood that the only way tabloids could thrive as their urban habitat declined was by being sold in supermarkets.”

We’re uncertain as to when the term supermarket tabloid originated exactly. The earliest citation we found was from 1980, and Google Ngrams shows its usage beginning around the same time. However, if anyone can antedate us, please do.

In 1971 journalist Hunter S. Thompson coined the term gonzo journalism, a kind of experimental journalism in “which facts are deemed to be less important than perceived underlying truth (especially where deliberately altered consciousness is involved).”

Such journalism could be full of factoids, which contrary to popular belief aren’t bite-sized facts but “unverified or inaccurate information that is presented in the press as factual, often as part of a publicity effort, and that is then accepted as true because of frequent repetition.” The word was coined by writer Norman Mailer in 1973.

Gotcha journalism, “journalism that seeks only to catch public figures in embarrassing or scandalous situations,” says Word Spy. The earliest citation is from 1988. (The gotcharazzi, in case you were wondering, are paparazzi who may say “Gotcha!” when photographing someone in an embarrassing situation.)

The charticle, an article that mainly consists of a chart or graph, is from 1996, while listicle, an article consisting of a list, is newer, from 2003 and apparently coined by a Gawker writer, according to researcher Barry Popik.

Red-top, a tabloid newspaper in the UK, is from 1996, and refers to the red banners often used by such papers. A marmalade dropper is “highly stunning information” that would, presumably, cause one to drop one’s marmalade. Word Spy says the term “has appeared almost exclusively in British newspapers and magazines” and originated around 1995.

A dead donkey is “a news item of no real significance, usually of whimsical or sentimental nature, placed at the end of a news bulletin or in a newspaper as filler.” Drop the Dead Donkey was a 1990s British television comedy set in a TV news company. It seems the term dead donkey comes from the title of the show.

Finally, churnalism, journalism that uses “ready-made press release material copied wholesale,” is from 2001, says Word Spy.

What are some of your favorite journalistic slang terms?

[Photo: “New York Times Building, NYC,” CC BY 2.0 by Alexander Torrenegra]
[Photo: “Workers at a printing press,” Public Domain]
[Photo: “The Yellow Kid,” Public Domain]
[Photo: “Tabloid Rack,” CC BY 2.0 by Paulo Ordoveza]

This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: Mars, Olympics, and more

Welcome to this week’s Language Blog Roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.

We start off this week’s installment with a guide to the language of the Mars mission. Wondering what “the pair of 2-megapixel color cameras on the rover’s ‘head’” are called? That’s the Mastcam. How about the radiation detector? That’s RAD.  And a Martian day? Sol, Latin for “sun.”

In Olympic word news, we learned about Zil lanes, “special Games Lanes for Olympic athletes and officials,” which “comes from the infamous traffic lanes in Moscow reserved for the most senior officials of the Soviet Union travelling in their black Zil limousines.” We also read up on Ping-Pong diplomacy, whiff-whaff, and Double Happiness Sports, as well as some athletic poetry. Sesquiotica taught us about the word swim, Fritinancy posted about a mix-up between medals and metals, and Liz Potter at the Macmillan Dictionary blog discussed the verbing of some Olympic nouns.

The New York Times had some taboo avoidance fail this week, as explained by Arnold Zwicky: “Ah, that wonderful English adjective cocksuckers (in its plural form, of course, and serving as the object of the preposition like). Adjective, noun, who really cares? Not Jim Rutenberg and/or his editors.” Also at The Times was 17th century writer Thomas Browne and the words he coined (with some corrections from Ben Zimmer). Meanwhile, James Gleick discussed the dangers and annoyances of autocorrect, and Ben Yagoda exclaimed about exclamation points.

At Lingua Franca, Geoff Pullum expounded on the uselessness of spelling bees and the riddle of frisney and frarney, while Ben Yagoda tested a couple of automated grammar checkers. Robert Lane Greene at Johnson told us why language isn’t like computer code, and like Yagoda, tested some grammar software.

At Language Log, Victor Mair addressed all the single ladies in Chinese, and Mark Liberman considered texting and language skills and some journalistic unquotations (Electric Lit rounded up seven more unquotationers). At Macmillan Dictionary blog, Michael Rundell had more issues around “issues,” Orin Hargraves got funky, and Stan Carey felt groovy. On his own blog, Carey compared different ways of writing OK and discussed contrastive reduplication.

Kory Stamper delved into defining colors; Jan Freeman whispered about X whisperers; and Sesquiotica got uglily and celebrated his 100,000th page view with lakh. The Virtual Linguist discussed toad-eater and the origins of weird.

In words of the week, Word Spy spotted Skypesleep, “to create a Skype connection with a faraway partner and then fall asleep together”; Applepicking, “snatching a person’s iPhone, iPad, or iPod”; greentape, “excessive environmental regulations and guidelines that must be followed before an official action can be taken”; salmon, “to ride a bicycle against the flow of traffic”; and do-ocracy, “an organization or movement where power and respect go to people who get things done.”

Fritinancy’s weekly highlights were wazzock, “a stupid or annoying person; an idiot,” and the Dunning-Kruger Effect, “a cognitive bias that causes unskilled people to mistakenly rate their ability as much higher than average.” Erin McKean noted bombfellow, “the male equivalent of ‘bombshell’”; gu gu gu, “a Japanese onomatopoeia that denotes a sticking sensation”; and ambo, “a platform usually reserved for priests” but used by the band Pussy Riot for their performance in a church. McKean also came to terms with fashion terms at the San Francisco Chronicle.

While Lynneguist discussed the British English and American English differences in bed linens and other bedding accoutrements, Dialect Blog wondered if it should take a bath or have a bath. Dialect Blog also considered the Belfast accent and the Pennsylvania question. Meanwhile, Stanford linguists are trying to identify the California accent.

In books and writers, Publishers Weekly gave us eight areas of culture that Moby Dick influenced, and Infinite Boston maps the real-life places in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In music, we learned 23 adjectives that modify rock and a glossary of Mariah Carey’s 10-cent words. In health, we got behind the scenes in the naming of a drug and learned of a disease that could literally scare people to death.

We loved these decoded culinary secret codes and these literary devices found in science fiction. We were surprised to learn that OMG is 100 years old. We agree that actually is actually the worst word on the planet, but think that Trampire is also pretty bad. Finally, if you like limericks and grammar, you’re in luck: Lingua Franca is holding a contest! The deadline is next Friday, August 17.

See you next time!


Today’s word of the day is corker, a remarkable or astounding person or thing.

The history of corker is really about bottle corks and not about Irish from Cork. It means a settler, as in a thing which settles (a debate, wager, etc.), not a person who newly inhabits a mostly unpopulated area.

A corker is the last word on a topic. It is literally a “stopper” like a bottle stopper, only in this case it is a debate stopper. It is something so great that any talk further about it, or any attempt to identify a better example of such a thing, is pointless. A similar use is when people say “Put a cork in it!” meaning “stop talking!”

You can find an apt description of a slightly different way of using of “corker” in this dictionary of Sussex dialect from 1840: “I have given him a corker; ‘I have silenced him;’ I have closed up his mouth as effectually as a cork does a bottle.”

Wordnik word of the day: rux

Today’s word of the day is rux, meaning “to bother; fret; work (oneself) up.” Origin unknown but perhaps related to ruction, “a vexation or annoyance; also, a disturbance; a row or rumpus,” ruckus, “a disturbance; a commotion,” or one meaning of ruck: “a crowd or throng; especially, a closely packed and indiscriminate crowd or mass of persons or things; a jam; a press,” also known as a loose scrum in rugby.

Wordnik word of the day: billingsgate

Today’s word of the day is billingsgate, a noun meaning “profane or scurrilous language or abuse; blackguardism.” This curious word comes from Billingsgate, a London fish market described by Charles Dickens as “possessing a language of its own far more incisive and graphic than the ordinary vernacular” and “famous for that vivid interchange of vernacular pleasantry which will engraft its name in the English language for ages.” Dickens may yet be right, but usage of the common noun billingsgate grows exceedingly uncommon while the proper noun Billingsgate continues to thrive.