Word Buzz Wednesday: beat-deaf, Pointergate, shirtstorm


Last week we kicked off our new series, Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up five interesting words in the news. This week: -storms and -gates, comets, and an “incorrect” word that may or may not be the internet’s fault.


“It’s possible that once beat-deaf people mess up, they aren’t able to fix it and return to the right beat.”

Julie Beck, “2 Left Feet? You Might Be Beat-Deaf,” The Atlantic, November 11, 2014

“It’s got a good beat but I can’t dance to it” is the dilemma faced by the beat-deaf, according to a study done by McGill University. Besides dancing, the beat-deaf lack other “beat-based entertainment ability,” such as marching, rowing, and “clapping along at a concert.”

Being beat-deaf is akin to being tone-deaf, or “unable to distinguish differences in musical pitch.” Tone-deaf or having a tin ear also refers to being insensitive to others’ viewpoints and experiences, and failing to recognize the nuances in a politically charged situation.


“So you see this and you think… No, no way could ‘firstable’ actually be a thing. But it is. ‘Firstable’ is becoming a thing.”

Ryan Broderick, “People Are Actually Writing The Word ‘Firstable’ Online Instead Of ‘First Of All,’” BuzzFeed, November 11, 2014

Firstable, meant to be first of all, is an eggcorn, or “an alteration of a word or phrase through the mishearing or reinterpretation of one or more of its elements as a similar-sounding word,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. (Eggcorn, by the way, is itself an eggcorn of acorn.)

Mark Liberman at Language Log poses that the internet might not be to blame for this particular eggcorn as there are uses cited in the Eggcorns Database (yes, there is such a thing) going all the way back to 1996.

An eggcorn differs from a malapropism, which is a ludicrous misuse of a word to sound more intelligent.



“The Philae Lander made it to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but today may be its last day at work.”

Marissa Fessenden, “Philae Is Now Asleep,” Smithsonian.com, November 14, 2014

The Philae lander “achieved the first-ever controlled touchdown on a comet nucleus” on November 12, 2014, more than 10 years after launching from French Guiana with the Rosetta spacecraft.

The Philae — which has its own Twitter account — is named after the Philae obelisk, an obelisk found on Philae, an island in Lake Nasser of Egypt. The Rosetta spacecraft is named for the Rosetta stone, found in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta, also known as Rashid.

Just as the obelisk and stone unlocked the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Rosetta spacecraft and Philae lander were named with the idea of providing “a key to many questions about the origins of the solar system and, perhaps, life on Earth,” says Space.com.



“The controversy has a name, as all controversies do in this digital age: #Pointergate. And it’s been called the ‘most racist news story of 2014.’”

Alex Abad-Santos, “#Pointergate: what happened after the mayor of Minneapolis posed with a black man,” Vox, November 13, 2014

Like other gate compound words, Pointergate refers to a controversy, in this case, says Vox, a controversy regarding a picture of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and a constituent, in which said mayor is pointing at said constituent, who happens to be an African American man.

KSTP, a local ABC affiliate, claimed that the mayor was flashing “a ‘gang sign’ with a convicted felon,” which a retired police officer told KSTP showed that the mayor was “legitimizing gangs who are killing our children in Minneapolis.”

Abad-Santos of Vox debunks this by, well, pointing out that Mayor Hodges does a lot of pointing in pictures and that the constituent, a volunteer from a nonprofit agency, is “on probation for drug selling, possession, and illegal possession of a firearm, and ‘not killing ‘children in Minneapolis.’”



“Soon, comments about the shirt centered around the hashtag #shirtstorm. It also brought new attention to the hashtag #WomenInSTEM.”

Bill Chappell, “‘Shirtstorm’ Leads To Apology From European Space Scientist,” NPR, November 14, 2014

Shirtstorm refers to another controversy, this one around a shirt of scantily clad ladies worn by one of the leading scientists of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission. The wearing of said shirt caused a shitstorm of criticism on Twitter.

Shitstorm, a disastrous event, was coined by Norman Mailer in 1948, says the OED. Duden, Germany’s equivalent of the OED, added shitstorm in 2013.

[Photo: “Career-Limiting Move,” CC BY 2.0 by JD Hancock]
[Illustration: “Philae over a comet,” CC BY 3.0 DE by DLR German Aerospace Center]
[Screenshot: “Neighborhoods Organizing for Change,” via Vox]
[Photo: “Shirtstorm” via Rose Eveleth]