Word Buzz Wednesday: Becky, Dunbar layers, woonerf

London, UK (Camden)

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: she of the good hair; layers of friends; a living street.


“‘He better call Becky with the good hair.’ And with those eight words, Beyoncé launched a firestorm Saturday. Who is Becky?”

Cara Kelly, “What does Becky mean? Here’s the history behind Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ lyric that sparked a firestorm,” USA Today, April 27, 2016

The term Becky refers to a usually white woman woman who engages in certain sex acts, as well as the sex act itself. USA Today takes a creative, if speculative, look back Becky’s cultural references, from Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, to Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to the titular Rebecca in Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel. Becky referring to a sex act was most likely originated by rapper Plies in his 2010 song “Becky.”

Dunbar layers

“There are some differences between introverts and extroverts, but they have the same number of what’s called the ‘Dunbar layers.’”

Mariella Moon, “Phone call study concludes we can only have five best friends,” Engadget, May 1, 2016

Dunbar layers are named for British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who posited that we can only have at maximum 150 friends, whether online or IRL, and that those friends are divided by layers, five in the closest layer, 10 in the next, 35 in the next, and 100 in the last.


“The correct answer – Kriol – is not a traditional Indigenous language, but refers to the creole language spoken across swathes of northern Australia.”

Greg Dickson, “Explainer: the largest language spoken exclusively in Australian Kriol,” The Sydney Morning Herald, May 2, 2016

The term Kriol is a variant of the English creole. While many might associate creole with Louisiana, it’s actually a general term referring to any language “born out of abrupt and often brutal colonisation processes,” says the Sydney Morning Herald, and is often based on the colonizers’ dominant language, also known as the lexifier. Australian Kriol has an estimated 20,000 speakers.


“But a new theory of public health might yet hold the answer. Known as syndemics, it may also be the one thing that can rescue Austin and its people.”

Jessica Wapner, “How Did A Small Midwest Town End Up With America’s Worst HIV Problem?” Digg, May 3, 2016

Coined by medical anthropologist Merrill Singer, the term syndemic is a blend of synergy and epidemic, and describes “the synergistic intertwining of certain problems,” such as substance abuse, violence, and HIV/AIDs (also known as SAVA), and violence, immigration, depression, diabetes and abuse (VIDDA).


Woonerf means ‘living street’ and it’s where cars, cyclists, and people share the same space.”

Bailey Deitz, “Rock Island to seek grant money for downtown ‘woonerf’ project,” KWQC, May 2, 2016

Woonerf is a Dutch term that was coined in the 1960s, says The New York Times. The woonerf is a shared space for “pedestrians, cyclists, children and, in some cases, for slow-moving, cautiously driven cars.” Human interaction is encouraged: without traffic lights, stop signs, lane dividers, or sidewalks, woonerf-ers are forced to be aware of others, and to “make eye contact and engage in person-to-person interactions.”