Word Buzz Wednesday: Calexit, bellwether, moon illusion

supermoon - mannequin

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: California, there you go?; the sheep leader; and at least the moon was nice this week.


“On social media, the hashtag #Calexit took off, echoing the British decision to leave the European Union.”

Mike McPhate, “California Today: Secessionist Groups Seize the Moment,” The New York Times, November 10, 2016

Calexit refers to a secessionist movement in the Golden State. It’s a blend of California and exit, and plays off Brexit and Grexit.


“So in politics, the bellwether is a state that signals the direction of the whole flock of states. Thus, we used to say, long ago, as Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

Ron Elving, “A Bellwether Refresher: The States Most Likely To Mirror National Election Outcome,” NPR, November 6, 2016

A bellwether is “one that serves as a leader or as a leading indicator of future trends.” It comes from the original meaning of “a wether or sheep which leads the flock, usually carrying a bell on its neck.” Wether comes from an Old English word that means “ram.”


“Articulating the fear that a lot of Democrats are feeling at the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, Van Jones called the election results a ‘whitelash.’”

Josiah Ryan, “‘This was a whitelash’: Van Jones’ take on the election results,” CNN, November 9, 2016

The term whitelash was coined by activist and commentator Van Jones. Whitelash might be a play on blacklash, itself a play on backlash.

moon illusion

“This is because of something called a ‘moon illusion.’ When the moon is close to the horizon, it looks unnaturally large compared to trees and houses.”

Danika Worthington, “Everything you need to know to enjoy the supermoon Sunday night,” Denver Post, November 12, 2016

The moon illusion is an optical illusion attributed to how we perceive the sky, horizon, and celestial bodies, and the “size-forcing” our brains create, says Sky and Telescope. In fourth century B.C., Aristotle noted “the apparent hugeness of the horizon-hugging Moon,” which back then “was attributed to magnification by the atmosphere.”


“Its official name is the perigee-syzygy, meaning the moon is both full and closest to Earth. But many call it the supermoon.”

Bill Chappell, “Closest Supermoon Since 1948 Arrives Monday: Tips On Seeing And Photographing It,” NPR, November 13, 2016

One meaning of perigee is “the point, in an orbit about the Earth, that is closest to the Earth,” while the moon sense of syzygy refers to “either of two points in the orbit of the moon when the moon lies in a straight line with the sun and Earth.”

Both words are Greek in origin, perigee coming from a term that means “near the earth,” and syzygy from one that means “yoked together.”