Word Buzz Wednesday: Cats Wednesday, sandwich class, Web brutalism

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Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: not a good day for cats; some Hong Kong lingo; brutally hip web design.

Cats Wednesday

“In those crueler times, hurling cats from a great height on what came to be known as ‘Cats Wednesday’ was apparently seen in Ypres as both a practical solution and a source of gruesome entertainment — the more so because popular superstitions linked cats to witchcraft and the devil.”

Patrick J. Lyons, “The Wrong Day to Be a Cat in Belgium,” The New York Times, May 10, 2016

If you were a cat in the Middle Ages, you’d probably want to stay away from Ypres, suggests The New York Times, at least on Wednesdays. A center for clothmaking, the town’s warehouses of wool and cloth drew mice and rats. To combat this, merchants brought in cats, which promptly over-multiplied, and to combat the over-population, the cats were (horribly) thrown from the top of a bell tower on a regular basis.

Cats Wednesday no longer exists of course, but every three years, Ypres holds the Kattenstoet, or Cat Parade, a cat-themed cultural festival. (The next one is May 13, 2018. Mark your calendars!)

sandwich class

“The multi-part study polled 688 people by phone or internet from the ‘sandwich class’ between May and December last year, asking them how they felt about their ability to handle stress.”

Ernest Kao, “Headaches, trembling hands, poor sleep, feeling worthless: Hong Kong’s middle-class mental health crisis,” South China Morning Post, May 2, 2016

Sandwich class is one of more than 30 East Asian terms that the Oxford English Dictionary has added to its corpus. Coming from Hong Kong English, sandwich class refers to the middle class, or the “squeezed middle class,” those who earn too much money to live in public housing yet can’t afford to buy private homes.

soap opera effect

“We go to watch a high-fidelity, high-frame-rate movie, think it looks eerily like a local television news show from our childhood, and discover that this is a well-noted phenomenon, called the ‘soap-opera effect.’”

Adam Gopnik, “Feel Me,” The New Yorker, May 16, 2016

Remember how The Hobbit looked so weird? That’s because of something called high frame rate, in the case of Peter Jackson’s film, 48 frames per second instead of the more usual 24 FPS, a technique that’s supposed to make for “very smooth slow-motion scenes,” sharper individual frames, and action scenes that are “smoother and more lifelike.”

However, shooting at a high frame rate might also result in the soap opera effect, a phenomenon in which a TV show or movie looks overly smooth and weirdly like a daytime soap opera. In case you were wondering why daytime soaps look the way they do, it’s basically because the actors are backlit and the shows were recorded on videotape.

Soap opera effect has a psychological meaning as well: when beliefs about characters’ motives color memory recall about those characters.


“Often they refer to themselves as part of ‘the Unger family,’ or sometimes just as ‘Ungers.’ More than one of them told me, ‘I’m an Unger.’ They realize they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Jason Fagone, “Meet the Ungers,” The Huffington Post, May 13, 2016

The Ungers are former prisoners with life sentences who have been given parole due to a legal loophole discovered by another “lifer,” Merle Unger, Jr. Unger, who had escaped from prison on multiple occasions, found that a colonial-era line of instruction to the jury — “it is your responsibility to determine for yourselves what the law is” — violated the constitutional rights of prisoners convicted before that instruction was removed in 1980.

Web brutalism

“The name of this school, if you could call it that, is ‘Web brutalism’ — and there’s no question that much of the recent interest stems from the work of Pascal Deville.”

Katherine Arcement, “The hottest trend in Web design is making intentionally ugly, difficult sites,” The Washington Post, May 9, 2016

The ugly Christmas sweater of web design, Web brutalism is deliberately unsightly, purposefully unusable, and unbearably hip. According to The Washington Post, it eschews “the templated, user-friendly interfaces that have long been the industry’s best practice,” and instead are “built on imperfect, hand-coded HTML and take their design cues from ’90s graphics.” Some examples include Drudge Report, Adult Swim, and Bloomberg features.