Word Buzz Wednesday: consistent universe, novelty bonus, secretary problem


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: you can’t change the past; the novelty of newness; the problem with secretaries.

consistent universe

“The consistent universe is an interesting device because we feel deep discomfort at not being able to change the course of events through our choices.”

Xaq Rzetelny, “Trek at 50: The quest for a unifying theory of time travel in Star Trek,” Ars Technica, February 12, 2016

The consistent universe is a time travel device used in science fiction to refer to a world in which history can’t be rewritten and any attempts to do so simply become part of the timeline. The opposite of the consistent universe is the ever-changing timeline (think Back to the Future).


“They created a version of Danish that contains words and intonations from Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. In Denmark, this dialect is called gadesprog, or ‘street language.’”

Michael Erard, “The reason you discriminate against foreign accents starts with what they do to your brain,” Quartz, February 25, 2016

Other “street” dialects in Europe include Kiezdeutsch in Germany and Rinkeby Swedish in Sweden, named “after an immigrant neighborhood of Stockholm,” says Quartz.

novelty bonus

“Brain studies suggest that this ‘novelty bonus’—the additional weight we give to new options—stems at least in part from the euphoric feeling it gives us.”

Zach St. George, “Curiosity Depends on What You Already Know,” Nautilus, February 25, 2016

The novelty bonus is the value added to an option by virtue of its newness. Such a value can erode as the option becomes familiar.

secretary problem

“The math problem is known by a lot of names – ‘the secretary problem,’ ‘the fussy suitor problem,’ ‘the sultan’s dowry problem’ and ‘the optimal stopping problem.’”

Ana Swanson, “When to stop dating and settle down, according to math,” The Washington Post, February 16, 2016

The secretary problem involves the idea of “settling” for a choice when possibly a better choice is still yet to come. In the rather old-fashioned scenario, a boss interviewing applicants for a secretary position must determine the best option among both seen and unseen applicants.

Super Tuesday

“For Democrats, there are an additional 150 unpledged delegates, otherwise known as ‘superdelegates,’ in Super Tuesday states.”

Domenico Montanaro, “Super Tuesday: Here’s What You Need to Know,” NPR, February 28, 2016

It’s the season of presidential election parlance. First we discussed the Iowa caucus; today it’s Super Tuesday. On Super Tuesday, which was this week, “more states vote and more delegates are at stake than on any other single day in the presidential primary campaign,” says NPR. These primary elections will be held in 13 states, “plus the territory of American Samoa and Democrats Abroad.”