Word Buzz Wednesday: DUSTWUN, geocryologist, popcorn lung

meandering in the Arctic

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: a military acronym; real-life Doctor Freeze; and a rare disease.


DUSTWUN, a name taken from the clunky abbreviation for the term ‘duty status whereabouts unknown’, starts with Koenig describing the video of Bergdahl’s return.”

Lanre Bakare, “Serial recap – season two episode one: DUSTWUN,The Guardian, December 10, 2015

Podheads everywhere can rejoice: Serial is back. This season takes a look at the case of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier captured in Afghanistan in 2009 and released in 2014 in exchange for five Guantánamo Bay prisoners. Bergdahl is also facing a court-martial on desertion charges.

The first episode of this season’s Serial is called DUSTWUN, an acronym that is basically the army’s version of “man overboard.” The term also evokes the image of the dust of the Afghan desert, as well as perhaps the idea of Bergdahl disappearing one day like dust in the wind (sorry Kansas haters).


“When I spoke with him at VICE’s Toronto office in October, the permafrost scientist—also known as a geocryologist, currently stationed at Moscow State University—told me that he’s feeling just fine.”

Jordan Pearson, “Meet the Scientist Who Injected Himself with 3.5 Million-Year-Old Bacteria,” Motherboard, December 9, 2015

Permafrost is “permanently frozen subsoil, occurring throughout the Polar Regions and locally in perennially frigid areas.” Geocryology is the study of those frozen subsoils and what may be found there, such as ancient bacteria. Anatoli Brouchkov, the geocryologist of the article, has injected himself with such a type of bacteria in order to study its effects on human longevity.

popcorn lung

“This week, new research from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that the flavorings in some types of e-cigarettes contain chemicals that have been linked to a rare disease called ‘popcorn lung.’”

Julia Belluz, “Some e-cigarettes contain chemicals that cause ‘popcorn lung,’” Vox, December 9, 2015

Popcorn lung is so-called because it was first witnessed in people who worked in factories that made microwave popcorn. Symptoms included wheezing and shortness of breath, says Vox, which doctors found was due to “permanent lung damage” caused by diacetyl, “the chemical that adds that buttery flavor and smell to popcorn.” Now research is suggesting that some e-cigarette flavorings are causing the same damage.


“The researchers found that the power of this ‘slacktivism’ lies in the large number of users who engaged with the causes online.”

Kate Groetzinger, “Slacktivism is having a powerful real-world impact, new research shows,” Quartz, December 10, 2015

Slacktivism, a blend of slacker and activism, is a kind of 21st-century armchair activism very much tied to the Internet, says Quartz. A recent study showed that using social media tools like Twitter to carry out messages of protests such as Arab Spring and #BlackLivesMatter is integral to turning those protests into movements and prolonging their lifespans.

The term slacker might seem quintessential 1990s, but it originated in 1898 with basically the same meaning, someone who shirks responsibility. The word gained popularity during World War I when it came to mean a military draft dodger.


“In typical Softboy fashion, [Zayn Malik is] generous — he bought his parent’s house for them, and he funds his cousin’s private school education. He prefers to call his fans ‘passionate’ as opposed to crazy.”

Fariha Roisin, “Soft Power,” Medium, December 8, 2015

The Softboy, a term coined by writer Alan Hanson, is in opposition to the Fuckboy, who’s all and only about — well you know. The Softboy is “Nice yet Complicated,” “sensitive yet amusingly crass,” artistic, aware, and “still a dick.”

Rosin asserts that the Softboy image of ex-One Directioner Zayn Malik is powerful because “Muslim men aren’t ever seen as Softboys.”