Word Buzz Wednesday: farb, Hummers, war-driving

civil war reenactment at antietam

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a sartorial sin against history, a noisy conspiracy theory, life imitates the movies.


“The result is titled ‘Bankspeak,’ a play on doublespeak, referring to language that is intentionally ambiguous, meant to obscure or confuse.”

Patricia Cohen, “At the World Bank, a Shortage of Concrete (Language),” The New York Times, April 14, 2016

Researchers conducted an analysis of “more than 65 years of the [World Bank’s] annual reports” and “found a sharp decline in factual precision.” In precision’s place is something that the researchers call “management discourse, a bureaucratic gobbledygook whose meaning is hard to decipher.” Instead of specificities, the language “remains at a more abstract level.”

The term doublespeak was coined in the 1950s and modeled on Newspeak, the euphemistic and propaganda-rife language of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, and by extension any euphemistic or deliberately ambiguous language.


“Your quintessential farb might spend all weekend talking on a cell phone, or wear a jumble of mismatched ‘old timey’ costume pieces from different decades.”

Romie Stott, “The Historical Reenactor Accuracy Wars,” Atlas Obscura, April 13, 2016

Farb is historical reenactor slang for someone whose gear and clothing are not just inaccurate but “a sin against history,” says Atlas Obscura. The term was “most likely invented” in the 1960s by the First Maryland “Blackhat” Regiment, which was led by Gerry Rolph, a German teacher. Farb means “color” in German and refers to the Blackhats mocking other units for their “too-colorful uniforms.”

(H/t John Durvin.)


Hijras call themselves she-males and effigies, as well askwaja sera, or the ‘guards of the harem,’ a title that recalls their historical role serving monarchs in the region.”

Zehra Rehman, “The secret language of South Asia’s transgender community,” Quartz, April 15, 2016

Hijra members can be found in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, and “identify as men born with the souls of women.” While they dress like women, “no physical transition or change is required to be inducted into the community.” Many identify as neither male nor female but as a “third gender.”


“Everybody who has tinnitus complains at first of environmental noise. ‘Hummers’ are a group of people who cannot accept that they have tinnitus.”

Colin Dickey, “A Maddening Sound,” New Republic, April 8, 2016

Hummers are those who who claim to constantly hear a low humming noise that others can’t hear. The sound has been described as “a low, distant rumbling, like an idling diesel engine,” which is most easily heard at night and indoors and has no obvious source.


“[A company] can ‘war-drive,’ sending cars around the U.S. looking for open wifi networks, getting those networks’ IP addresses, and recording their physical locations.”

Kashmir Hill, “How an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell,” Fusion, April 10, 2016

War-driving is a “computer cracking technique,” says Word Spy, that involves driving around with a wireless-enabled computer and “mapping houses and businesses that have wireless access points.”

The term comes from war dialing, which is “automatically calling thousands of telephone numbers to look for any that have a modem attached.” That term comes from the 1983 movie WarGames, in which Matthew Broderick’s character practices war dialing to look for games.