Word Buzz Wednesday: fetal microchimerism, Frankenvirus, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, in which we round up our favorite buzzworthy words of the week. The latest: a fetus after my own heart; a monster of a virus; and a troellau tafod of a Welsh town name.

compulsive decluttering

“Unlike hoarding, which was officially reclassified as a disorder in 2013, compulsive decluttering doesn’t appear as its own entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM); instead, it’s typically considered a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

Leslie Garrett, “The Opposite of Hoarding,” The Atlantic, September 7, 2015

Compulsive decluttering, as the title of the article says, is the opposite of hoarding and more than just “tidying up.”

Some of those afflicted go as far as to “eschew lamps” and live in “semi-darkness.” One psychologist describes her patients as “jittery and irritable,” and “not comfortable until everything in [her office] is in order.” Some patients say that “if they see things that should be thrown out” they experience a “tightness in their chest,” alleviated only “by getting rid of the offending objects.”

It’s suggested that the affliction often goes undiagnosed due at least in part to the recent rise of the decluttering movement.

fetal microchimerism

Fetal microchimerism has been found in a number of mammal species, including dogs, mice and cows. It’s likely that fetal cells have been a part of maternal life for tens of millions of years.”

Carl Zimmer, “A Pregnancy Souvenir: Cells That Are Not Your Own,” The New York Times, September 10, 2015

Discovered in the 1990s, fetal microchimerism refers to when fetal cells “escape from the uterus and spread through a mother’s body.” Scientists named the phenomenon after the chimera, a fire-breathing lion-goat-dragon combo-monster from Greek myth.

So what happens to these fetal cells? While some eventually disappear, some travel to the heart and become heart tissue. Others end up in the brain. Recent studies have found that microchimerism affects women’s health one way or another, either driving cancer (fetal cells are often found in tumors) or protecting women from the disease.

(H/t Edward Banatt.)


“The virus is called Mollivirus sibericum, which means soft Siberian virus, but lay observers have quickly dubbed it ‘Frankenvirus’.”

Marcus Strom, “Prehistoric ‘Frankenvirus’ Mollivirus sibericum uncovered in Siberian permafrost,” The Sydney Morning Herald, September 9, 2015

This giant virus, which had “lain frozen under the Siberian tundra for 30,000 years,” was recently revived by scientists. Mollivirus sibericum is a “monster” compared to other viruses: it has 523 genetic proteins as opposed to the flu virus’s paltry 11.

However, unlike the flu virus, the Frankenvirus isn’t harmful to humans or animals, although the fact that it could be “easily revived from prehistoric permafrost should be of concern in [the] context of global warming,” scientists say.

The prefix Franken- comes from Frankenstein, synonymous with Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, a kind of golem made up of different body parts. While Frankenvirus uses Franken- to suggest bigness, the prefix is often used to imply a mishmash of unlike elements. For example, Frankenfood refers to genetically modified food; frankenword, a blend or portmanteau; and Frankenstorm, otherwise known as Hurricane or Superstorm Sandy, a devastating “winter storm hybrid.”

Homo naledi

“That gap was all that separated them from the bones of a new species of ancient human, or hominin, which the team named Homo naledi after a local word for ‘star.’”

Ed Yong, “6 Tiny Cavers, 15 Odd Skeletons, and 1 Amazing New Species of Ancient Human,” The Atlantic, September 10, 2015

Homo naledi is “a creature with a baffling mosaic of features,” says science writer Ed Yong. Some of these features are “remarkably similar to modern humans” while others are more like those of apes.

What’s astonishing about this recent find is the magnitude: about 1,550 fossil fragments belonging to at least 15 skeletons. Finding one complete skeleton of a new human species “would be hitting the paleoanthropological jackpot,” while finding 15 of is the equivalent of “nuking the jackpot from orbit.”

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgoger ychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Wales was recently one of the warmest places in the U.K. but the presenter for Channel 4 News executed the pronunciation of the tongue-twister town like a boss.”

Jessica Durando, “Weatherman pronounces tongue-twister U.K. town,” USA Today, September 10, 2015

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a town on the Welsh island of Anglesey, was once known as the shorter Llanfairpwllgwyngyll but, according to travel maven Rick Steves, was lengthened as a joke in the 1880s in an attempt to attract tourists. The name translates as “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the red cave.”

While Llanfair PG, as it’s often shortened, is the longest town name in Europe, says Steves, it’s not the longest in the world. That honor belongs to a town in Thailand: Krungthepmahanakornamornratanakosinmahintarayutthayamahadilokphopnop- paratrajathaniburiromudomrajaniwesmahasatharnamornphimarnavatarnsathitsakkattiyavisanukamprasit.

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2 thoughts on “Word Buzz Wednesday: fetal microchimerism, Frankenvirus, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

  1. Normally I wouldn’t fuss about this, but this is a dictionary site. There’s no reason to add a space before “gogogoch”, and (as is not widely understood) ‘hollow of the white hazel’ is actually a proper name, Pwllgwyngyll, referring to the original tref (Welsh for ‘township’).

    In addition, Krungthep etc. etc. is more commonly known as Bangkok, originally a nickname that became widely used among foreigners. The full form Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit (Thai does not use spaces between words when written in the Thai script) describes its attributes as a royal capital, and can be translated ‘city of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest’. There is a song to help Thai children remember it.

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