Word Buzz Wednesday: Pittsburgh potty, akiya, devil’s venom


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a mysterious toilet, abandoned homes, dangerous rocket fuel.

Pittsburgh potty

“We’re talking about the so-called Pittsburgh potty, a mysterious amenity found in the basements of some older houses.”

Rheana Murray, “What the heck is a ‘Pittsburgh potty’ and why is it in your basement?” TODAY, October 26, 2017

In addition to being in the basement, says TODAY, the Pittsburgh potty has “no walls for privacy, no sinks for hand-washing.” It’s “just a toilet, out in the open.”

There are a couple of different theories behind its origin. One has to do with “Pittsburgh’s history in the steel industry,” and says that “steel workers could come home from work, clean themselves off, change clothes and use the Pittsburgh potty before going upstairs to have dinner with the family,” rather than “tracking dust and dirt throughout the house.”

Another says the toilets, “usually found in pre-World War II houses, were actually there to prevent sewage backups in the nice part of the home.”

frustrated magnet

“Just like the three toddlers constantly grabbing the two toys from one another’s fingers, the electrons constantly force one another to flip their spin direction. This is what’s called a ‘frustrated magnet’.”

Cathal O’Connell, “Spin doctors summon coppers in quantum computing caper,” Cosmos, October 27, 2017

Using the idea of frustrated magnetism, says Cosmos, “physicists recently discovered a new state of matter” called “quantum spin liquid.” The other known states of matter are solids, liquids, gases, plasma, and Bose-Einstein condensates.


“Our parents always implicated if we didn’t say our prayers at night the ‘Kooshma’ would come and get us.”

Kendria LaFleur, “Medical explanation for Cajun Folklore known as ‘Kooshma‘,” KATC, October 30, 2017

According to Cajun folklore, the Kooshma is a devil-like creature that visits sleepers, rendering them paralyzed. However, the cause may actually be sleep paralysis, says KATC. The work Kooshma might come from the French cauchemar, “nightmare.”


“Many of Japan’s 8 million ghost homes—or akiya—are often left empty indefinitely.”

Isabella Steger, “Abandoned land in Japan will be the size of Austria by 2040,” Quartz, October 26, 2017

The cause of the increased number of akiya, says Quartz, is Japan’s “dwindling population.” After the homeowner dies, “it’s difficult to track down the heir to the property to proceed with any action like tearing down the building,” and even “where homes have identifiable heirs, they are often unable to sell because there’s a lack of interested buyers” since “many of these houses are in rural areas or suburbs” which is “unattractive to young buyers.” Moreover, Japanese people are “reluctant to buy second-hand homes.” While 90% of houses sold in the US and the UK have been lived in before, only 15% in Japan have.

devil’s venom

“North Korea may already be producing its own supplies of a rare, potent rocket fuel known as ‘devil’s venom’ to power its long range missiles.”

Nicola Smith, “North Korea may be producing rare rocket fuel also known as ‘devil’s venom’,” The Telegraph, October 26, 2017

Apparently coined by Soviet rocket scientists, devil’s venom refers to a “liquid rocket fuel composed of a dangerous combination of nitric acid and hydrazine.”