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Published: Monday, January 23, 2017 4:09:40 AM

Last Build Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2017 11:25:22 GMT


Friday words 2017-01-20

Fri, 20 Jan 2017 11:25:22 GMT

Friday! Meaning it's time again to share some words. For new(-to-me) words today I've got two that I harvested in 2016, but that might have some contemporary relevance, you decide.

(image) The first is outrage porn, which is media (I think we want to stay from the word news) whose purpose is primarily to stir outrage. Entire TV networks seem to be devoted to this, and of course anyone who's got a political opinion can get an endless stream of outrage porn on their Facebook feed. The term is credited to Tim Kreider, writing in 2009 in the New York Times. (FWIW, he doesn't use quotation marks, which are often put around new terms. Just sayin'.) Using the word porn in this compound is clever; as Michael Austin notes, outrage porn "provides all of the sensations of a strong emotion without incurring any of the costs."

Part two of our related terms this week is rage profiteer. This term is slightly more recent—2014, it looks like? (A variant is rage farmer.) As you might guess, this is someone who …
… pretends to care passionately about certain causes but in fact thrives on regression, controversy or bad news because it gives them an excuse step into the limelight.
This definition is courtesy of Ryan Holiday in The Observer, who has written multiple times about these related phenomena.

Just reading about these terms makes me tired. So let's turn to something more fun, namely word history.


Friday words, 2017-01-14

Sat, 14 Jan 2017 08:48:46 GMT

I missed last week due to being at a linguistics conference, but while I was there I picked up another batch of language-related terms:These are well known to real linguists (I presume), but new to me.

Anyway, those aside, it's time for another Saturday edition of Friday words (oops). Oh, and PS, Happy New Year!

The first new-to-me word this week (leaving aside the list above) is wikidrift, which defines a situation I am all too familiar with. This is the practice of (or game of, if one does it with intent) following links in Wikipedia from article to article. The drift part alludes to the notion of moving further and further away from the original starting point. A supposed outcome of unlimited wikidrift is that one eventually gets to the topic on philosophy.

(image) My second term for this week is white-labeling, which came up at work recently. This is not a new term, and I'm a bit surprised I'd never heard it. (That I know of.) To white-label [more]

Friday words, 2016-12-31

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 13:41:56 GMT

Friday words! On Saturday! Another leap Friday, I guess. I should note also that I deliberately skipped last week, because it was Christmas and all the new-to-me words were just so bleak that I seemed like a downer. But things are looking up today.

Speaking of which, the new-to-me word today is supertentorial. This is a medical term, but that's not the most interesting part. So, first, the tentorium cerebelli is a bit of dura mater[1]—tissue—that separates the lower and higher parts of the brain. That is, it separates the cerebellum from the cerebrum. Supertentorial, where super is "above," means something that's occurring above this divider, like a tumor.

(image) Already we've learned something new! But wait, there's more. I was listening to a podcast on The Allusionist, where Helen Zaltzman was talking to Dr. Isaac Siemens about, among other things, doctor jargon. Along the way, he talked about jargon that medical people use to hide what they're saying from civilians. One of those was this word supertentorial, which doctors will sometimes use to mean that it's all in the patient's head. ("The condition appears to be supertentorial.") My wife, who's also in the medical field, totally confirmed this. Of course, this strategy backfires if the patient happens to be a native speaker of Latin.

For etymology, I actually have a (belated) holiday term of sorts. At the specific request of one my kids, for Christmas dinner every year I make flan for dessert. Flan is a kind of custard, which in the Spanish style has a dripping caramel crown:


But whence [more]

Friday words, 2016-12-16

Fri, 16 Dec 2016 06:08:10 GMT

Things you might not know: December 16 is Beethoven's birthday. Things you probably do know: today is Friday, so it must be another day for words!

The new-to-me term this week is scrollytelling. This describes a way of presenting information on a webpage that lets users scroll around, dynamically revealing parts of the story. A good example is a page in the New York Times about climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park:

Update 19 Dec 2016 I found an even better example of scrollytelling, a viz that shows maritime traffic around San Francisco Bay:


The term scrollytelling is yet another portmanteau (a theme lately, it seems), which of course blends scrolling with storytelling. I got this term by reading a document at work, but once I went delving, I found that it's so well known that there's even a company named Scrollytelling that offers "a full-service storytelling agency and worldwide storytelling platform." Ok, then.

Bonus term: steppers. This is a different take on storytelling, where you, well, step through the story in discrete parts. A somewhat cranky blog post [more]

Friday words, 2016-12-09

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 09:00:35 GMT

I seem to have picked up the cold that's been slaying the ranks at work, bah. But the words must go on! Albeit with reduced energy.

The new-to-me word today is quite delightful. I'll do this a little backward, which will make sense in a moment. First, what is this thing—that is, what's the name of the collection of spikes found on the tail of a stegosaurus?

Apparently this particular, um, feature of stegosauruses has not been formally labeled. However, in some circles, at least, this collection is called a thagomizer.

Fun-sounding name, eh? That shouldn't be surprising, as it turns out, because the term was invented by the cartoonist Gary Larson in this very panel:


Thagomizer doesn't appear in the usual dictionaries, but it's in Urban Dictionary and in Wikipedia. Baby steps on the way to full lexical respectability.

As an aside, I got all this from an article in Mental Floss about Gary Larson. This is merely one of eleven "twisted" facts! Go read about the others!

(image) For etymology today, we have infant. This one was interesting to me because the word uses a prefix that's quite common (namely, in-), but I'd never grokked that. Anyway, infant [more]

Friday words, 2016-12-02

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:19:34 GMT

Friday words! Here we are in December, which etymology tells us is the tenth month. Ahem.

Today's new-to-me word skirts a politically hot topic, but let's stick here with words. The term is Trumpgrets, a portmanteau of Trump+regret(s). The context, which got a splash of attention this week, was a Tumblr blog that posts tweets from people who seem to report regrets about voting for Trump.

(image) The word Trumpgret follows the idea, if not the pattern, of Regrexit, a term coined for people in the UK who seemed to regret voting for Brexit. Note that Regrexit is a double portmanteau—regret+Brexit; Brexit in turn is a mashup of British+exit [from the EU].

I personally find the word Trumpgrets a little awkward. The pattern is morphologically valid, but perhaps it’s the p followed immediately by the g that makes it ever so slightly difficult to pronounce. Whatever.

Anyway, Brexit and then Regrexit seemed to have kicked off a spate of blending, including Brexhausted, Brexodous, and Bremain, as rounded up on the Language Log. It would not surprise me to find people experimenting with more Trump-based blends, though of course with Trump we don't have the -ex- part to play with.

Update, 3 Dec: Once I started keeping an eye out, I found more examples of Trump-based blends. So far, I've got Trumpcast (Trump+[pod]cast [more]

Friday words, 2016-11-25

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 16:20:48 GMT

Black Friday! Be sure to take advantage of our door-busting specials on words!

(image) The first new-to-me-word today is pretty politically wonkish: the Thucydides Trap. Thucydides was a Greek military commander who wrote a history of the Peloponnesian War, which pitted Athens against Sparta in the 5th century B.C. Inspired by the nature of this conflict, the political scientist Graham Allison coined the phrase Thucydides Trap in 2012 to describe the inevitable (?) conflict that will occur between a rising state (historically, Athens) and an established power (Sparta). I was reading a couple of articles about China this week (example), and Thucydides Trap appeared in both of them. You will undoubtedly be able to deduce which modern states correspond to Thucydides's players.

(image) For a second new-to-me word, and on a tack more appropriate for a cooking-focused holiday, I recently learned the word autolysis or autolyze. This refers to a biochemical process in which tissue breaks down—autolysis literally means "self"+"breakdown." I ran across it while perusing some holiday recipes, and discovered that it's a term and technique that shows up a lot in instructions for making different types of bread. In that context, an autolyze period is one in which you let a dough rest to allow it to break down some of the starch.


Friday words, 2016-11-18

Fri, 18 Nov 2016 13:51:49 GMT

Friday words! I observe belatedly that I've passed the one-year mark on this little exercise. And apparently there are still words out there that are new to me.

(image) The new-to-me word today is a problem that might be the secret shame of many: precrastination. (Which, no surprise, spell-check wants to change to procrastination.) Precrastination is defined as "the tendency to complete, or at least begin, tasks as soon as possible, even at the expense of extra physical effort," per an article in The Atlantic that discusses this tendency. More succinctly, it refers to a tendency to get something over with as soon as possible. One example of precrastination that resonates with me is just parking in the first available slot, even if it means a longer walk to the store.

The word seems to have been invented in 2014, possibly for a paper in Psychological Science that studied the behavior. I saw it only this week in an ad for motorcycle gear that urged me to avoid last-minute shopping. (To my mind, they're not using pre-crastinate in its intended sense, but hey … ads.) It occurs to me that if I'm seeing a word for the first time in an advertisement, I am definitely behind the curve on that one.

For etymology, I have a follow-up to last week's word, bacteria, where I wondered if we had other words in English that shared the Greek root bakter [more]

Friday words, 2016-11-11

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 17:17:43 GMT

I just spent about a week in Austin, TX. I was hoping for some fun dialectical exposure, but it seems that most of the people I interacted with weren't actually from Texas. Still, there are always new words, aren't there.

The first word today is something I ran across while investigating last week's words. It struck me because we have a set of conference rooms at work where people, even people who've worked in the building a while, frequently can't figure out whether to push or pull them.

Turns out that there is (of course) a name for this: these are Norman doors. This is a door where "the design tells you to do the opposite of what you're actually supposed to do." A second definition is "a door that gives the wrong signal and needs a sign to correct it."

In this expression, Norman refers not to, like, William the Conqueror, but to Donald Norman, whose book The Design of Everyday Things is a kind of popular bible for understanding, well, the design of everyday things. There’s a blog entry on the Nielsen site by Norman himself that discusses this very issue of poor door design. Here's a video done by some folks at Vox that illustrates the problem and gets some commentary from Norman himself:

width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>

According to an entry for Norman doors [more]

Friday words, 2016-11-04

Fri, 04 Nov 2016 09:45:25 GMT

Happy Friday, words peeps. After last week's catch-up opus, I'm going to keep this one short (for me), even tho my collection keeps growing.

The first new-to-me term is yet another new entry in my growing collection of laws, effects, and principles: the cheerleader effect. Just from the name, it might not be easy to guess what this describes. According to the article where I learned about it, the cheerleader effect explains that "individual faces appear more attractive when presented in a group than when presented alone." IOW, you'll look better in a group photo. Is the theory.

(image) Trying to track down the origin of this term is a little frustrating, because many sources say that it was coined "by Barney Stinson, a character on the TV show How I Met Your Mother," going back to an episode from 2008 of that show. But TV characters don't invent things, and I have not yet found something that indicates where the show's writers might have gotten the term. I mean, maybe they invented it, but if so, it would be good to get that credited.

Anyway, using the term cheerleader for the effect here is an interesting choice, in that it seems to allude to looking at (and judging the attractiveness of) groups of women specifically. For example, one source I found says that other names for this effect are the Bridesmaid Paradox and Sorority Girl Syndrome. Is there a variant of this name that is gender neutral? Operators are standing by.

(image) [more]

Friday words, 2016-10-29

Sat, 29 Oct 2016 12:38:08 GMT

Boy, it's been some kinda weeks—we're gearing up for the annual conference at work, plus my wife and I cleared and vacated the house for five days so the floors could be redone. The words keep coming, tho, even if they have to be squeezed in late. Hence a larger edition than normal today.

(image) The first new-to-me term this time is patriot correctness, which I heard on an episode of This American Life, where Ira Glass defined it as …
… like political correctness, but the right-wing version of that. Like if you say that there is no flood of immigrants coming across the border, well, that is just out of bounds. That's not something you say. You are not patriotically correct.
The earliest reference to patriot correctness that I found was from 2011, in a piece where the author (Tim Wise) says "[something] that we might label 'patriot correctness.'" I would not be surprised if there are earlier cites. When I searched for this term, I found that it's also known as conservative correctness, which Michael Fauntroy says he coined in 2004.

Both terms are angry ones. They're intended to be negative, a reaction by left-leaning people to having the term political correctness [more]

Friday words, 2016-10-13

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 23:55:45 GMT

Friday words! We had a hiatus last week due to work, so much of it. But we're back, with extra wordy word fun.

The first new-to-me word is a word that's common enough, but that I saw used in a new way. Here's the cite where I found it, which appeared in an article in Wired about Google's new Noto font:
Something funny happens when your computer or phone can’t display a font: A blank rectangular box pops up in place of the missing glyph. This little box is called .notdef, or “not defined,” in coder lingo, but everyone else just calls it tofu.
Perhaps you've seen this. Here's an example in a jokey context:

One of the design goals for the new font is that it has glyphs for so many characters that when designers use the font, users should never see the little tofu box, no matter what language the text is in.

The scope of the "everyone else" who uses tofu in this sense is perhaps generously imagined here, but it's not untrue that people in the Unicode community use it. There aren't a huge number of references, but there's an Adobe blog entry (I think it is) from May, 2016, and another blog entry on the Keyman site that both use tofu with this meaning. And then there is the fact that Google itself says that the name "Noto" conveys the idea of "no more tofu."


Friday words, 2016-09-30

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 08:32:22 GMT

Today we have our final Friday words for September 2016. As if that were significant.

The first new-to-me word this week is Droste effect, which refers to a kind of visual recursion. A picture here is worth a couple dozen words:


Note that the woman in the picture is holding a tray that has package that shows a woman holding a tray that has a package that …

You probably noticed that the image here has "Droste" splashed across it. Droste was (is?) the name of a chocolate powder product from Holland. So it's an example of a specific instance of the phenomenon becoming the name of the phenomenon. (Is there a name for that?)

As sometimes happens, I was familiar with the concept without knowing that there was a word for it. I remember being fascinated by this idea when I was a young lad, because I had some … thing … that had this type of recursive image on a package logo. Whatever—I learned this word from an article on that addressed itself to some linguistic ideas that have recently been in the news, including linguistic recursion.

As an aside, at work we use a lot of video conferencing, and it's easy for people to get into a video version of the Droste effect—for example, when someone shares their screen which shows the meeting, which shows someone sharing their screen, which …

And on to surprising etymology. Recently I was looking into how words that are acceptable can become tainted (a process referred to as pejoration). In my wanderings I encountered idiot [more]

Friday words roundup

Sat, 24 Sep 2016 10:30:28 GMT

Every Friday, more or less, I add a post here that talks about a new word and an etymology. The new word is only warranted to be new to me; it's pretty rare that the word is new-new, and in fact it might be quite old. For the etymology, I focus on word origins that are surprising (to me) or delightful (to me).

As a quick reference for you and for me, here's a list of everything I've posted.

Date Word(s) Unexpected etymology
20 Jan 2017outrage porn, rage profiteergun
14 Jan 2017wikidrift, to white-labelmyriad
31 Dec 2016supertentorialflan

Friday words, 2016-09-23

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 12:58:17 GMT

Boy, Fridays seem to be coming at me with ever-greater velocity. Is it that summer is gone? Oh, well—it just means opportunities come around seemingly faster for contemplating words.

(image) The new-to-me word this week is striminal, a mashup of streaming and criminal. This term is attributed to Gabriella Mirabelli, who runs Anatomy Media, a marketing agency. Mirabelli was quoted in an article that reported that 61% of people aged 18 to 24 get streaming content from unauthorized sources—i.e., that they're not paying for it—and 63% of them use ad blockers. Mirabelli doesn't like this behavior.

I'm generally ok with people taking a stab at a new word, but I don’t love striminal. It fails the test of being "semantically transparent," which is one of the criteria proposed by an article in The Guardian about what makes a good portmanteau. To my mind, if you hear "striminal," you can guess that it's some sort of criminal, but it seems unlikely that you could work your way back to "streaming." Would stream-inal work? Maybe, but that word ain't no beauty queen either.

Bonus new-to-me word: A couple of weeks ago, one of John McIntyre's "In a Word" columns introduced me to the word hebdomadal, which is a pretty fancy way to way "weekly." This uses the stem heptá, which means "seven" in Greek and is related to Latin septem, as in September, and, well, seven in English.


Friday words, 2016-09-16

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 19:14:52 GMT

Here we are on Mexican Independence Day. Sadly, although there are words a-plenty today, none of them relate to this important date being celebrated by friends and family. Still, let's proceed ...

Oh, by the way: Strong language this week.

I got the first term for this week from Virginia Hefferman's book Magic and Loss, an extended essay about the cultural impact of the internet. I'll just use a cite from the book to showcase the word and define it:
What we did at Yahoo! News, which the staff called "retroediting," would make the New Yorker staff blanch: we'd post something as soon as the sloppiest draft was ready and edit it after it was available to readers.
(image) There are a couple of things I like about the word retroediting. One is that it describes a process that's very familiar to me, as anyone might guess from reading my blog entries or Facebook posts, ack. I've also worked in shops where this approach to editing has been flirted with. He said (im)passively. I also like the word because if someone had asked me to come up with a name for this editing protocol, I would have gotten stuck on post- or after-, and would probably never have stumbled on retro-. This prefix means "backwards," which to me is not an obvious way to describe this after-the-fact process. But I like it. As an aside, I also kind of like the image of the editors at a place like The New Yorker getting the vapors about this protocol.

The book also taught me another term: hyperlexia [more]

Friday words, 2016-09-09

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 13:43:11 GMT

Here in Seattle, we made an extremely sudden transition from summer to fall (or autumn, for you Old World English speakers). But changes in the climate do not affect our interest in words!

The first new-to-me word for today is calligram, which refers to a piece of text in which the writing or typesetting creates an image that echoes the meaning of the word(s). The word is a mashup of calligraphy with -gram as we also see in telegram and diagram. I got this from an article that provided a gallery of 40+ calligrams by the designer Ji Lee. Here's an example so you get the idea, but you should check out the link to see the many excellent examples.


The word calligram is not new; it goes back at least to the 1930s. And as an art form, calligrams have been around a long time. For example, Islamic calligraphers have been doing beautiful calligrams for centuries using Arabic script to form pictures, as in this example:


On to more grounded things. I got the next new-to-me term from an interview with Seleta Reynolds, who's the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. She was talking about bicycles and "vehicular cycling"—the idea that bicycles should be integrated with, and treated as, traffic alongside cars. In her discussion, she noted that this has ended up being embraced primarily by MAMILs [more]

Friday words, 2016-09-02

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 06:56:29 GMT

When shopping for school supplies this week, don't forget to pick up a set of Friday words!

The new-to-me word this week is gongoozler, which through some mechanism I no longer recall I got from Joss Fong on Twitter. In its most general sense, this term refers to a spectator who stares at an activity. It also has a related sense of someone who "enjoys watching activity on the canals of the United Kingdom," this second definition from the infallible Wikipedia. (Whose article on this term includes the subheading "Aspects of gongoozling.") Compare trainspotting.

(image) I believe the connection here is that canal-watchers do a lot of staring. Indeed, the OED says that both gawn and gooze are dialectical terms in the UK for "staring vacantly." Satisfyingly, one of the examples in the OED (from 1986) refers to someone gongoozling at a giant outdoor screen, TV being a sort of obvious candidate for the use of this term. For what it's worth, the earliest recorded use seems to be from 1904.

One of the cites in the OED is this: "Pronounced slowly and with the proper emphasis, ‘gongoozler’ merits a very high place in the vocabulary of opprobrium." Again, one might compare how trainspotting is used. Even then, though, I speculate that someone whose activity is being gongoozled, and who is opprobriuming the gongoozler, might prefer that to the more active spectating implied by kibitzing.


Friday words, 2016-08-26

Fri, 26 Aug 2016 22:28:15 GMT

It's Friday again (kind of barely), meaning it's time for another batch o' words. I must note that I have been enjoying these later days of summer—not just because of the weather (that too, of course), but because we're seeing the last days before school buses and student-bearing minivans again clog the streets. However: words!

(image) The first new-to-me word this week is sickboating. This term refers to an attempt among certain politicians or partisan media commentators to suggest that Hillary Clinton is ill in some way—epilepsy, dementia, something. I got this term from an article in Esquire. Almost all of the references I can find point back to this article, although the article itself uses the term without quotation marks. The whole story started only a few weeks ago, so perhaps this really is a brand-new term.

Politics aside, the term is linguistically interesting in a couple of ways. It alludes to swiftboating, a term invented during the 2004 American presidential-election season to refer to the smear campaign mounted against John Kerry, who had served in the US Navy on a so-called Swift Boat, a fact he touted as part of his campaign. During the election season, Kerry was attacked via an orchestrated effort (supposedly by other Swift Boat veterans) that sought to discredit Kerry's service. This type of political smearing quickly became known as swiftboating.

In sickboating, we see boating breaking further away from its original sense of the actual boat and taking on more clearly the semantics of "smear campaign." This is reminiscent of the way that gate [more]

Friday words, 2016-08-19

Sat, 20 Aug 2016 12:56:23 GMT

Friday words! Only today they happen to be on a Saturday. That's how it goes sometimes.

(image) For this week's new-to-me word, I have wind throb, which I learned just a few days ago from an article (paywall) in the Wall Street Journal. This refers to the "wub-wub-wub" noise that happens when you open only one window while driving fast in a car. The more technical name for this phenomenon is Helmholtz resonance, but good luck getting far with that term at your next dinner party.

Fun fact: per the article (and a slew of others that appeared this week), wind throb is more of a problem with latter-day cars because they are designed to be aerodynamically tight. Certainly I've noticed that it's more of a problem with my 2015 Maserati than with my 1973 Dodge Dart. (Yeah, right.)

(image) For surprising etymology this week I have two! The first is the word geyser, referring to a hot spring that sends up a plume of water. Give a moment of thought to the word, and you'll observe, I believe, that its meaning doesn't seem to be obvious, nor does it have cognates. That's because geyser has an unusual source (haha): it comes to English from modern(-ish) Icelandic (!), not exactly a historically rich source for English vocabulary. Geysir [more]

Friday words, 2016-08-12

Fri, 12 Aug 2016 17:44:00 GMT

As we know, F is for Friday, and also for, um, filology. Wait, no, that's philology. Whatever, let's look at some new-to-Mike words.

(image) The first new-to-me word is drunkorexia, which refers to "behaviors such as skipping meals or exercising heavily to offset calories from a heavy night of drinking, or to pump up alcohol's buzz," according to the page on the NBC website where I saw this. I looked for other sources, and many of them also have this dual definition, where avoiding eating is done either to offset the calories in alcohol or to enhance the effects of drinking. Anyway, I find cites going back at least to 2010. Apparently I'm not in college anymore, or I probably would have known this term.

(image) A second new-to-me term this week is Liebig's Law. This is actually quite old, and I knew of the concept, which is also sometimes referred to as the law of the minimum. But I didn't know there was a name for this. (Of course there is, duh.) Liebig's Law states that the expansion of a system is capped by the availability of the scarcest critical ingredient. For example, on a broad scale, life on earth cannot expand indefinitely; at some point when you chemically build living systems, you'll run out of a critical ingredient. (If I remember right, that's phosphorous, but don't quote me on that.)


Friday words, 2016-08-05

Fri, 05 Aug 2016 10:57:18 GMT

Friday again! I had to skip last week because I took a wee trip to Canadia to drop my bride at the Vancouver (BC) airport.[1] So today I'm just going to have to have to compensate with Extra Words.

The first new-to-me term this week (er, fortnight) is faxlore and a related term xeroxlore, which I got from the linguist Gretchen McCulloch (again). These refer to stuff—jokes, cartoons, funny stories, etc.—that are (were) distributed via fax machine and photocopiers, respectively. (I like this in the Wikipedia article: "compare samizdat in Soviet-bloc countries.") Obviously, these aren't yugely useful terms anymore, but I think the reason I seized on them was precisely that I am old enough to be able to remember faxlore and xeroxlore examples taped to colleagues' office doors or pinned to cubicles, and can remember the smeary look of a cartoon that had been copied from a copy of a copy. And! I lived through the transition when the exact same material stopped being sent around in hardcopy, so to speak, and started circulating as emails. Exact same.

Prototypical faxlore cartoon

Number 2 new-to-me word this week (er, fortnight) is depave. The literal meaning of this word is obvious: to remove concrete and asphalt. But I was interested in its use as the name of a movement that promotes this practice both for aesthetic reasons and for the practical benefit that it helps alleviate problems with runoff and flooding [more]

Friday words, 2016-07-22

Fri, 22 Jul 2016 10:49:25 GMT

Hey, it's Friday again. So soon! Fortunately, we have the consolation of words.

Today's new-to-me term is conformist distinction. I got this from a FiveThirtyEight podcast in which Tom Vanderbilt was discussing his new book on taste, You May Also Like. In the podcast, Vanderbilt was discussing "tokens of identity" by which we project ourselves, and the dual desire to fit in but also have a unique style. This, he says, is conformist distinction, apparently a term from psychology. (I don't find hits on this using normal-Google, fwiw.) As he summarizes the term, "We all want to be like each other, more or less, but with a little twist."

Here we all are, showing our distinct style while conforming to hipster fashion

(image) For unexpected etymology this week I have a term that's actually timely: candidate, as in someone running for office. This one came up when I was reading about Roman senatorial elections in Mary Beard's SPQR.

The tl;dr on the word is that it means "clothed in white," referring to the white togs (er, togas) that candidates wore. A little bit of delving, what the heck, tells us that candidate shares a root with candid (something that, arguably, candidates often are not), which means "white" and "shining" or "glistening." In fact, the first definitions in the OED (in historical order) for candid [more]

Friday words, 2016-07-15

Fri, 15 Jul 2016 11:00:03 GMT

Friday again?! I missed last Friday due to visitors visiting, but we're back today!

For today's new-to-me term, we have Null Island. This term isn't entirely new to me; I learned it when I started work at Tableau, but it came up again recently. Null Island is a jocular name for latitude 0, longitude 0—where the prime meridian meets the equator. This happens to be a point off the west coast of Africa:


The name Null Island alludes to the fact that in many systems, a null (missing data) is interpreted as a zero. In our software, for example, if you're creating a data visualization that involves maps, we use 0 for any missing latitude or longitude information. Thus you might be surprised to find in, say, your sales analysis that you appear to be making sales in the Gulf of Guinea. Whoops. (In our software, you can click a button to remove null values from your analysis.)

There's an article in Popular Mechanics that describes the issue. This article goes on to note that computer systems often have trouble with people whose last name is Null (and there are many such people). Someone has (of course) created a website for The Republic of Null Island. Buy the t-shirt!

(image) For etymology, I got to wondering about cattle rustling. I was listening to a Planet Money podcast ("Cow Noir [more]

Friday words, 2016-07-01

Fri, 01 Jul 2016 15:04:57 GMT

Always good to start a holiday weekend with a few words. (Holiday offer good in the U.S. and Canada only. Words offer good anywhere, anytime.)

(image) The new-to-me word this week is ratting, a verbed form of RAT, which stands for "remote access Trojan." A RAT is software that's installed on a computer to let someone control it or spy on the user; ratting is the installation of such software. By ratting, a hacker can log your keystrokes (thus capturing passwords), use your camera, monitor your microphone, and engage in other nefarious activities. I got the term from an article in The New York Times that encourages people to cover their cameras when not using them. (I do this.)

I should note that RAT can also stand for "remote access tool," and that there are legitimate reasons for letting someone control your computer. For example, it might be a way for a tech-support engineer to help you resolve a problem. But in the more sinister version of RAT and ratting, the purpose is malicious.

The term RAT is not new; I see references at least as far back as 2002. It's even spawned variants—a particular RAT for Android phones is referred to as an AndroRAT. The verb ratting is somewhat newer, and the NYT article still has it in quotation marks to signal its newness. I find a reference to the verb in Wired from 2013.

Fun fact: ratting [more]