Jiggery-pokery: Deceitful or dishonest manipulation; hocus-pocus, humbug. It was first documented in 1893, but a related term, Scots joukery-pawkery (clever trickery, jugglery, or legerdemain) is attested from 1686. The latter term is a compound of jouk (a sudden elusive movement) and pawky (artful, sly, shrewd, roguish).
Jiggery-pokery was in the news last week after it appeared in U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in King v. Burwell, the 6-3 decision to allow the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, to stand. Scalia wrote:
The Court’s next bit of interpretive jiggery-pokery involves other parts of the Act that purportedly presuppose the availability of tax credits on both federal and state Exchanges.
Elsewhere in his dissent, Scalia dismissed the majority opinion as “pure applesauce.” Applesauce is a bit of 1920s slang meaning “nonsense,” “horsefeathers,” or—to put it more plainly than Scalia is wont to do—“bullshit.”
“It’s a very cranky piece of writing,” observed Ben Mathis-Lilley in Slate.
Mx.: A gender-neutral honorific that may be used in place of “Mr.,” “Mrs., “Miss,” or “Ms.” Pronounced mix or mux.
Mx. was in the news this week after Jonathan Dent, assistant editor at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), told the Sunday Times (UK) that the term is being considered for inclusion in the dictionary’s next edition. (Access to the full article is restricted to subscribers.) The term is regarded as an option for transgender people and people who wish to conceal their gender identities.
“Over the past two years the title has been quietly added to official forms and databases” in the UK, the Times reported. Dent told the Times that the first recorded use of Mx. was in an American magazine, Single Parent, in 1977: “The early proponents of the term seem to have had gender politics as their central concern [and] saw the title as one which could sidestep the perceived sexism of the traditional ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ and ‘Miss’.” The blog Practical Androgyny has traced the subsequent history of the term.
In the US, the PBS Newshour reported last week, “There is currently no widely-used gender-neutral replacement for ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs./Ms,’ and this addition would mark the first time that such an option appeared in the dictionary.”
In Sweden, the neuter pronoun hen—coined in the 1960s—was added earlier this year to the official Swedish language dictionary as an alternative to han (he) and hon(she).
Mx—the period is American style; periods are omitted from honorifics in British English—has several other meanings:
An abbreviation for Maxwell, a unit of magnetic flux named for James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), who presented the unified theory of electromagnetism in 1865.
Drought-shaming: Calling public attention to the wasteful use of water during a drought.
Drought-shaming gained currency in 2015, as California’s dire lack of rainfall reached crisis proportions. But the concept emerged in 2014, when the state emergency was first declared. “Californians Keep Up with the Joneses’ Water Use,” tsk-tsked a headline in the New York Times on July 4, 2014:
Some drought-conscious Californians have turned not only to tattling, but also to an age-old strategy to persuade friends and neighbors to cut back: shaming. On Twitter, radio shows and elsewhere, Californians are indulging in such sports as shower-shaming (trying to embarrass a neighbor or relative who takes a leisurely wash), car-wash-shaming and lawn-shaming.
Later that month, the community-reporting app Vizsafe (which is based in Rhode Island) added a drought-shaming feature that, according to an NBC News story, “allows people to share reports of water waste with their neighborhood. Users can anonymously take photos of the waste and map the location, for all to see, including law enforcement.”
In some cases, drought-shaming seems to be a downright civil response to drought deniers. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle’s op-ed pages on April 21, 2015, Laguna Niguel (Orange County) resident Jeff Pearlman confessed that he sometimes feels like “strangling my neighbors” when he sees them blithely over-watering their lush lawns:
I’ve given this much thought over the past few months, and I’ve come up with the only realistic solution. One that, I’m quite convinced, will work. Simply put, we need to go Justin Bieber on these fools and turn to the tried-and-true tactic of public humiliation.
I know ... I know. It’s harsh. And maybe even a bit babyish. But if green grass and reluctance to change is about status, what better approach than to knock down one’s status a few pegs? So, the next time my neighbor’s hosing down his BMW for the 17th time this week, I’ll walk past and loudly scream into my iPhone, “Yup, he’s watering his car again — WHILE MY KIDS AREN’T ALLOWED THE FLUSH THE TOILET!”
Shame in general is enjoying a moment in the spotlight. We’ve seen slut-shaming(“the act of making someone, especially a woman or girl, feel guilty for certain sexual behaviors”) for several years; recently tax-shaming was proposed, in the New York Times’s op-ed page, as a means of forcing tax delinquents to settle their debts:
Public shaming is already used throughout the world to collect taxes. The city of Bangalore, India, hires drummers as tax collectors to visit the homes of tax evaders and to literally bang the drum if they don’t pay. In England, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs publishes details of deliberate tax defaulters. Argentine local governments are also adopting shaming lists. … Social media offers an even greater opportunity for shaming. Tax agencies could use targeted online advertisements on social networks to raise awareness among the social contacts of delinquents.
Two new books offer different perspectives on shaming on the 21st century. In Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool, the environmental social scientist Jennifer Jacquet argues that shame can “improve behavior”; unlike guilt, which “operates entirely within individual psychology,” shame “can scale,” Jacquet toldThe Guardian (UK). “It can work against entire countries and can be used by the weak against the strong.” Jon Ronson, a Welsh journalist, takes a more jaundiced view. In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Ronson looks into the cases of people who have been shamed on social media and finds that publicly shamed men often bounce right back, while women—both the shamed and the shamers—are much more likely to lose their jobs and their reputations.
Gnomologist: A person who practices gnomology; a collector or researcher of quotations. Coined from the Greek gnome (thought, judgment, saying, or maxim) and the Latin suffix -ologist. Gnomologist first appeared in English in 1813 (“the gnomologists, or versifiers of short moral apophthegms”*); the adjective gnomic showed up two years later. Gnomology had been in use since 1645. Gnome in the sense of “short pithy saying” had been around since 1645; the alternate meaning—“one of a race of diminutive spirits fabled to inhabit the interior of the earth”—is believed to have been created by Alexander Pope in “The Rape of the Lock” (1714).
Gnomologist was in the news last week because of a misattributed quotation that appears on a new U.S. postage stamp. The stamp depicts Maya Angelou, the late author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but the quotation next to her photograph came from a children’s book written by Joan Walsh Anglund**.
Erin McKean, the founder of the dictionary site Wordnik.com, picks up the story in an op-ed published April 9 in the New York Times:
This is not an instance of plagiarism — it doesn’t seem that Ms. Angelou, who died last year, claimed the words as her own. It’s far more likely that the very appealing line struck a chord with the author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” who quoted it herself in many interviews. (The Postal Service noted that Ms. Angelou’s family approved the line for use on the stamp.) But the subsequent misattribution is a textbook example of a widespread phenomenon in the world of quotations: Churchillian Drift.
The term was coined by the quotations expert (or gnomologist) Nigel Rees, who maintains the “Quote ... Unquote” newsletter and who broadcasts a quiz show of the same name on BBC Radio 4 in Britain. Essentially, Churchillian Drift is the process by which any particularly apt quotation is mistakenly attributed to a more famous person in the same field.
Another good source for gnomology is the website Quote Investigator, which has researched quotations ascribed to such perennial favorites as Mark Twain (who never said or wrote “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”), Benjamin Franklin (who did indeed write “Time is money”), and, of course, Winston Churchill (who probably never said “If you’re going through hell, keep going”).
* Easier to pronounce than to spell: AP-uh-them.
** It’s merely coincidental, I’m sure, that both authors’ surnames begin with Ang-.
“There seems to be no leading candidate for Word (or Phrase) of the Year,” writes Allan Metcalf, executive director of the American Dialect Society, in the Lingua Franca blog. That lack, he maintains, “will make discussion and voting more lively” at the ADS’s annual meeting in Portland next month. No question that the discussion will be lively—it always is—but I beg to differ about “no leading candidate.” It may not be as controversial as the 2013 selection, because, or as social-media-friendly as 2012’s hashtag, but it’s still the clear front-runner.
My submissions to the ADS vote, to be held January 9:
The American Name Society is accepting nominationsfor Names of the Year, with the winners to be announced at the society’s annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, on January 9, 2015. Anyone can play; submit your nominations no later than January 7.
Here are my own nominations in the categories established by ANS.
Michael Brown. The unarmed 18-year-old black resident of Ferguson, Missouri, was fatally shot in August by a white Ferguson police offer, Darren Wilson. The shooting, and the grand jury’s decision in late November not to indict Wilson, set off protests in Ferguson and throughout the United States.
Mo’ne Davis. On August 15, the 13-year-old from Philadelphia was one of two girls who played in the 2014 Little League World Series and the first to pitch a shutout. The accomplishment earned Sports Illustrated’s “Sports Kid of the Year” (SKOTY) award. By the way, Mo’ne’s middle name is Ikea.
Josh Earnest. The current White House press secretary, announced by President Obama in May 2014, has a perfectly self-canceling name. Is he joshing or is he earnest?
Ferguson. Following the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, the St. Louis suburb, population about 21,000, became a byword for racial tension and police violence. My nomination for overall Name of the Year.
Sochi. The host city of the Winter Olympic Games (February 7-23), on Russia’s Black Sea coast, became shorthand for cost overruns, corruption, and Putin-esque grandiosity. Sochi, a subtropical resort town, was the warmest Winter Games host city in history; organizers hoarded snow for two years to prepare for the Olympics.
MH370. The code name of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which disappeared on March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The subsequent search effort—the largest and most expensive in history—failed to find the crash site, flight debris, or bodies.
I’ll be posting more about brand names of 2014 in a future post. (Read about my brand names of the year for 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2009.)
Elsa. One of the two sisters in the Disney animated feature Frozen. The movie was released in late November 2013, but Elsa-mania took off in 2014, inspiring dolls, costumes, swimsuits, mouthwash, and a discussion on Quora. Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, sings the Oscar-winning and ubiquitous song “Let It Go.”
The Wall Street Journal covered the phenomenon in November 2014, noting that “Anna was supposed to be the star. She has the most lines, songs and love interests … and ultimately saves the day”:
“Elsa is double what Anna is,” says Lesa Nelson, senior vice president for children’s merchandise at J.C. Penney Co., of the dolls and other “Frozen” merchandise depicting the sisters. “You sell two Elsas for every Anna.” …
Parents are puzzled by Elsa’s outsize influence. “Elsa doesn’t really do anything but sing this great song and, let’s be honest, she’s kind of a jerk,” says Jill Walsh, of Newton, Mass., whose 4-year-old daughter, Maeve, often dresses up as Elsa. “A lot of moms try to push for Anna- she’s the go-getter of the two.”
“Sea lioning” is a very recent neologism inspired by a September 19 cartoon, “The Terrible Sea Lion,” by David Malki, who blogs at Wondermark.
“This comic is the most apt description of Twitter you’ll ever see,” wrote Dina Rickman in The Independent (UK) in late September. By early October “sealion” (verb) was appearing in tweets, and on October 23 Malki proudly announced that“‘sea lion’ has been verbed.”
The context for Malki’s cartoon and the subsequent verbing is Gamergate, a controversy involving misogyny and harassment in video-game culture (and also, sometimes, ethics and video-game journalism). On October 27, the technologist and blogger Andy Baio wrote on Medium:
Anyone who’s mentioned the #Gamergate hashtag in a critical light knows the feeling: a swarm of seemingly random, largely-anonymous people descending to comment and criticize.
I’ve been using Twitter for eight years, but I’ve never seen behavior quite like this. This swarming behavior is so prevalent, it got a new nickname — “sea lioning,” inspired by David Malki’s Wondermark comic.
It’s possible to interpret Malki’s comic in more than one way, as commenter David Hopkins observed:
The most interesting thing about it to me is that it’s quite ambiguous to me which of the parties is supposed to be “in the wrong”. The general reception of the strip seems to be “oh yes, I recognise that archetype, sea-lioning is an obviously terrible thing to do”. But that’s not at all how I read it originally.
* In the Chez Apocalypse definitions, “gaslighting” is derived from the title of the 1944 George Cukor film Gaslight, in which the Ingrid Bergman character is psychologically manipulated by her husband, played by Charles Boyer; the verb officially entered the lexicon in a 1969 psychological textbook, but had been circulating for more than a decade. “Gish galloping” is “the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that their opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time” (RationalWiki), more conventionally known as “spreading.” “Gish gallop” was coined in 1994 by Eugenie Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education, and is named for creationist Duane Gish.
So it has been in Quarantine Nation. As the Ebola scare spreads from Texas to Ohio and beyond, the number of people who have locked themselves away — some under government orders, others voluntarily — has grown well beyond those who lived with and cared for Mr. Duncan before his death on Oct. 8. The discovery last week that two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital here had caught the virus while treating Mr. Duncan extended concentric circles of fear to new sets of hospital workers and other contacts.
The third sense of quarantine, from which we get today’s sense of medical isolation, was “first imposed in 1377 at Ragusa (now Dubrovnik), on ships from Egypt and the East,” Shipley comments in his Discursive Dictionary. Other sources cite quarantine as first appearing in Venice. This quarantine indeed passes, though, from the Italian quarantina giorni, “period of forty days,” with quarantina from quaranta, “forty,” also showing significant reduction of quadraginta’s consonants.
Before it became associated with disease, “quarantine” referred to the Biblical desert where Jesus is said to have fasted for 40 days and to the 40-day Lenten period, whose length was inspired by the Bible narrative. (For more on the mystical meanings of 40, read the rest of John Kelly’s post.)
“Quarantine” also has an obsolete legal sense, summarized by the OED as “[a] period of forty days during which a widow who is entitled to a dower is supposed to be assigned her dower and has the right to remain in her deceased husband's chief dwelling.”
And “quarantine” is used in computing: “The isolation of a computer, a piece of software, a part of a network, etc., in order to keep malignant software or unwanted data separate from the rest of a system” (OED again).
For reasons I can’t explain, the people who loudly lament the use of “decimate” to mean anything other than the Roman military sense of “to kill one in ten” are silent on the seemingly paradoxical matter of a 21-day quarantine.
UPDATE: Ben Zimmer wrote about “quarantine” for the Wall Street Journal, noting that the term was used “in the run-up to World War II when Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to punish the Axis powers, and then again by John F. Kennedy during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Snowden effect: “The increased awareness of the extent and scope of illegal or excessive surveillance in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations; the increased desire to be protected from such surveillance.” (Source: Word Spy.)
It seems as though the surveillance stepped up in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. I don’t recall anyone warning about that in the immediate aftermath. If you want to see what effect, if any, Edward Snowden’s revelations have had on the country, and on what it’s doing to itself, look for it there. I would almost guarantee you that you won’t like what you see.
Edward Snowden is the 31-year-old American technology contractor who in June 2013, while working in Hawaii for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, disclosed thousands of classified government documents to the media. Since August 2013 Snowden has been living in Russia, where he was recently granted a three-year renewal of asylum.