Wednesday Words: Backdoor Bragging, Hacktivists and More

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Welcome to NewsFeed’s weekly highlight of our vocabulary — including useful, new, hilarious and surprising words (as well as some that are just fun to roll off the old tongue).

Fusion word of the week: hacktivist

Fusion words, those made by mending parts of two different words together, are typically groan-inspiring. (See: edutainment.) Hacktivist is a blend of hacker and activist that is used to describe techies who will hack to make a point rather than, say, steal identities. Hacktivist group Anonymous took on the San Francisco metro authority this week to support free speech—by publishing customer information on the authority’s website. Zing?

For your reference: Hacktivist was featured on Newswordy, a site that highlights uses, and misuses, of media buzzwords. Recent words have included submissive—courtesy of Michele Bachmann, coddling—courtesy of bazillionaire Warren Buffet, and mollify—courtesy of Molly Ringwald. (Okay, okay. Eric Cantor.)

(MORE: Hack Attack — Social Networking and Cyberthieves)

Storm speak: gustnado

Officials are still investigating what might have contributed to a deadly stage collapse this past weekend at the Indiana State Fair. One indisputable factor was a 60- to 70-mph wind that hit, and AccuWeather is now saying it could have been a gustnado (pronounced guhst-NAY-do). They describe a gustnado in a video as a “stepbrother” of a tornado, a brief wind that swirls from 30 to 300 feet on the edge of a thunderstorm.

More on the storms: Last month, a “haboob,” or dust storm, hit areas of Phoenix and generated plenty of interest in the term itself. Haboob, the Oxford English Dictionary explains, comes from the Arabic word habub, meaning “blowing furiously.” Such storms can be violent and serious, but the term certainly does sound hilarious, like what you’d call a big dork if you lived in the Middle East. “Oh, he’s such a haboob.”

(MORE: The Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse: Looking for Answers)

Euphemism of the week: avoirdupois

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat called for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to get into the presidential race, though he noted Christie’s weaknesses: “the brevity of his gubernatorial experience, the fact that he’s more moderate than his party’s base, and the fact that it’s been a hundred years since America elected a president with his avoirdupois.” Avoirdupois comes from the Old French aveir de peis, meaning “goods of weight,” and it can refer to general heaviness. Christie himself was more direct after recently being hospitalized: “I weigh too much because I eat too much.”

More prevaricating: Abercrombie & Fitch announced yesterday that they offered Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and the producers of his reality show Jersey Shore a “substantial payment” for him to stop wearing their brand. Their rather feckless explanation was that the show is contrary to their “aspirational nature,” which leaves room to suppose they’d be okay with The Situation wearing their clothes if he, say, pursued a master’s degree.

(MORE: Italian-Americans and the G-Word: Embrace or Reject?)

Conversation classifier: medium talk

In the most recent episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David’s socially awkward character attends a dinner party and asks a man sitting next to him how his marriage is. The man is taken back by this rather personal question from someone he just met. Larry calmly explains that he was simply trying “to elevate small talk to medium talk.” Meaning conversation of a semi-personal nature, somewhere between pleasantries and prying.

Language labels: Another conversation term cropped up as the #1 user-submitted word on Merriam-Webster’s list. They define a “humble brag” as “a statement that conveys false humility: a brag couched in self-deprecation.” It became popular through a Twitter account of the same name. On NBC comedy 30 Rock, a self-involved actress gives this another name: a backdoor brag. “It’s sneaking something wonderful about yourself into everyday conversation,” she explains. “Like when I tell people it’s hard for me to watch American Idol … because I have perfect pitch.”

LIST: 100 Best Television Shows of All-TIME

Katy Steinmetz is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @KatySteinmetz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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