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).
New carnal category: “donorsexual”
In a Newsweek feature on the world of free-sperm donors, the author interviews one man who describes himself as a “donorsexual.” He is a virgin, he says, whose only sexual activity is producing the sperm he donates. He said his giveaways have produced at least 10 children, and laughingly said he’d soon be “the 40-year-old virgin with 15 kids.” Surely this qualifies him for some sort of (rather unsettling) Guinness World Record.
For the children: Offspring who have been conceived via sperm, egg or embryo donation can find people who share their DNA using the “donor sibling registry.” In the Newsweek article, the author explains that many “donor kids” go through existential crises, feeling “half-adopted.”
Street semantics: yak and scud
An attorney and policeman recently sparred in a New York court over the meaning of the words yak and scud. As outlined in the Daily Mail, the words were recorded in a conversation a gang member had from inside prison. The detective said yak was rhyming slang for crack-cocaine and that scud was slang for marijuana. The attorney countered by claiming that yak was actually just short for cognac and scud referred to an unattractive woman. “You’ve never heard of sipping yak?” the attorney scoffed. One hopes he followed with an appeal to judge: “Puuuhhh-LEASE, who is this guy?”
More meanings: According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, a yak is “one who talks rubbish all the time; and/or someone who looks like a yak.” In olden days, yack was used as a name for a watch someone stole (because watch-stealing was, apparently, the single biggest crime problem in the 1800s). Both definitions could have, against the odds, rendered the courtroom conversation even more confusing and hilarious.
Tech speak: “Zuckerverb”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently announced a revamping of the site and explained that they’re “helping to define a brand-new language for how people connect.” Specifically, he meant that they were adding verbs to the status updates, so you can tell the world what you’re “watching” or “reading” or “eating.” Writing about the update for the Atlantic, master-of-all-things-linguistic Ben Zimmer called these Facebook additions “Zuckerverbs.”
Only online: The Atlantic article also makes reference to “narbs,” shorthand for “narrative bits.” A communications professor from Wake Forest University popularized this term last year to describe “an item of personal information posted online, particularly as it contributes, often unwittingly, to a personal narrative that individual is creating online.” If you send enough “narbs” out into the world, they could eventually turn into “a stolen identity.”
(PHOTOS: Mark Zuckerberg, Person of the Year 2010)
Virile vocation: smoke jumper
A New York Times article from this week celebrated the work of Dale Loganecker, a “smoke jumper” for the U.S. Forest Service. This means that he parachutes out of airplanes into fires in order to fight them, often “carrying little more than a shovel, a gallon of water and a bottle of ibuprofen.” He has made 896 jumps out of such planes (a record), more than a third of which were right into the flames, but has to quit now that he’s hit the mandatory retirement age of 57. As a gift, let’s hope the Forest Service gives him a fine leather wallet with the words “Bad Mamma Jamma” embroidered on it.
Smokin’ slang: According to Green’s Dictionary, “the Smoke” is a nickname for London (or any big city). To “pass the bottle of smoke” means to accept conventional truths or to tell little white lies. A “smoke wagon” can refer to a revolver, a “smoke-hole” can refer to the mouth and firefighters like Daring Dale are sometimes called “smoke-eaters” (incidentally a good name for villains in a Harry Potter knock-off novel).