Wednesday Words: Cable ‘Newzak,’ Punishments for Boozing and More

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David McGlynn

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).

Stewart speak: “newzak”

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, satirical social commentator Jon Stewart described the 24-hour news cycle’s potential for becoming “newzak,” the equivalent of elevator music in which soulless notes are replaced with vapid non-stories. “[The 24-hour networks] are now the absolute most powerful force driving the political narrative,” he said. “And the picture that they create is one of conflict, because they’re on for 24 hours a day, so they have to create a compelling reason for you to watch them. Otherwise they’re just Muzak—newzak.”

The first mover: Muzak Holdings is a company famous for making “elevator music,” tunes characterized by their pleasant—and often soporific—blandness. (Check out the “Uptown” track here for an example.) Such sounds are also called “piped-in music” (or just “piped music”) and “weather music” (as in the type networks play while temperatures scroll). Appropriate taglines include: “It’s better than music that is terrible” and “You won’t even know you’re listening to it.”

(MORE: Top Ten Jon Stewart Moments)

Fall-iday holiday: Sukkot

Sukkot is a Jewish autumn fest that begins at sundown today, five days after Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It commemorates the time the Israelites wandered the desert after they were freed from slavery and headed toward the Promised Land. They lived in huts referred to as sukkot, and the festival is often celebrated by erecting honorary structures and giving thanks for fruitful land. This year, some Jewish groups have been celebrating by “calling on the real estate finance industry to help families hold on to their homes.” One might call it their suffering Sukkot act.

Holiday eats: Also in the news this past week was the production of what one might call “meatballs of the sea,” otherwise known as “fish balls.” The Wall Street Journal describes the development of these cumin-flavored treats by the powerhouse of Jewish food, Manischewitz Co. Some, the author explains, are using fish balls to replace Gefilte (guh-FILL-tuh) fish, a food used during the Jewish holidays that is—to reach for record-breaking understatement—an acquired taste.

Product of punishment: the “alcolock”

In the United States, these machines are often known as “Blow ‘N’ Go’s.” But in the Netherlands, Dutch drivers are calling them “alcolocks,” according to Reuters.  Their function is, after all, to automatically lock a vehicle’s engine if the driver has been drinking. How does the machine know? The driver has to blow into a tube, breathalyzer-style, when the car is started and intermittently while driving to prove they’re on the level. Often a car is outfitted with an alcolock, more formally known as an ignition interlock device, as a result of drunk driving.

Down South: An “alcolock” also sounds like what my more Southern relatives might call such a machine (or would at least sound great said with a molasses-y drawl). In an article this week on “Appalachianese,”a West Virginian columnist recounts words that transport him to a “simpler time” in that neck of the woods. These include well-known terms like ya’ll and yonder. But he also unpacks niche phrases like come in a nigh, meaning to come close, as in “I reached down to pick up that hoe and come in a nigh of gettin’ snake bit.” (The appropriate response being, of course, “Well, goollllll-y.”)

MORE: Status: Drunk. Can Facebook Help ID Problem Drinkers?

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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