Wednesday Words: Obamacare, ‘Brokeback Iceberg’ and More

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

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David McGlynn

Wonky word of the week: “Obamacare”

The Supreme Court this week agreed to hear three cases challenging “Obamacare,” the generally pejorative nickname for the Affordable Care Act—health care reform that Obama signed into law in March 2010. The Atlantic argues that a lobbyist should get credit for coining the phrase in a trade journal circa March 2007, though the word appears in Free Republic posts the month before. In any case, the term was widely used before the bill itself even existed. And it’s really not coinage worth fighting over: whoever invented it displayed roughly the same ingenuity as the person who scribbled out “Weinergate.”

Daring to care: Years before there was “Obamacare,” there was “Hillarycare,” a disparaging name for Bill Clinton’s attempt to overhaul the health care system in the 1990s. (Bill had put Hillary at the head of a health care task force, and many painted her as the mastermind of the failed operation.) Pretty much any politician with a health care plan these days gets that suffix attached to their name, from Kerrycare to Romneycare to Edwardscare. There was buzz in 2009 about the Democrats attempting to rename Obama’s reform “Kennedycare”—ostensibly to honor Sen. Edward Kennedy but also to give the reform more positive connotations. To that end, they probably should have gone straight for CareBearCare.

(MORE: Five Outrageous Health Care Claims)

Best courtroom characters: “orca plaintiffs”

Leave it to PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to sue on behalf of five killer whales—so-called “orca plaintiffs.” Their legal team recently filed a case in California federal court asking that SeaWorld’s orcas be protected under the 13th Amendment, the one that forbids slavery and indentured servitude. The PETA team is stressing that there is no language in the Amendment specifically restricting it to the human species, and if they actually win—a leviathan-sized long shot—it would become a benchmark precedent for animal rights activists. Fingers crossed at least one marine creature gets cross-examined.

Nautical names: In other animal news, the Toronto Zoo recently decided to split up two male penguins who were getting awfully friendly. And some have been calling the controversy “Brokeback Iceberg,” a nod to the seminal gay cowboy flick Brokeback Mountain. The zoo’s defense is that Pedro and Buddy are endangered African penguins, and if the two males won’t quit each other—and are even exhibiting mating behaviors—then they won’t help with the breeding need. But zoo officials have said that the two will be reunited in the spring, when Pedro and Buddy are expected to lead a “Gay Prey Parade” through the sea lion exhibit.

Musical moniker: the harmonic kiss

A viral video making the rounds shows a couple sharing a “harmonic kiss.” This is better seen than explained:

It is perhaps how one would imagine chanting monks engaging in courtship. And it is certainly best avoided after eating garlic, or shotgunning a beer.

Other pastime parlance: The world was saddened this week when “lawn-chair balloonist” Kent Couch delayed a flight over Iraq until next year. (In this case, “flight” means a helium-powered slow float that could take the single passenger hundreds of miles.) A few days before, a Milwaukee man got the news that his “car-jumping” had landed him a spot on the History Channel. (Note: This is exactly what it sounds like, with the caveat that the cars he jumps are moving, fast.) Should these sports seem too mainstream and tame, one might try shark-head hopscotch or string-cheese trapeze.

(LIST: Top 10 Evil Sports)

Word to watch: soulful

Actress Viola Davis, who plays a maid in the racially charged drama The Help, thinks there are certain words that are overused when describing black actresses. Among them, she said at a Hollywood Reporter roundtable, are soulful, dignity and sassy. “We are always overly sanctified in movies,” she said. Davis’ role in The Help has been described as “quietly soulful,” as “soulful-eyed” and as “giving a soulful performance.” The Los Angeles Times went ahead and called the whole movie “a soulful dish of what ails us and what heals us.”

Other iffy labels: In a recent debate, the never-boring Herman Cain referred to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as “Princess Nancy.” He later apologized, and then recounted his apology, making the rookie mistake of repeating the term in the process. “I apologized for calling her Princess Pelosi,” he said, according to the New York Times. “So you all could stop asking me about it, O.K.?” Meanwhile, when asked in a GQ interview to decide what flavor ice cream he and the other candidates would be, he called Michele Bachmann “tutti-frutti,” which has also garnered less-than-stellar attention. For his sake, and that of feminists everywhere, let’s just hope he can avoid complimenting anyone’s sandwich-making skills.

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