Wednesday Words: Wild Knitting, Wild Rides 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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An example of "wild knitting" in Germany this October

What the Dutch are doing: “wild knitting”

Yes, it seems like a metaphorical oxymoron, along the lines of “riotous quilting” or “extreme crocheting.” But “wild knitting,” the act of covering dreary urban areas in colorful knitwear, is very real. So real, in fact, that it has been nominated as the most beautiful Dutch neologism of 2011. (The actual Dutch term is wildbreien.) Other terms for this fairy godmother-esque pastime include street knitting, urban knitting, graffiti knitting, and—my favorite—yarn bombing. As in: Parking meter. BOOM. Pot-holder.

Another annual selection: The editors at Dictionary.com have named its word of the year. Bucking the typical trend, they did not choose a phrase we’ve heard over the past 11 months, but rather one they feel embodies the past 11 months. They define tergiversate as repeatedly changing one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc. Note: Those editors have a fine history of improving the hoi polloi’s vocabulary, particularly with words that are oodles of fun to say. Past Words of the Day have included slugabed, mugwump, taradiddle, hugger-mugger, flibbertigibbet and catawampus. And that’s one whiz-bang list.

(PHOTOS: The Fine Art of Yarn Bombing)

Off-the-chain retro slang: “E ride”

A New York Times reporter recently kicked it old school in a story about equestrians. “This year, there is no trip to Disneyland, but Joseph, now 18, is going on an ‘E ride’ nonetheless,” she wrote. “He’s riding St. Nicholas Abbey in the 1½-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf on Saturday.”

To understand this, you must first know that the Breeders’ Cup is a pretty big deal. You’ll also need to know that in the old days, Disneyland divided its rides into classes: A, B, C, D and, after 1959, E. The “E rides” were the biggest and baddest. In 1972, for example, an A ticket would get you on the Horseless Carriage in the Main Square, while an E ticket would get you a ride on a pack mule. That’s right. With the A ticket, you don’t get so much as a plastic horse with a thing that exists to be pulled by horses, and with an E ticket you get to ride on an actual live animal.

On-the-chain retro slang: Meanwhile, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty—who dropped out of the presidential race after a sad showing in the summer’s Iowa straw poll—said that Barack Obama is the “Barney Fife of presidents.” As in the bumbling deputy played by Don Knotts on the Andy Griffith Show. But Fife, for all his untameable awkwardness, did once give some pointers on self-defense that might be useful to Obama in this situation:

In any case, Obama can rest assured that Pawlenty’s rhetorical jab went over the heads of pretty much everyone still young enough to drive themselves to the polls.

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