Wednesday Words: Dictionary Add-Ons, Twitter Tension 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

Dictionary addition: cyberchondriac

Oxford Dictionaries Online, the hipper and more adaptable young cousin of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, has added a new batch of terms to its database, including cyberchondriac, a person “who compulsively searches the Internet for information about particular real or imagined symptoms of illness.” (You know, the poor souls who have a night sweat and are soon convinced that they also have eight kinds of terminal cancer.) Other additions include boofy, an Australian adjective for a strong man who doesn’t use his noggin too much; and scratchiti, a type of graffiti that is scratched or etched into a wall rather than drawn or sprayed.

Political parlance: “sperm person”

Many states have voted on so-called “personhood” amendments, which anti-abortion activists use to shift arguments about when life starts into mandates about when life starts. Typically, such constitutional add-ons state that a fertilized egg is a person, thus blurring the legal line between abortion and murder. In Wilmington, Delaware, the city council recently took it a step further, passing a resolution that says mingling isn’t necessary: “personhood” should cover every “egg person” and “sperm person,” as it does any other “dependent minor,” protecting each sperm against abuse, neglect or abandonment; or from being destroyed “in any way other than the will of the Creator.” It remains unclear whether such a measure would lead to mass jailing of males roughly 13 and older.

(MORE: The Personhood Fight Is Not Going Away)

Modern method: verbing

In a treatise lamenting the digital verbs the world uses these days—like tweeting and Facebooking— BuzzFeed’s John Herrman discusses “verbing,” our tendency to turn nouns into verbs, like blanketskin and juice. One of his objections to these modern noun-turned-verbs, which he calls “fundamentally awkward,” is that using them feels like endorsing a brand when speech should feel neutral. But that seems less like a Problem 3.0 and more like a function of the hold those brands have on their respective markets—the same way people ask for a Kleenex or Chapstick or a Coke, or for you to Xerox something or go Rollerblading with them or remember to Velcro your shoes. Brands becoming generic nouns and verbs is just part of our consumption-hungry lifestyle: like it or not, we’re all drinking the Kool-Aid.

Fun pun: self-twimmolation

TIME’s meta-media guru James Poniewozik uses the verb self-twimmolation to describe actions of a person on Twitter that lead to his or her own demise, perhaps the best example being Anthony Weiner and his eponymous meltdown. The term is a play, of course, on self-immolation, the deliberate and willing sacrifice of oneself, often by fire. Hopefully there will someday be a hacker who takes over someone else’s Twitter account, only to reveal himself by accidentally publishing a picture of himself: “Twimposter Self-Twimmolates with Self-Twimage.” Oh, how the papers would sell.

(MORE: Age Limits for Twitter Followers?)

Legal lingo: Make My Day law

State lawmakers in Colorado were recently considering a new so-called “Make My Day Law,” one that allows certain groups immunity in special circumstances, as when using deadly force against intruders. Though there is one in place for Rocky Mountain homeowners, the state legislature opted not to extend that right to business owners. I, for one, would propose that we use more Clint Eastwood quotations to describe things in our daily lives. Breath mints would become “Your Mouthwash Ain’t Makin’ It Treats” and customer service employees would become “Want a Guarantee, Buy a Toaster Agents.” Let’s face it. Clint Eastwood could say his ABCs and make the world tremble with dread and delight.

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