Wednesday Words: Useful Idiots, Don ‘Draping’ 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

Divisive designation: “homeless hotspots”

Some reps from a New York-based advertising agency showed up at the South by Southwest festival with a plan: Turn homeless people into 4G wireless hotspots and have them roam around Austin, accepting donations from web surfers who use them as doorways to the Internet. But the charitable “homeless hotspot” stunt got plenty of not-so-hot reviews: critics have said this is exploitation, an insult to the dignity of the houseless, and a reduction of versatile humans to roving posts. Others have said bravo, though apparently not enough: According to Fox News, company Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty today “axed” plans to continue the project in Manhattan after the failure to connect in Texas.

(MORE: Inside the South By Southwest Keynote: Robotic Overlords and Immortality)

Political parlance: “useful idiot”

In a recent article about a union leader making a stink over the Olympics, London Telegraph journalist Jim White invoked the phrase “useful idiot,” a term coined by Lenin “to describe political rivals who, by the very stupidity of their opposition, made your point far better than you ever could.” The union leader suggested that his people use the deluge of media during the fanfare to protest the government’s “austerity regime.” Counter-critics retorted that if the end goal is economic prosperity, opposing the Olympics is about as smart as turning down bottled water while adrift on the open sea.

The newest new planking: “draping”

If AMC and the likes of Tumblr are to be believed, there is a new meme in town: “draping,” as in imitating the silhouette at the end of Mad Men‘s opening credits, in order to have your photograph taken and put on a social-networking website.The pose goes like this, for those who don’t already have a visual ingrained on their Jon Hamm-loving brains: (1) sit in a chair with your back to the camera, (2) slump slightly to the left, with obvious insouciance, (3) splay right arm over the back of the chair, cigarette in right hand optional. Ideally you’ll be doing this while wearing a suit, thinking about bourbon and secretly leading a double life.

Popular prejudice: misogyny

With all this talk about contraception—who should be providing it, who should be paying for it, whether one is a “slut” if one uses it—look-ups for the word misogyny spiked last week on Merriam-Webster.com. Misogyny is defined as a hatred of, dislike of or prejudice against women. It is also what conservative mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh was accused of when he called a Georgetown law student a “prostitute” after she said Catholic schools like hers should include birth control in their health coverage. A good rule of thumb: if ever tempted to call anyone a prostitute in public discourse, pump the brakes, and if you can’t stop, at least downshift to strumpet. (Second good rule of thumb: no one can get that upset about any word that rhymes with crumpet.)

(MORE: Sandra Fluke on Her Role in the Contraception Controversy)

Stewart speak: to be undertained

Though satirical newsman Jon Stewart is not the first to use the term, he did invoke it recently when discussing the continually inconclusive results of Republican primaries on The Daily Show (starting around the 3:40 mark). To be “undertained” is to be less entertained than one expected, especially after the disappointing situation was hyped up by another individual. As Stewart demonstrates on his show, the best way to use this word is to deliver it à la Russell Crowe in Gladiator, when the fighter scolds the Romans for enjoying bloodsport, i.e. “Are you not undertained?!?!” yelled accusingly, and at a discomforting volume.

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