Wednesday Words: Why We Say ‘Jackpot’ and More

NewsFeed's weekly dig into our vocabulary. Humans say the darnedest things.

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Jonathan Kitchen

Millions of Americans are vying for a big ole money shower

jackpot (n.): any large prize, as from a lottery or a gambling machine; often, a prize that accumulates until it is won. 

Old games of draw poker would occasionally have hands in which everybody anted up, but only a player with a pair of jacks or better could start the betting. If everyone had rags for cards, the hand was over. The ante and deal would repeat, thus growing the pot until someone had a sufficiently good hand and the “jack-pot” could be won. Tonight, millions of wild-eyed gamblers will be waiting to see if they won the biggest jackpot in Powerball history. (Full disclosure: I’m looking pretty wild-eyed.)

granny pod (n.): a high-tech, portable dwelling intended for people who need assistance at home, including seniors and people with disabilities. 

If Grandma needs constant care, there’s an option between giving over your guest room and packing her off to an assisted-living facility where Wednesday will be pudding night for the rest of her life, according to the Washington Post. People are plopping so-called “granny pods” in their backyards, giving aging relatives their own space while keeping them close. The cottages can be outfitted with lifts, special ventilation, unobtrusive monitoring systems (in case of a nasty fall) and other senior-specific features.

combine (n.): in art, a three-dimensional composition that is a hybrid of painting and sculpture.

This week, New York’s Museum of Modern Art will display a famed “combine,” having successfully lured it from the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art. Robert Rauschenberg’s 1959 work “Canyon,” which combines painting with a rope-wrapped pillow and stuffed bald eagle, is the type of ground-breaking work that puts curators in a tizzy — and makes grumbling old men say things like “artsy folk ain’t got the sense God gave a goose.”

sponsored story (n.): an item in a Facebook news feed that contains unsolicited advertising.

Among Facebook’s proposed rule changes, currently causing a brouhaha among privacy groups, are updates to the company’s advertising plans and message policies. The potential for users to get unsolicited messages from advertisers is becoming a flash point, just as “sponsored stories” have been; in Norway, Facebook may face legal action over the latter. As Forbes‘ Kashmir Hill points out, Facebook calls its privacy policy a Data Use Policy — “in acknowledgement perhaps of the fact that privacy policies don’t exist to protect your privacy but to explain the ways in which it will be violated.”

baculum (n.): in zoology, the penis-bone.

Among the Senate’s current tasks is dealing with the proposed Sportsmen’s Act of 2012. And among the act’s provisions is the issuance of permits for sportsmen to import polar bear trophies taken before 2008, when the animal became an endangered species under U.S. law. Reporters covering the bill have noted that polar bear trophies typically include tanned skin and claws, the skull and “the traditionally prized penis bone,” also known as a baculum. Now when someone asks what you learned today, you should be ready to go.