Words of the Week: Why We Call It A “State of the Union” Speech And More

Welcome to Wednesday Words, NewsFeed's weekly column that delves into the way we wag our tongues and wield our pens.

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David McGlynn

In this edition of Wednesday Words, NewsFeed’s weekly language column, we highlight eye-catching terms from the news:

State of the Union (n.): an address delivered by the President of the United States to Congress, giving the administration’s view of the condition of the nation and outlining its plans for legislation.

The Constitution lays out some responsibilities for the President in Article II, section iii. Among them is from “time to time” giving Congress the scoop on the “state of the union.” But for more than a century, the big annual oration that the Commander-in-Chief gave to Congress was called, quite matter-of-factly, “the President’s Annual Message to Congress.” According to Paul Dickson’s Words from the White House, that changed in 1934, when Franklin Roosevelt turned the description of his obligations into a much catchier name for the speech. And it stuck.

pronoia (n.): the suspicion that the universe is a conspiracy on your behalf.

In tech blog  The Kernel, a writer ponders whether London‘s “mollycoddled startups,” inundated with rave reviews and government encouragement, might be suffering from “pronoia”—the psychological inverse of paranoia. The above definition is adapted from one given by American essayist John Perry Barlow. Pronoia has also been described as “the sneaking feeling one has that others are conspiring behind your back to help you.” Here’s betting there are incredibly low incidence rates of pronoia in Washington, D.C., and Project Runway workrooms.
second-screen (v.): to use a mobile device or computer to monitor and post social media comments about what one is watching on television. 

“The mobile industry is working hard to create mobile apps and sites that relate to what’s on TV in order to capitalize on this behavior,” writes Business Insider in a new report, calling tablets and smartphones “TV companion devices.” The report calls watching TV while also using your smartphone “one of the most popular leisure activities” of our time — which humans should interpret as an emergency alert to take up better hobbies.

ephebophilia (n.): sexual attraction in adults to adolescents, often in their teenage years. 

For a spring fashion shoot in New York Magazine, 14-year-old actress Elle Fanning was dressed in sensual sweets by painter Will Cotton, who likes to mix humans and candy-dream landscapes. Artinfo.com editor Chloe Wyma isn’t a fan of the spread and even accuses Cotton of “icky ephebophilia.” What pedophilia is to children, essentially, ephebophilia is to teens. The term is derived from ephebe, an ancient Greek term for a young citizen aged between 18 and 20.

historical horse racing (n.): a form of gambling in which people wager on horse races that have already taken place.

It works like this: players sit at a video terminal and put money into it, like a slot machine. The machine randomly selects a race, out of thousands that have already occurred, and allows the player to bet based on odds each horse had whenever the actual race took place. Names of jockeys, horses and so on are not revealed, so gamblers can’t just research themselves into riches, à la Biff from Back to the Future II. Legislators in Nebraska are currently debating whether to legalize the practice in the Cornhusker State.