Wednesday Words: Why Dominique Strauss-Kahn Is a ‘Chaud Lapin’ and More

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Welcome to NewsFeed’s weekly highlight of the vocabulary of our lives — including useful, new, hilarious and surprising words (as well as some that are just fun to roll off the old tongue).

Most semi-horrifying term used in the news: self-driving car

This week’s news highlighted Google’s lobbying efforts in Nevada, where the tech giant is trying to pass two bills that could turn the Silver State into the new hot place for self-driving cars. But as cool as the concept may sound—as close as it may bring the citizens of Earth to our destiny as outlined by Back to the Future II—the idea is still disconcerting. Like having a self-chopping knife, or a self-raising child.

Related NewsFeed neologism: We move that when Google engages in lobbying, we start to call it “gobbying.” This could lead to most excellent sentences such as, “Yeah, the gobby gobbyist, eating gobs of Gobstoppers, was gobbying in the gobby.” (Gobby being an adjective meaning fat, loudmouthed or offensive, as well as what they should call the lobby in Google’s headquarters.)

(PHOTOS: Life in the Googleplex)

Regional speak of the week: jawn

Jawn is a word associated with Philadelphia that, according to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, is “an indiscriminate term, usually used of something or someone that causes happiness, joy or excitement.” But people actually using it say it’s even more broad: that it can operate as any part of speech to refer to any person, place or thing—good or otherwise. As in, “Download the Made In Philly mixtape, sit back and enjoy this jawn,” or “I won the lottery. Jawns!” or “I have to go to this jawn jawn over in Jawntown.”

Jawns jawning about jawn: The Philadelphia A.V. Club tries to get to the bottom of the term this week and discusses other Philly-related terms, such as hoagie (instead of sub or grinder), or using yo as a way to get someone’s attention, as in, of course, “Yo, Adrian!”

(PHOTOS: The Murals of Philadelphia)

Distinction review: transgender vs. transsexual

Chaz Bono, formerly Chastity Bono—and still child of Sonny and Cher—took to the media circuit this week to discuss his switch from female to male. Chaz declined to say whether he had “bottom surgery,” though he had his breasts removed and takes hormones, which means he’s probably just over the label-line: Transsexual is often reserved for those who have medically realigned, while transgender is a broader term that can describe anyone who doesn’t totally identify with their given gender, from cross-dressers to transsexuals themselves. (If you’re still confused, read this.)

Further distinction: Liberal-arts schools will sit kids down early and say that there’s a distinction between “gender” and “sex” that makes all these categories possible. In the simplest, liberal-arts-school terms, sex might be best described as what anatomical goods one has, while gender is how people with those goods typically act, i.e., the dos and don’ts that we associate with male and female behavior.

(Q&A: Chaz Bono on His Transition from Female to Male)

Best foreign phrase: chaud lapin (French for hot rabbit)

The term has been circulating in stories about the IMF’s managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the allegations from a hotel maid that he sexually assualted her. His nickname is “The Great Seducer,” and he just can’t keep himself away from the ladies, which makes him, in France, a “chaud lapin” (pronounced “show la-pihn”). Because we all know what rabbits are like, especially when they get all hot and bothered.

Other fun things to say when you’re imitating French people: Beyond the obvious French-chef/candlestick-concierge laugh, one might throw in a hyper-cool (“eeper-kuhl”), when something is, er, super-cool or call someone “mon petit chou” (“mahn puhtee shoe”) a term of affection that translates as “my little cabbage.”

(LIST: Top 10 Abuses of Power)

Metaphor we should start using: “chihuahua race”

In a New York Times article, the author describes what a chihuahua race—apparently a popular pastime around Cinco de Mayo—is like: “Chihuahuas do not necessarily bound toward the finish line on command. Some of them, wearing tutus and frilly outfits in the heat, turn around and look quizzically at their owners or take a few steps forward and then a few steps back.” This seems like an apt metaphor for any competition in which winners often prove to be less memorable than whoever wore the most outrageous outfit, as in most Hollywood award shows, many reality TV series, and absolutely any contest in which Lady Gaga takes part.

Naming your chihuahua: The NYT author also helps distinguish between horse names and chihuahua names: “Unlike race horses, which have grandiose sounding names (Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby about the same time Chico was streaking toward his finish line), most race Chihuahuas have cute monikers that match their pocket size [such as] Taco, Peanut, Bambi, Bonita and Mucho Pequeño.” NewsFeed offers Littlepawpaw as another option.

(PHOTOS: Dogs with Multicolor-Dyed Fur)