Wednesday Words: Father’s Day, Word Maps and Hip-Hop Wrestling

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Thinkmap, 2011

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).

Who said it first?: Father’s Day

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a lady named Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Wash., first suggested Father’s Day in 1909 after listening to a sermon about Mother’s Day (a smart young lady, indeed). It was celebrated the next year during June, the month of her father’s birth, and President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed it a national holiday in 1966. A 1972 law then decreed that it shall be celebrated on the third Sunday of every June. And here we are.

Words to use this Sunday: To keep it fresh, you can call your father by many other names this weekend. There are dad and daddy, of course, but also the old man, pa, papa, pappy, begetter, forebearer, source and sire. Or—if you want to get a bit funky fresh with it—daddy-o, daddler, daddington, dad-gum, pops, poppity pops, padre, père and, for the more formal moment, paterfamilias.

(LIST: 15 Fantastic Gadgets for Father’s Day)

Slang that is dating you, big time: “Goodnight, John-Boy.”

Elle Fanning, 13-year-old sister of Dakota, is featured in Super 8, the new thriller from J.J. Abrams set in 1979. Abrams provided the actors with a list of slang that people used back then, which was apparently as much hilarious gobbledygook to Miss Elle. Terms included groovy, Can you dig it?, and Goodnight, John-Boy, the latter a reference to an equally prehistoric show called The Waltons.

The real throwback: If 1970s slang isn’t retro enough, you can use “goodnight” on its own. According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang (and as anyone who has spent time with my grandmother can tell you), this olden phrase is used “to indicate incipient trouble or one’s resignation in the face of a problem or disaster.” As in, “The cast of Jersey Shore is going to Italy? Well, goodnight!”

(LIST: Top 10 Things Today’s Kids Will Never Experience)

Funniest term analyzed at a conference: swagger-jacking

At the Dictionary Society of North America’s meeting in Montreal this past week, some lexicographers delved into the irreverent world of hip-hop to examine slang. According to the Montreal Gazette, one term discussed was swagger-jacking, meaning “stealing someone’s style.” And hopefully it was one they used after hours, too. “Reginold, stop swagger-jacking Sheldon. You know how he feels about his bow ties.”

If you miss mind-mapping: One of the attendees at the meeting was language guru Ben Zimmer, who among other feats produces the Visual Thesaurus. The site maps words (as seen with cool above) into branches with their various interconnections and meanings. Word nerds, say goodbye to the next five hours of your life.

(MORE: The Newest Madden Stat, Swagger)

Newest hybrid sport: hip-hop wrestling

New York Magazine gives us a glimpse of this new spectator sport the founder said was meant to be “Grand Theft Auto action in a wrestling ring.” As the writer explains, “The ring area resembles a rap-concert stage overrun by hangers-on, only with much better choreography and no actual rapping … Bouts of thunderous, repetitive rap music [lead] into short, playful speeches and the high-flying, woozy acrobatics of professional wrestling.”

Other hybrids: This is by no means the first fusion sport to combine activities that don’t seem meant for each other. There is polocrosse, football tennis, the Olympic biathlon (a combination of skiing and shooting), as well as the ever-entertaining chess boxing.

(PHOTOS: The Changing Face of Sumo Wrestling)

Punctuation to use sparingly: “scare quotes”

Scare quotes, like their cousins of air quotes, are sarcastic-y marks that imply doubt about the meaning of words. They can be effective, but overuse makes it sound like the author just can’t stop rolling their eyes. In a recent Forbes article, for example, the author uses them no less than 13 times to argue (quotes his) against companies who “clean up” product reviews written by “creative spellers” because they think they’re not “well-written” or “correct.” (Even if intended for comic effect, moderation remains key.)

The argument against scare quotes: Cultural critic Greil Marcus writes that, “I used to think the use of scare quotes was a matter of writers being too lazy … to find the words that would say precisely what the writer meant. But [I learned] that the real question is fear—people afraid of their own words, of opening themselves up to attack.” In other words, when you’re writing, just “go for it.”

(LIST: Top 10 Quotable Movies)