Wednesday Words: Turkey Trivia, Baby Ghettos 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

Bird word: turkey

Americans will soon sidle up to their Thanksgiving tables, clad in forgiving sweatpants and ready to make that great November decision: White meat or dark? And it doesn’t hurt to come armed with a little trivia, if only to steer the conversation away from family members who tend to overshare about their health problems. The turkey got its name from a guinea fowl that was imported to Europe via Near East traders called “turkey merchants”—as in merchants from the area of Turkey. By the same token, when corn and wheat were introduced to Europe by Spanish conquistadors who used a similar trade route, those goods were called “turkey corn” and “turkey wheat.” If only such delicious cross-breeds truly existed.

The more you know: You can also recount the story of Ben Franklin wishing the turkey was our national bird. “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; like those among men who live by sharping and robbing,” he wrote in 1784. “The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” In other words, Franklin thought the bald eagle was really a jive turkey.*

Other fun interlude possibilities include dressing up in overalls and singin’ “Turkey in the Straw” or trying to use turkey slang in as many sentences as possible. To “have a turkey on one’s back,” according to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, is a 19th-century verb meaning to be drunk. To “eat turkey,” means to suffer humiliation without reciprocating. And, believe it or not, being called the “turkey’s elbow” is the equivalent of being the bee’s knees or the cat’s meow. Probably want to save that one for when Grandma does something cool.

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Poorest password: “password”

A California software firm called SplashData has put together a list of the 25 Worst Passwords of the Year. Unsurprisingly, the one at the top of the list is password itself. Second is “123456,” followed closely by “12345678.” (And, lest you should think you were cleverly outwitting the system, “654321” also made the list.) But all is not lost for those who hate using those taxing combinations of letters, numbers and symbols in their passwords. Easy-to-remember items that did not make the list include “sesame,” “mypassword” and “hackerswelcome.”

Elsewhere online: Salman Rushdie recently had his identity challenged by Facebook, according to the New York Times. And the hullabaloo prompted the Times‘ Somini Sengupta to ponder that eternal question: “Are you who you say you are online?” In answer, she discussed “digital passports,” identifiers that could be issued by a trusted company and display your real name as you traipse across the Internet. But she also noted that the Web is a place where many believe pseudonyms should reign. Those with a passion for anonymity are even waging online “nym wars” with those who have a passion for accountability. Who will win? We may never know.

Airplane parlance: “baby ghetto”

The news has been all aflutter at the notion of “baby ghettos”** this week, the nickname for areas in the back of planes where little ones are being sequestered (sometimes without their accompanying parents). Some begetters feel unfairly treated by the policy, while many other flyers are reveling in Schadenfreude, thrilled to see the baby-toting folk get a taste of their own ear-wrenching medicine. May NewsFeed be the first to propose that we refer to those critical of the policy as “baby-ghetto blasters.”

An über-outside perspective: Sigmund Freud was generous with his thoughts on “affectionate” parents. “They are under a compulsion to ascribe every perfection to the child—which sober observation would find no occasion to do—and to conceal and forget all his shortcomings,” Freud wrote in 1914. “The child shall have a better time than his parents … Renunciation of enjoyment, restrictions on his own will, shall not touch him; the laws of nature and of society shall be abrogated in his favor; he shall once more really be the center and core of creation—‘His Majesty the Baby’—as we once fancied ourselves … Parental love, which is so moving and at bottom so childish, is nothing but the parents’ narcissism born again.” Come to think of it, the airlines might want to start slyly leaving copies of Freud’s writings in the seat-back pockets.

* The term jive turkey was popularized in the ’70s by black Americans. According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, a jive turkey is “an insincere, deceitful, dishonest person.” In this sense, jive means not acting correctly, whether you’re being a jerk or a dork.

**The word ghetto first described areas of Italian cities where Jews were restricted in the 1600s and was, centuries later, broadened to include city quarters inhabited by any minority group, particularly isolated or segregated ones.

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