Wednesday Words: Donald Trump’s Vocab, NASCAR Metaphors 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

Questionable combo-word: symblomatic

George W. gave us misunderestimate, Sarah Palin gave us refudiate and Donald Trump has joined the ignominious ranks with symblomatic. Trump is not the first person to use the word, as Bloomberg Businessweek recently claimed (five examples pop up in a Lexis archive search, the first instance in 1999), but he is the most high-profile utterer.

Deploring those detestable Academy Awards—particularly Vanity Fair‘s dreary watch party—Trump says, “And it’s really, like, symblomatic of what happened to Vanity Fair … Right now it’s boring, just like the party they had.” Businessweek believes this is a fusion of symbolic, symptomatic and emblematic. Which is certainly possible. It could also be symblomatic of the gap between Trump’s eagerness and ability to be an effective public speaker.

Cinematic cant: rom-tradge

Today, the world likes its words like its lines: the shorter, the better. So it should be no surprise that in a recent review of The Vow, a Financial Times film critic used the classification “rom-tradge,” as in romantic tragedy—the genre that is home to Titanic and Romeo & Juliet and Little Women (because we all know Jo really should have ended up with Laurie).

The singsong label “rom-com” has long been shorthand for “romantic comedy,” but in the Netflix-era of trying to predict taste with precision-grouping, we could use more abbrevs. Take the Netflix-generated film category of “Dark mysteries based on contemporary literature.” Surely life would be easier if we could all just say, “Oh, I watched this amazing mod-lit-dark-mys last night.” (A label that could, incidentally, double as a name for a band full of world-weary teenagers.)

(LIST: All-TIME 100 Movies)

Racy vocab: bump drafting

According to USA Today’s entertaining rundown of NASCAR lingo, put out in the run up to the Daytona 500, “bump drafting” is a “technique in which drivers make contact briefly to increase their speed. Sometimes [it] results in inadvertent crashes.” Bump drafting is fertile ground for metaphor, especially when things go wrong. Things to consider: political endorsements; people who sleep with the enemy to get things they want; high-fives attempted only to look cool in front of a large group of people. Other terms include: groove, the best route around the track; happy hour, the last official practice before a race; and wheel man, the race car driver himself.

That word you’ve been looking for: uptalk

In an article about female speech patterns, New York Times writer Douglas Quenqua describes that tendency of people to always sound like they’re asking a question? Even when they’re not? Taking every declarative sentence on an uphill climb at the end? In an instance of wonderful simplicity, this is called uptalk (though the academic types also call it “high-rising terminal”). Quenqua recounts that American uptalk started with the storied Valley Girls of the 1980s, was used by women across the country by the 1990s and can today be heard even from the lips of grandpas and grandmas. If this is indeed the case, someone needs to find the YouTube video of the old man talking about how his friend’s jacket is “so five decades ago,” immediately.

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