Wednesday Words: Slow-Walking, Swole and More

TIME's latest vocabulary highlights include a new hybrid musical genre, a Carolinian political threat and a useful German word for taunting liberal arts majors.

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David McGlynn

slow-walk (v.): to delay, esp. used in politics. 

House Speaker John Boehner has accused President Obama of “slow-walking” fiscal cliff negotiations, employing a metaphor used by generations of politicians before him. William Safire dedicated a column to the verb in 1998, explaining that there is also a lesser known, second meaning: to chastise or “in its extreme form, ‘stab to death.'” Apparently the latter is used by people from the Carolinas, so if Stephen Colbert or Maya Angelou threatens to slow-walk you, just start running.

PBR&B (n.): a music genre that combines R&B vocals with a dance beat and digital effects; also hipster R&B.

As eminent linguists explain in the latest issue of American Speech, this name is a fusion of PBR–an acronym for hipsters’ favorite beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon–and R&B, more formally known as rhythm and blues. Spin writer Barry Walters cites recent offerings from Frank Ocean and Usher as examples of PBR&B, which applies “soul-baring singing and songwriting to vanguard electronics.” The description, while helpful, also makes the contributions seem pretty uneven: R&B brings the heart-wrenching melodies and words; hipsters contribute the beeps and bloops.

swole (adj., slang): short for ‘swollen,’ used to describe someone who has developed large muscles or a well-defined physique.

This definition comes from Know Your Meme (via Urban Dictionary), whose editors included swole in the Top 10 Slang Terms of 2012. Know Your Meme’s usage example is “I can’t wait to go to the gym and get swole.” In this case, the slang is actually a resurgence of an old form of the verb: centuries ago, swole was the go-to past-tense form of swollen. So the hip kids are unwittingly channeling the likes of English poet John Donne, who once wrote “As to a stomach starved, whose insides meet,/ Meat comes, it came; and swole our sails.”

ganjapreneur (n., slang): an American capitalist profiting from the recent pseudo-legalization of marijuana.

In his roundup of possible word-of-the-year nominees, language guru Ben Zimmer gives a nod to this fun term. After Nov. 6, ganjapreneur has no doubt been used much more in marijuana-legalizing states such as Colorado. And it gives some delightful gravity to a drug and pastime more often associated with Cheetos than sound business sense.

gesamtkunstwerk (n.): an art work produced by a synthesis of various art forms.

In his review for The Hobbit, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott compares Peter Jackson’s new movie to films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The latter “remain a mighty modern gesamtkunstwerk, a grand Wagnerian blend of pop-culture mythology and digital magic,” Scott writes. This mouthful comes from German, as you may have guessed, gesamt meaning total and kunstwerk meaning artwork. Essentially, a gesamtkunstwerk is an ambitious work of art that wraps various disciplines into a mind-blowing whole. It is also a crucial word to know if you plan on mocking anyone who fancies themselves richly versed in the humanities.