Merriam-Webster's Words of the Week - Jan. 28

The words that defined the week ending January 28th, 2022


The approach of a winter storm has caused great excitement among meteorologists and people who like to talk about the weather, due to its potential severity and the chance to say the word bombogenesis.

The coastal storm is expected to rapidly intensify, going through a process called "bombogenesis," and become a powerful bomb cyclone.
— Kathryn Prociv, NBC News, 26 Jan. 2022

Bombogenesis is defined as “rapid intensification of a storm caused by a sudden and significant drop in atmospheric pressure : the development or intensification of a bomb cyclone." In case you were wondering if the initial portion of bombogenesis is related to the ‘things that go boom’ sense of bomb, yes, it is. The word is formed by adding bomb to genesis (“the origin or coming into being of something”) with the affix -o- (“used as a connective vowel originally to join word elements of Greek origin and now also to join word elements of Latin or other origin”) holding them together.

’Son of a bitch’

Son of a bitch, sometimes spelled with asterisks and sometimes spelled out in full, was found in many news stories last week, after President Biden employed this noun phrase in reference to a reporter.

Joe Biden has lashed out at Fox News reporter Peter Doocy, calling him “a stupid son of a b****” after he asked a pointed question about rising inflation.
— Graeme Massie, The Independent (London, Eng.), 25 Jan. 2022

We offer three definitions for this phrase, and label each one of them sometimes vulgar, so if your sensibilities are easily offended you may imagine that we are, in each case, talking about an instance wherein it is not vulgar. The first sense, a generalized term of abuse, may mean either “an offensive or disagreeable person —usually used of a man” or simply “a man, a fellow.” The second sense is used interjectionally to express surprise, disappointment, annoyance, or anger (as when one stubs one’s toe). In the third sense the phrase is used as a generalized term of reference (as in ‘Let’s finish up this son of a bitch and call it a day’). While it may have the feel of a modern-day vulgarity, son of a bitch has been part of our vernacular for over 350 years now.

There's that snarling curr, and son of a Bitch Boccaline, can shew them the way; his teeth are ready set for such a design, and to fall on, if they'l but follow him.
— John Eachard, Mr. Hobb’s state of nature considered, 1672


Monoclonal spiked in lookups last week as well, after a department of the federal government announced that they would no longer fund certain types of monoclonal treatments.

Florida is closing its monoclonal antibody treatment sites, health officials announced late Monday, citing the US Food and Drug Administration's decision to limit the use of certain versions of the treatments that were found less effective against the now-dominant Omicron variant of coronavirus.
— Chris Boyette, CNN, 25 Jan. 2022

Monoclonal is defined as “produced by, being, composed of, or caused by cells derived from a single cell,” and note that it is especially used in the sense of “relating to, being, or caused by a monoclonal antibody or monoclonal antibodies.”


Imminent came up repeatedly throughout the last week, as some concerned parties averred that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent, and others asserted that it was not.

US warns Russian attack may be 'imminent,' Ukraine disagrees: Here's why
— (headline) ABC News, 25 Jan. 2022

Something that is imminent is “ready to take place : happening soon.” Our definition notes that the word is often used of something bad or dangerous seen as menacingly near (such as military invasion by a country that is larger and more powerful). Imminent is often confused with the similar-sounding eminent (“exhibiting eminence especially in standing above others in some quality or position”); both words are from the Latin minēre, a word that basically means “to project, overhang.”

’Liberation’ & ‘Holocaust’

January 27th is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and every year sees spikes in lookups for both Holocaust and liberation. The day is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration and extermination camp.

Today, on the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
— Simon Taylor and Dr. Kathrin Meyer, The Guardian (London, Eng.), 27 Jan. 2022

Liberation, in this context, means “the act or process of freeing someone or something from another's control”; the word comes from the Latin liber, meaning “free.” Holocaust has a number of meanings, but in this case refers to “the mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II” (in this context the word is capitalized and usually preceded by the).

Our Antedating of the Week

Myopic is our antedating of the week. The word was used by Art Spiegelman in describing the decision of a Tennessee school board to ban students from reading his celebrated graphic novel of the Holocaust, Maus.

Art Spiegelman Calls School Board Banning ‘Maus’ ‘Daffily Myopic’
— (headline) Rolling Stone, 27 Jan. 2022

We define myopic in a literal sense (“affected by myopia : of, relating to, or exhibiting myopia : nearsighted”) and a figurative one (“lacking in foresight or discernment : narrow in perspective and without concern for broader implications”). The literal sense is the older of the two, and our earliest record of use had come in 1800. Recent findings show that we have been myopic since at least 1785.

Thus myopic, or short-sighted men see objects placed at a distance confusedly; those very near, distinctly:—therefore they are amblyopic with respect to distant objects.
— François Boissier de la Croix de Sauvages and George Wallis, Nosologia methodica oculorum, 1785