Words of the Week - Feb. 25

The words that defined the week ending February 25th, 2022
february 25 on desk calendar


Sanction was a busy word last week, as the leaders of numerous countries called for these to be imposed on Russia.

With Russia’s military attacking across Ukraine, President Joe Biden is expected to announce on Thursday at least some of the toughest sanctions and financial penalties that the United States, the world’s biggest economy, can muster in response.
— Ellen Knickmeyer & Fatima Hussein, Associated Press, 24 Feb. 2022

The noun sense of sanction employed above is defined as “an economic or military coercive measure adopted usually by several nations in concert for forcing a nation violating international law to desist or yield to adjudication.” The word comes from the Latin sancire, meaning “to make holy”; when the word entered English in the 15th century it originally referred to a formal decree or law, especially an ecclesiastical decree.


Oligarchs, of the Russian variety, were among those who many felt should be sanctioned.

Britain sanctions Russian oligarch Timchenko and five banks
— (headline) Reuters, 22 Feb. 2022

An oligarch is “a person who belongs to a small group of people who govern or control a country, business, etc." An oligarchy may refer to “government by the few,” “a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes,” or “an organization under oligarchic control.” Oligarchy is often similar to a kleptocracy, which is defined as “government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed.”


Pariah spiked in lookups after President Biden gave a speech in which he asserted that this is what Vladimir Putin would soon be.

President Joe Biden vowed Thursday to turn Russian President Vladimir Putin into "a pariah" on the world stage in retaliation for Russia's pre-dawn invasion of Ukraine.
— Michael Collins, Rick Rouan, and Maureen Groppe, USA Today, 24 Feb. 2022

Pariah came into English use in the beginning of the 17th century, initially with the meaning of “a member of a low caste of southern India.” The more common meaning in current use is “one that is despised or rejected; an outcast.” The word comes from the Tamil paṟaiyan, a word which has the literal meaning of “drummer.”

’Martial law’

Lookups for martial law spiked, after this was declared by the president of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law and accused Russia of acting like “Nazi Germany” after President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine.
Al Jazeera, 24 Feb. 2022

We define martial law as either “the law applied in occupied territory by the military authority of the occupying power” or “the law administered by military forces that is invoked by a government in an emergency when the civilian law enforcement agencies are unable to maintain public order and safety.” Because martial is a homophone of marshal, and because marshal also has military meanings, there is often confusion about which word to use. It may help to remember that in modern English martial only functions as an adjective; this is the word you want to use to modify law. Marshal can function as a verb or a noun, with meanings such as “a general officer of the highest military rank.”

’Puppet government’

Puppet government (and puppet regime) was much in the news as well, often found describing the sort of political structure that many thought Putin was interested in establishing in Ukraine.

US intelligence has warned that Putin aims to topple Ukraine’s government, round up prominent Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps,” and install a puppet regime in Kyiv.
— Zack Beauchamp, Vox, 24 Feb. 2022

Drawing from the sense of puppet that we define as “one whose acts are controlled by an outside force or influence,” a puppet government is “a government which is endowed with the outward symbols of authority but in which direction and control are exercised by another power.” The word has been in use since the first half of the 19th century.

The manly determination of the King of Holland, displayed in his closing of the Scheldt despite the vapouring of the French Government, has been the subject of much eulogium here to-day, and it now remains to be seen whether the “heroic Belgians” acquire the possession of the river by force of arms, or whether the French will again put aside the puppet Government of Leopold and resume military possession of his fief kingdom.
The Morning Post (London, Eng.), 22 Jan. 1833


Internment was found in many newspaper stories last weekend, which saw the anniversary of the United States forcing thousands of people into camps.

Feb. 19 marks 80 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forced internment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II. The majority of those detained were American citizens.
— Catherine Cruz, Hawaii Public Radio, 18 Feb. 2022

We define internment as “the act of interning someone or the state of being interned” and intern as “to confine or impound especially during a war.” Some have suggested that intern and internment are not the best words to use, as they often (although not always) are used in reference to impounding foreigners (especially when used in legal settings), and most of the prisoners were Japanese Americans, and citizens of this country. A number of writers choose incarcerate, rather than intern.

How to remember the Japanese incarceration, 80 years later
— (headline) The Los Angeles Times, 19 Feb. 2022

Our Antedating of the Week

Our antedating of the week is glass jaw, defined as “vulnerability (as of a boxer) to knockout punches.” Our earliest known use had previously come in 1940, but recent findings show that we’ve had glass jaws since at least 1904.

So did little George Gardner, the ex-light heavyweight champion, and old “Hank” Griffin, and ”Denver Ed” Murtin, with the glass jaw, “Sandy” Ferguson of Boston, a “mixed ale” boxer, who never whipped a good man in his life, fought him 10 rounds a little while ago, and lost by a narrow margin.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 19 Sept. 1904