The Words of the Week - 7/9/2021

The words that defined the week ending July 9th, 2021
flowers next to july 9 blocks

Congrats to all the Scripps Bee finalists!


The president of Haiti was murdered this week, and as a result assassinate featured prominently in many headlines.

Official: Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse assassinated at home, first lady hospitalized
— (headline) Yahoo News, 7 Jul. 2021

The relevant sense of assassinate here is defined as “to murder (a usually prominent person) by sudden or secret attack often for political reasons.” Assassinate (and assassin came into English from the Medieval Latin word assassinus, which itself may be traced to the Arabic ḥashshāsh. This word means “worthless person,” but also has the literal meaning of “hashish user.”


England’s soccer team has enjoyed a run of victories in the European Championship, and fans of this team have themselves enjoyed celebrating these wins. As a result, hooligan has lately been bandied about more than is usual.

A Lancashire school featured on an episode of This Morning yesterday (6 June) in a segment that sparked a debate about Twitter trolls and ‘football hooligans’.
Lancashire Telegraph (East Lancashire, Eng.), 7 Jul. 2021

We define hooligan as “a usually young man who engages in rowdy or violent behavior especially as part of a group or gang.” The origins of hooligan are not certain, but it is thought that the word may come from the name of Patrick Hooligan, an Irish hoodlum who lived in London in the late 19th century. The word appears to have moved past its namesake by 1896, the year in which it began to be applied to a certain type of unfriendly person.

For some time past numerous complaints have been made in the neighborhood of Camberwell and Peckham of the conduct of a number of “Hooligans,” mostly well-dressed, who in the dusk of the evening are in the habit of throwing obstacles under the wheels of cyclists, but more especially females, the result being many serious “spills.”
The North-Eastern Daily Gazette (Middlesbrough, Eng.), 19 Jun. 1896

Words from the Scripps Bee

In happier news, this week also saw the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, an event that always sends a great many people to the dictionary in puzzlement, to look up the words contestants have been asked to spell. Below is a partial list of the words that were found in the contest, and which subsequently spiked in lookups.

Euxinic - relating to a rock facies that includes black shales and graphitic sediments of various kinds

Platylepadid - a barnacle of the genus Platylepas

Trochiline - of or relating to the hummingbirds

Depreter - a finish for a plastered wall made by pressing small stones in the soft plaster

Consertal - of a texture in which the irregularly shaped crystals interlock 

Chrysal - a transverse line of crushed fibers in the belly of an archery bow beginning as a pinch

Catmint - any of a genus (Nepeta) of Old World temperate-zone herbs of the mint family

Fewtrils - things of little value

Fidibus - a paper spill for lighting pipes

Athanor - a self-feeding digesting furnace that maintained a uniform and durable heat and was used by alchemists

The winning word was Murraya, spelled correctly by Zaila Avant-garde, who also made history as the first Black American to win the Bee. Congratulations from everyone here at Merriam-Webster, Zaila!

Our Antedating of the Week

Our antedating of the week is association football, which is another word for soccer. Although the sport is referred to as football in many countries, residents of the U.S. typically choose soccer, a word that came about by shortening altering association football. Our earliest known use of this word had previously been in 1873; recent findings show that it was applied to the balls themselves as early as 1866, and to the sport shortly thereafter.

John Lilly-White has now on view a very large stock of the Rugby and the Association Footballs, which are warranted to be of the best manufacture.
— (advt.) Bell’s Life in London, 17 Nov. 1866

The Ramblers is a new club, only started this season. They play the London Association Football Rules, and ball from Stoke-on-Trent.
Birmingham Daily Post, 11 Dec. 1868