The Words of the Week - 09/17/2021

The words that defined the week ending September 17th, 2021


A word well known to most readers spiked dramatically in lookups last week after receiving prominent placement in a Tweet by Nicki Minaj: that word was bullied.

When used as a verb bully often has the meaning of “to treat (someone) in a cruel, insulting, threatening, or aggressive fashion : to act like a bully toward,” and the noun typically has the meaning of “one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.” When bully first came into English use (in the 16th century), it was with the meaning of “sweetheart, darling —used of either sex.” The word is thought to have come from the Middle Dutch word for “lover,” boele.


This year’s iteration of a particular fancy-dress ball led to a sharp increase in lookups for the word lexicon.

After more than a two-year absence, the Met Gala returns in 2021 to celebrate the opening of the brand-new Costume Institute exhibition, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.”
Time Out, 13 Sept. 2021

Often used synonymously with dictionary, lexicon comes from the Greek lexis_, meaning “word, speech.” While it may refer specifically to ‘a book, alphabetically arranged, with definitions,’ lexicon may also have broadened meanings. Among these are “the vocabulary of a language, an individual speaker or group of speakers, or a subject” and “repertoire, inventory.”


Recall had a busy week, since there was a large recall election in California; an unsuccessful attempt was made to replace the governor of that state.

Emboldened by recall win, Democrats brush aside talk of unity and escalate attacks on Republicans
— (headline) The Washington Post, 15 Sept. 2021

In this case recall is functioning as a noun, with the meaning of “the right or procedure by which an official may be removed by vote of the people.” The word may also mean “remembrance of what has been learned or experienced,” “a call to return,” or “a public call by a manufacturer for the return of a product that may be defective or contaminated.”

’Iodine’ & ‘Betadine’

A brace of medical words (iodine & Betadine) trended last week, following multiple news reports that people were using them in ill-advised manner.

ER doctors warn public after anti-vaxxers start advising gargling iodine to avoid covid
— (headline) The Independent (London, Eng.), 14 Sept., 2021

In today’s “What will they think of next?” antivaxxers have taken to gargling with and ingesting Betadine to prevent Covid. Betadine is the brand name for povidone iodine, a commonly used antiseptic for cleaning skin and wounds and also used occasionally as a douche.
Judy Stone, Forbes, 14 Sept. 2021

We defined iodine as “a nonmetallic halogen element that is an essential nutrient in the human diet and is used especially in medicine, photography, and analytical chemistry.” Dietary iodine is essential for thyroid gland function, so table salt usually has potassium iodide added to prevent iodine deficiency. Elemental iodine is used in medicine, in synthesizing some organic chemicals, in manufacturing dyes, in analytical chemistry, and in photography. The radioactive isotope I-131, with an eight-day half-life, is very useful in medicine and other applications. The word may be traced to the Greek ioeidḗs “violet-colored." 

Betadine is a trademark, used for a preparation of povidone-iodine (“a solution of polyvinylpyrrolidone and iodine that is applied topically as a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent”). We do not have warning labels on our entries, except to provide caution when a word may be offensive, but if we did we would tell our users to please not gargle with iodine or with Betadine.


Ordinary drew more attention than usual, after The New York Times used the word in a manner that some felt was overly solicitous of the egos of billionaires.

We define ordinary in a number of ways, none of which is overtly connected with the amount of wealth someone has. It may carry such meanings as “of a kind to be expected in the normal order of events,” “of common quality, rank, or ability,” or “deficient in quality.”

Our Antedating of the Week

Our antedating of the week is charlatan, a word that may be defined either as “one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability” or as “an ignorant, misinformed, or dishonest practitioner of medicine.” Our earliest known use of this word had previously come in 1618, but recent findings show that we have had charlatans with us since at least the 1590s.

In your eares they say vnto you Patience, you shall shortly see this matter hatched. Oh what Charlatans and bringers of rats on sleepe? what hopes of murderers?
The discouerer of France to the Parisians, and all other the French nation. Faithfullie translated out of the French: by E.A., 1590