The Words of the Week - Apr. 14

Dictionary lookups from fashion, social media, and politics
water leaking out of a pipe on top of a water heater

‘Leaker’ & ‘Leak’

Both leak and leaker spiked in lookups last week, after classified documents relating the the war in Ukraine were found online.

Leaker of U.S. secret documents worked on military base, friend says
— (headline) The Washington Post, 12 Apr. 2023

One may, in a very basic sense, define leaker as “one that leaks,” and apply it to a person or thing that leaks in any number of ways. However, in almost all cases in which leaker is employed it is in reference to the sense of leak that we define as “to give (secret information) to someone so that it becomes known to the public.” This verb sense of leak has been in use since the 19th century, and leaker has been used to refer to someone who shares secret information since the beginning of the 20th.

The price to be paid for the Island is $85,000, although the modest sum of $250,000 was asked for it by the speculating owners, who evidently had obtained information, by some leak in the Board of Selection, of the choice which had been made of their property. — New York Daily Times, 22 Dec. 1852

The main hearing was stripped of sensation except for the demands for books and the Congressional action hint. There were no new names of alleged leakers or leakees. — The Morning Post (Camden, NJ), 23 Jan. 1917


Miniskirt was very much in the news last week, found in a number of obituaries for the woman who helped popularize (and some say invented) this article of clothing.

Mary Quant, the visionary fashion designer whose colorful, sexy miniskirts epitomized Swinging London in the 1960s and influenced youth culture around the world, has died. She was 93.
— Jill Lawless, AP News, 13 Apr. 2023

We define miniskirt as “a woman's short skirt with the hemline several inches above the knee”; although the word was often found in early use spelled in hyphenated form (mini-skirt) it is now more commonly written as a closed compound (miniskirt). Our earliest record of the word comes from 1962.

Latest thing starting on the production line is the mini-skirt. Also known as the Ya-Ya. This item stops eight inches above the knee and at that distance, who needs an imagination?
The Lima (Ohio) News, 7 Aug. 1962


Titter had a sharp increase in lookups as well, after a social media company removed a letter from the sign on their headquarters, in order that the sign should spell this word.

Elon Musk's ex-lieutenant took a jab at the billionaire after he changed the company’s sign to ‘Titter:’ ‘Who hurt you?’
— Grace Kay, Business Insider, 11 Apr. 2023

Titter may be defined as “to laugh in a nervous, affected, or partly suppressed manner.” The word has no semantic connection to tit, except through circumstance and juvenile imagination. It also has no etymological connection to tit, as titter is of imitative origin, and the word for a mammary gland comes from the West Germanic *tittōn-.


Czar spiked in lookups, as it does every time a Russian empire is violently overthrown, or whenever someone decides that a public position needs the assistance of a weighty-sounding title.

Mayor Eric Adams on Wednesday announced that Kathleen Corradi, an education department employee, has been appointed New York’s first-ever “rat czar,” part of Adams’ effort to combat a growing rodent population in the county’s most populous city.
— Joseph Ax, Reuters, 12 Apr. 2023

We provide two definitions for czar: “emperor (specifically, the ruler of Russia until the 1917 revolution),” and “one having great power or authority.” This latter sense, which often is used in reference to one to whom great authority has been delegated, is the one applicable to the person New York City has asked to rid it of its rats. The “emperor” sense of the word is the older, in use since the middle of the 16th century. Czar took on its extended meaning in the middle of the 19th century.

A Colonel who had been dismissed by Court martial, called upon the Czar of the War Office and requested him to examine some papers and give his opinion of the justice or injustice of the Court martial. ‘I haven’t time to do it, sir,’ said Stanton. — Cleveland Weekly Plain Dealer, 6 Jan. 1864

There is something significant in the fact that since the moving picture industry crown Will Hays as its czar and Judge Landis was enthroned over baseball, many other national organizations have adopted the same idea. The latest to appoint a czar is the national association of manufacturer’s of women’s dresses. — The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Evening Gazette, 20 Jan. 1923


Two lawmakers from Tennessee were returned to the positions from which they had recently been removed, and as a result reinstate spiked in lookups.

Tennessee Rep. Justin Jones returns to Capitol after Nashville Council reinstates him
— (headline) NPR, 10 Apr. 2023

County board reinstates expelled Democratic lawmaker Justin Pearson to Tennessee House
PBS, 12 Apr. 2023

We define reinstate in two ways: “to place again (as in possession or in a former position),” and “to restore to a previous effective state.” The verb came into use in the early 17th century, with our earliest written evidence occurring just a few years after the initial use of instate (“to set or establish in a rank or office”). The noun form of the word is reinstatement.

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Juvenilize’

Our word worth knowing this week is juvenilize, defined as “to prolong the immaturity of.” This word is similar, both in construction and in meaning, to juvenescence, which is “the state of being youthful or of growing young.” One of them is well suited to people who are refreshingly spry, and the other is better used of people who are just annoying.