The Words of the Week - 4/30/21

Some of the words that defined the week ending April 30, 2021
hawthorn blossoms

Bring on the May flowers.


Cicadas were on the minds of many people of late, as untold billions of these creatures known as Brood X prepare to emerge from the ground after 17 years of being buried.

The first cicadas are arriving, while the rest are on the brink
— (headline) The Washington Post, 29 Apr. 2021

We define cicada as “any of a family (Cicadidae) of homopterous insects which have a stout body, wide blunt head, and large transparent wings and the males of which produce a loud buzzing noise usually by stridulation” (stridulation is “to make a shrill creaking noise by rubbing together special bodily structures —used especially of male insects”). There are over 1,500 known species of cicada, most of which live in tropical deserts, grasslands, and forests. The larvae of this current crop of cicadas have been burrowed in the ground for 17 years, feeding on juice sucked from roots. Once emergent as adults they will spend approximately one week aboveground, gallivanting and making considerable noise.


A large number of people were outraged, or pretended to be outraged, this week, following rumors that President Biden planned to limit Americans' consumption of red meat, and institute a quota of a single hamburger per month.

Over the weekend, Republican politicians and social media users baselessly claimed that Biden’s climate plans include cutting American red meat consumption by 90%, limiting each individual to 4 pounds of red meat a year and requiring Americans to eat no more than one hamburger per month.
— Ali Swenson, AP News, 26 Apr. 2021

The hamburger contains no ham; the word comes from the name of the German city Hamburg (hamburger means ‘of Hamburg’). In the middle of the 19th century ground beef was sometimes referred to as Hamburg steak, after German immigrants brought this to the United States and helped make it popular. Within a few decades 19th century the name had changed to hamburger steak, and by the end of the century this was clipped again to hamburger.

’Overhaul’ & ‘Trickle-down’

President Biden this week gave a speech addressing a joint session of Congress, causing a number of words to spike. Of particular interest, at least to headline writers, was overhaul.

Biden to vow overhaul of immigration system
— (headline) The Hill, 28 Apr. 2021

Joe Biden unveils plan to overhaul US social infrastructure
— (headline) The Guardian, 28 Apr. 2021

Biden urges passage of police overhaul measure
— (headline), 28 Apr. 2021

Overhaul appears to have come into use in the beginning of the 17th century; the word’s earliest recorded meaning is a nautical one: “to light (a ship's rope) along toward the block through which it is being hauled : pull (a ship's rope) through a block or lead so as to ease or slacken.” By the beginning of the next century the word was taking on addition meanings, such as “to examine thoroughly,” followed by expanding its semantic terrain to include “to repair,” and “to renovate, remake, revise, or renew thoroughly.”

Biden, in addressing the accumulation of wealth by some of the richest Americans, said: "My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked.”
— Allan Smith, NBC News, 29 Apr. 2021

We enter trickle-down as an adjective, defined as “relating to or working on the principle of trickle-down theory,” and define trickle-down theory as “a theory that financial benefits given to big business will in turn pass down to smaller businesses and consumers.” Trickle-down is today most commonly found modifying economics, but can also be found in the company of many other words, including effect, technology, policies, and approach. Although many people associate trickle-down with the economic policies of President Ronald Reagan, the term was in use well before his presidency; our files have evidence of trickle-down theory as far back as the 1930s.


Rebuttal was also high in lookups, as Senator Tim Scott provided the Republican rejoinder to Biden’s speech.

'America is not a racist country,' Tim Scott says in Republican rebuttal to Biden's speech
— (headline) USA Today, 28 Apr. 2021

Rebut has a number of meanings, including “to drive or beat back,” “to contradict or oppose by formal legal argument, plea, or countervailing proof,” or “to refute.” We define rebuttal as “the act of rebutting especially in a legal suit” or “an argument or proof that rebuts.” Rebut came to English from the Anglo-French reboter (from re- + boter, “to butt”). One who rebuts is a rebutter.

Our Antedating of the Week: ’blabbermouth’

Our antedating of the week is blabbermouth, defined as “a person who talks too much.” Our earliest known use had previously come in 1936, but recent findings show that we have had blabbermouths since the late 19th century.

Subsequently at one of their secret meeting which he attended, Mr. Dye says that John Dole very officiously and offensively informed the audience that there was a “blabber-mouth” present, (meaning Dye,) whereupon the complainant was insultingly debarred participation or presence in the proceedings.
Marion County Record (Marion Centre, KS), 18 Feb. 1881