The Words of the Week - July 22

Dictionary lookups from Congress, video games, and the world of entertainment
a yellow antique car with just married sign on its back


Contraception was much in the news last week, after Congress voted on a bill relating to this.

The House voted Thursday to pass a bill that would guarantee access to contraception by protecting the right to buy and use contraceptives without government restriction. The final vote was 228-195.
— Chandelis Duster, Kristin Wilson, and Kit Maher, CNN, 21 Jul. 2022

Contraception is “deliberate prevention of conception or impregnation.” The word has been in use in English since the late 19th century, and comes from joining the prefix contra- (“against”) to a shortening of conception. The closely-related contraceptive may function as either an adjective ("used for or relating to contraception") or as a noun ("a contraceptive agent or device").


Elope was seen in a number of headlines, after two famous actors decided to get married without a significant amount of fanfare, and without a large wedding.

Jennifer Lopez, Ben Affleck elope in Las Vegas: ‘We did it’
— (headline) Las Vegas Review Journal, 17 Jul. 2022

We define elope as “to run away secretly to get married.” This sense of the word often, but not always, is used in circumstances in which a couple marries without the consent or blessing of either family. Elope has a number of other meanings, none of which appear to be applicable to Lopez or Affleck, including “to run away from one's husband with a lover,” “to slip away, or escape,” and “to leave a health-care or educational facility without permission or authorization.”


Scaramouche trended in lookups last week as well, after the makers of a video game announced that a character of this name was going to be subject to a number of changes in the next iteration of the game.

A popular Genshin Impact leaker named hxgdiluc has revealed that one of the Harbingers named Scaramouche will undergo some significant changes before he officially joins the playable roster.
, 20 Jul. 2022

The oldest sense of Scaramouche (also commonly spelled Scaramouch) is that of a stock character in the Italian commedia dell’arte (“Italian comedy of the 16th to 18th centuries improvised from standardized situations and stock characters”), one that burlesques the Spanish don and is characterized by boastfulness and cowardliness. When used in this theatrical sense the word is usually capitalized. Scaramouche may also be used in a more general manner, with such meanings as “a cowardly buffoon” and “a rascal or scamp.”


A resident of New York state was reported to have polio, causing a large number of people to look up this word, the name of a disease believed to have been almost entirely eradicated in this country.

An unvaccinated young adult from New York recently contracted polio, the first U.S. case in nearly a decade, health officials said Thursday.
— Mike Stobbe, Associated Press, 21 Jul. 2022

Polio is “an infectious disease especially of young children that is caused by the poliovirus. The disease affects the central nervous system only infrequently with inflammation and sometimes destruction of the motor neurons in the gray matter of the spinal cord and brain stem. Central nervous system involvement results in temporary or permanent muscle weakness or motor paralysis especially of the limbs and typically the legs. Polio may become life-threatening when paralysis affects the muscles involved in breathing and swallowing.

Polio is a shortening of poliomyelitis, the name for same disease, one that was believed to have been coined in the late 19th century by German physician Adolf Kussmaul. Poliomyelitis itself can be traced to the Greek words poliós (“pale gray, as of human hair, grizzled”) and myelós (“marrow,” alluding to the gray matter of the ventral horns of the spinal cord, which the disease affects).

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Empleomania’

This week’s word worth knowing is empleomania, defined as “a mania for holding public office.” This word is presented solely for purposes of education and/or amusement, and should not be interpreted as an endorsement or condemnation of any political figure.