The Words of the Week - Oct. 27

Dictionary lookups from Maine, congress, and sports
planets in alignment


Spree was found in an unfortunate number of articles last week, as numerous publications reported on a mass shooter in Maine.

At least 22 people have been reportedly killed and as many as 60 wounded after a gunman went on a shooting spree in the northeastern state of Maine in the United States.
Al Jazeera, 26 Oct. 2023

Spree refers to an unrestrained indulgence in something or an outburst of an activity. For most of the first half of the 20th century the words that most commonly modified spree were related to commerce: shopping, buying, and spending (although drinking spree was often used similarly as well). In recent decades, however, there has been a marked increase in words relating to violence; killing, crime, and shooting now appear directly before spree in near-equal numbers.

‘The far right’

The far right also was widely used last week, after a member of Congress who is considered to be well-described by this was elected as the newest Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Who is Mike Johnson? An ardent conservative who embraces far-right policies
— (headline) NPR, 26 Oct. 2023

The far right is defined as “the group of people whose political views are the most conservative”; this contrasts with the far left, “the group of people whose political views are the most liberal.” When one refers to the Right without describing them as far the definition is “political groups who favor traditional attitudes and practices and conservative policies.”

‘False alarm’

False alarm spiked in lookups after a different member of Congress (one belonging to the opposing party as that of the Speaker of the House) was criminally charged for effecting an alarm of this type.

Rep. Bowman To Plead Guilty To Capitol Hill False Alarm
— (headline) Law360, 25 Oct. 2023

A false alarm may be defined quite literally (“an alarm (such as a fire or burglar alarm) that is set off needlessly”) or somewhat figuratively (“something causing alarm or excitement that proves to be unfounded”). What is unsurprising about the word is that the literal sense came into use before the figurative one; what is surprising about it is that the literal sense has been in use for almost 450 years, since at least 1578.


Equinox also spiked in lookups, after the word was used in a quite extended manner to describe a happening in the world of sports.

Oct. 30, 2023, is one of the rare dates on the sports calendar that will feature professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey games. From Monday Night Football to the World Series to the NBA and NHL seasons, there is action across the board. Just how rare is such an occasion? Here’s everything you need to know about the “sports equinox.”
NBC Dallas Fort Worth, 25 Oct. 2023

Equinox is most commonly used to mean “either of the two times each year (as about March 21 and September 23) when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are everywhere on earth of approximately equal length” or, in simpler terms, “a day when day and night are the same length.” Some have pointed out that the confluence of these sporting events more resembled a syzygy (“the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies (such as the sun, moon, and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse) in a gravitational system”) than an equinox. The combination sports syzygy is, admittedly, somewhat difficult to say, but is perhaps a more accurate metaphor.

Whether accurate or not, people have been using sports equinox in the sense of “golly, there’s a whole lot of sporty-things going on right about now” for a number of decades.

But it's not only a magic time in hoops, it's that time of year when we have pro golf, tennis, baseball, basketball, soccer, bowling and all, going hot and heavy at once, to say nothing of the NFL draft and Derby fever and trout season. It's a sports equinox, a dynamic convergence and a grand love-in all rolled into one.
USA Today, 14 Apr. 1994

The spring sports equinox will come March 21 at Georgia Tech and Georgia. All teams at both schools are practicing between rainstorms but won’t start play this week.
The Atlanta Journal, 6 Mar. 1966

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Forplaint’

This week’s word worth knowing is forplaint, a specimen found only in The Oxford English Dictionary, and defined by that august institution as “wearied with complaining.” We are reluctant to tell anyone that they should complain less, especially in these trying times, and hope this word is of some service to those who have just about had it.