The Words of the Week - Oct. 28

Dictionary lookups from Congress, elections, and product recalls
photo of lower portion of horses legs running on a track


This week once again saw considerable attention being paid to Kanye West, and a number of media sources made use of the word boycott.

Calls grow to boycott Adidas as the company stays silent on Ye's antisemitism
— (headline) NPR, 24 Oct. 2022

We define boycott as “to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (a person, a store, an organization, etc.) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions.” Boycott is an eponymous word, coming from the name of Charles Boycott. A retired British army captain serving as an agent for an absentee landlord in the 1870s, Boycott aroused the ire of many farmers when he tried to evict them for falling behind on rent. His laborers and servants quit, and his crops began to rot. Boycott's fate was soon well known, and his name became a byword for that particular protest strategy.]


Testify also had a busy time last week, as a number of people, including Donald trump, were called upon to perform this action.

Will he testify? Trump’s lawyers accept subpoena from Capitol attack panel
— (headline) Guardian (London, Eng.), 27 Oct. 2022

The legal definition of testify is “to make a solemn declaration under oath or affirmation for the purpose of establishing a fact; to give testimony.” The word comes the Latin testis, meaning “witness.” For those who are wondering, this is the same testis that serves as the root of the words associated with the male reproductive glands.

’Horse race’

As the midterm elections draw nigh and appear in many races to be rather close, an increasing number of journalists are using horse race to describe upcoming contests.

NEW HORSE RACE ALERT — State House News Service's Chris Lisinski tells hosts Jennifer Smith, Steve Koczela and Lisa Kashinsky about the legislative races to watch and what's waiting for lawmakers next session.
— Leah Kashinsky, Politico, 27 Oct. 2022

We tend to avoid defining terms such as horse race when they simply refer to things such as “a race between horses,” on the grounds that such combinations of words are largely self-explanatory. However, when extended or figurative senses become commonly intended we will then offer a definition. Horse race has a highly figurative sense, one that we define as “a close contest (as in politics).” This sense has been around for quite some time, dating at least to the 19th century.

And yet so uncertain are the issues of a political horse-race that any one of them may possibly pull up and come in winner at the end.
Cincinnati Enquirer, 25 Dec. 1877


Bacteria had a somewhat ironic moment in the sun last week, after it was found that a popular cleaning agent was being recalled, due to its having an excess of these microorganisms. 

Clorox is voluntarily recalling about 37 million bottles of scented Pine-Sol because the cleaning products may contain bacteria that can cause serious infections in people with weakened immune systems, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said.
— Christine Chung, The New York Times, 26 Oct. 2022

Bacteria is the plural form of bacterium, a word for which we have both simple and complex definitions. The simple one is “any one of a group of very small living things that often cause disease — usually plural.” The longer, more scientifically complete, definition is as follows: “any of a domain (Bacteria) (see DOMAIN sense 8) of chiefly round, spiral, or rod-shaped single-celled prokaryotic microorganisms that typically live in soil, water, organic matter, or the bodies of plants and animals, that make their own food especially from sunlight or are saprophytic or parasitic, are often motile by means of flagella, reproduce especially by binary fission, and include many important pathogens.”

If you are interested in knowing more about bacteria, we also include this explanatory note in our entry for the word:

Microscopic single-celled organisms lacking a distinct nucleus are known as bacteria. They may be shaped like spheres, rods, or spirals. They inhabit virtually all environments, including soil, water, organic matter, and the bodies of animals. Many bacteria swim by means of long whiplike structures called flagella. The DNA of most bacteria is found in a single, circular chromosome, and is distributed throughout the cytoplasm rather than contained within a membrane-enclosed nucleus. Though some bacteria can cause food poisoning and infectious diseases in humans, most are harmless and many are beneficial. They are used in various industrial processes, especially in the food industry (for example, in the production of yogurt, cheeses, and pickles).

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Impedimenta’

This week our word worth knowing is impedimenta, defined as “things that impede.” There are innumerable things that might impede or slow one’s progress through life, and we imagine they are subtly different for everyone. Some might count a particular set of people as their impedimenta, while for others it may simply be the clutter of physical possessions they have accrued. No matter what they are, we hope you all find yourself free of impedimenta this whole weekend.

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday the recruited farce, with the wounded and other impedimenta, left the Zereba and marched slowly to the banks of the Nile, which was safely reached at nightfall.
The Times of India (Mumbai, Ind.), 15 Feb. 1885