Words of the Week - April 22

Dictionary lookups from social media, the federal judiciary, and Passover
matzoh on plate with flowers

Chag Pesach samech!


A judge’s ruling last week greatly increased searches for vacate, after this is what happened to the federal mask mandate.

DOJ Will Appeal Ruling that Vacated Mask Mandate on Airlines
— (headline) Business Travel News, 21 Apr. 2021

Vacate is commonly found used in such senses as “to deprive of an incumbent or occupant” and “to give up the incumbency or occupancy of.” However, the word has a common legal use, which is defined as “to make void; to annul.” The word comes from the Latin vacare (“to be empty, be free”), a root it shares with both vacancy and vacation.


The ruling also focused attention on the meaning of the word sanitation.

When U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle tossed out the federal government's transportation mask mandate on Monday, she relied in part on her interpretation of the term “sanitation." … The administration argued that masks qualified as "sanitation" under the law, but Mizelle disagreed, opting for a much narrower definition of the term that would exclude measures like face coverings. Legal experts say her interpretation missed the mark.
— Joe Hernandez & Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR, 19 Apr. 2022

We offer the following definitions of sanitation: “the act or process of making sanitary,” “the application of measures to make environmental conditions favorable to health,” and “the maintenance of a healthy population of a wild species by the selective action of predators in removing weak or unfit individuals.”


A number of people raised their lexical eyebrows after The New York Times referred to a Russian military assault as much anticipated.

Anticipated is defined as “expected or looked-forward to.” While it is true that the first portion of this definition (“expected”) may well apply to the military action in question, it seems unlikely that the second portion (“looked-forward to”) does. The English language has a number of words which may work well enough in one situation, but perform poorly in another similar one (especially when modified by much); if you find yourself called upon to describe some calamitous event, you may wish to avoid referring to it as much anticipated.


The social media account for a company that manufactures candy bars took to Twitter to assure people that the veins found on one of its offerings would continue to be apparent (this sentence has gone through many prior drafts).

While the most commonly employed sense of vein is perhaps “blood vessel,” in this case the relevant meaning is “something suggesting veins (as in reticulation); specifically, a wavy variegation (as in marble).” If you would like to talk about candy bars and their veins with the proper degree of sangfroid and urbanity here are some words you may wish to acquaint yourself with: venous (“full of or characterized by veins”), venose (“having numerous or conspicuous veins”), and, for the truly discriminating, phleboid (“having the properties of or characterized by veins”).


Miscommunication and confusion surrounding the flight plans of what turned out to be parachutists from the U.S. Army caused the Capitol to be briefly evacuated.

When used in cases dealing with ‘leaving a place’ evacuate carries meanings such as “to remove especially from a military zone or dangerous area.” Whenever such uses of the word come up in the news we hear from folks who feel strongly that English only permits things such as buildings or cities to be evacuated, and that it is somehow improper to write “the people were evacuated.” And every time we hear this we say something along the lines of ‘Pshaw! You can evacuate buildings (or cities), and you can also evacuate people from these buildings.’


This week also saw the bulk of Passover, the Jewish holiday that this year began on April 15th and ends in the evening of the 23rd.

Let my people go: How to avoid constipation on Passover
— (headline) The Jerusalem Post, 21 Apr. 2022

Passover (also referred to as Pesach) is a Jewish holiday beginning on the 14th of Nisan and commemorating the Hebrews' liberation from slavery in Egypt. The name has a literal origin, referring to the exemption of the Israelites from the slaughter of the firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 12:23–27).

Words You Should Know: ‘Ruthful’

Most people are familiar with the word ruthless (“having no pity“), having at some point made the unfortunate acquaintance of someone of this nature, yet few of us have a similar familiarity with this word’s antonym. Ruthful is defined as “tender,” “full of sorrow,” or “causing sorrow.” The word ruth, from which ruthless and ruthful both come, may itself be defined as either “compassion for the misery of another” or “sorrow for one's own faults. ”