Words of the Week - May 20

Dictionary lookups from outer space, Ukraine, and the world of food delivery apps


UFO spiked in lookups last week, after Congress held a series of hearings on things which might resemble flying saucers.

The congressional hearing was the first in more than a half-century to focus on military reports of unexplained phenomena — the current term for U.F.O.s — and a chance for lawmakers to prod the Pentagon for more information.
— Julian E. Barnes, The New York Times, 17 May 2022

UFO is simply the shortened form of unidentified flying object, defined as “a mysterious flying object in the sky that is sometimes assumed to be a spaceship from another planet.” Both words are fairly recent: unidentified flying object has been in use since the 1940s, and UFO from the following decade. When pluralizing UFO you may write either UFO's or UFOs.

Large numbers of flying discs Saturday were reported seen both on Independence Day and several weeks ago by many Magic Valley residents. Within a 20-minute period at least 35 of the unidentified flying objects were seen by nearly 60 persons who were picnicking at Twin Falls park Friday.
The Times-News (Twin Falls, ID), 6 Jul. 1947

The U.S. Air Force privately admits that flying saucers do exist and this is the “hands-off” story of official findings … With appendix of Air Intelligence UFO (“unidentified flying objects”) sightings.
— (advt.) The New York Times, 8 Nov. 1953

’White supremacist’

White supremacist spiked dramatically in lookups last week, after a white supremacist murdered a number of people in Buffalo, NY.

The white 18-year-old from Conklin, N.Y., suspected of killing 10 people Saturday in a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket, appears to represent a new generation of white supremacists. They are isolated and online, radicalized on internet memes and misinformation, apparently inspired by livestreams to find fame through bloodshed, much of it propelled by convoluted ideas that the white race is under threat from everything from interracial marriage to immigration.
— Jenny Jarvie, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, The Los Angeles Times, 15 May 2022

Our definition for white supremacist is “a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” It is worth noting that our dictionary often has definitions with broad wording; there are entries which are defined in such a manner as to include slight shifts in meaning and nuances of use. White supremacists tend to be in opposition to many groups (based on not only race but also religion or ethnicity); white supremacy is, for instance, often highly correlated with anti-Semitism as well.


Saber-rattling also came up in many news stories, after a Russian journalist cautioned that his country should not engage in this sort of thing.

"Don't saber-rattle," Khodaryonok said in his appearance, referring to Russia's threats to attack Finland. "Don't engage with saber-rattling with missiles in Finland's direction," adding that it's such a poor tactic that it's almost “amusing.”
— Azmi Haroun, Business Insider, 16 May 2022

A saber is either “a long, heavy sword with a curved blade” (when used by cavalry) or “a lightweight sword used in fencing.” Saber-rattling is “overtly and often exaggeratedly threatening actions or statements (such as verbal threats or ostentatious displays of military power) that are meant to intimidate an enemy by suggesting possible use of force.” The word may be spelled hyphenated (saber-rattling) or unhyphenated (saber rattling); in British use it is more commonly written with sabre, rather than saber.


Lookups of monkeypox increased dramatically last week, following reports that a number of cases of this disease had been recorded.

Rare monkeypox outbreak in U.K., Europe and U.S.: What is it and should we worry?
— (headline) NPR, 18 May 2022

We define monkeypox as “a rare virus disease especially of central and western Africa that is caused by a poxvirus (species Monkeypox virus of the genus Orthopoxvirus), occurs chiefly in wild rodents and primates, and when transmitted to humans resembles smallpox but is milder.” Pox is defined as “a virus disease (such as chicken pox) characterized by pustules or eruptions.” This shorter word is an alteration of pocks, which is the plural of pock. And pock, for those who are still with us on this etymological journey, is “a pustule in an eruptive disease, such as smallpox” (or a spot suggesting such a pustule).

’Free lunch’

Free lunch was found in numerous newspaper stories last week, after a promotional event by a delivery company went awry.

Grubhub had crunched the numbers, and the company predicted that a “free lunch” promotion it ran Tuesday in New York City would, more or less, double the number of the platform’s orders. The forecast was more than a bit off: During its peak, Grubhub’s app and website were processing — or trying to process — 6,500 orders per minute.
— Tim Carman, The Washington Post, 18 May 2022

We define free lunch as “something one does not have to pay for,” and also as synonymous with free ride (which means “a benefit obtained at another's expense or without the usual cost or effort”). People have been warning that there is no such thing as a free lunch (either literal or figurative) since the late 19th century.

New Yorkers in politics think there can be no rights, no liberty, and no freedom, where there is no free lunch.
Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA), 5 Apr. 1896

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Epicharikaky’

Epicharikaky was defined by Joseph Scott as “a joy for the misfortune of others” in his 1755 work A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary. The word appears to have seen little, if any, actual use outside of a handful of 18th century dictionaries. We are not sure why epicharikaky failed to catch on, when its synonym schadenfreude has been such a hit, but no one ever said language was fair. In any event, if you have to witness any misfortune this weekend we hope that you at least gain some epicharikaky from it.