Words of the Week

The Good, The Bad, & The Semantically Imprecise - 12/7/18

The words that defined the week of December 7th, 2018

Welcome to The Good, The Bad, & The Semantically Imprecise, in which we look over some of the words that tickled your curiosity this past week. Please note that the word bad is used here in a semantically vague fashion; we do not really think of any words as bad (although sometimes they are a bit unruly).

words of the week december 7 2018

Winter is on its way.

Very Reverend

The death of George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States, drew attention to a number of words, including Godspeed, noblesse oblige, and scion. A reading at his funeral drew further attention to the title of the man giving it, the Very Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith.

Anthems and a prayer from The Very Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the Washington National Cathedral. Lauren Bush Lauren and Ashley Walker Bush read Isaiah 60:1-5, 18-20.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4 Dec. 2018

Very Reverend is defined as "a title for various ecclesiastical officials (such as cathedral deans and canons, rectors of Roman Catholic colleges and seminaries, and superiors of some religious houses)." Most Reverend and Right Reverend are also ecclesiastical titles, although depending on the denomination and country in which applied may refer to different ranks. If you are unsure whether your reverend is most, right, or very the best course of action is to ask them.


Individual was also very much in the news this week, after court filings in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller indicated that President Trump was identified by this legalistic sobriquet.

In two major developments this week, President Trump has been labeled in the parlance of criminal investigations as a major subject of interest, complete with an opaque legal code name: “Individual 1.”
— Carol D. Leonnig & Josh Dawsey, The Washington Post, 29 Nov. 2018

Individual comes from the Latin individuus ("indivisible"), and shares a root (dividere, "to divide") with several other words in English, including divide, divisive, and dividend. Both the adjective and noun forms of individual date in use to the 15th century.


In other news related to Mueller's investigation, Rudy Giuliani sent many users to the dictionary to look up bubkes, after he used the word in reference to court proceedings related to Michael Flynn.

Bubkes comes from Yiddish (it is thought to be a shortening of kozebubkes, which literally means "goat droppings"), and as is often the case with words taken from this language, has a number of variant spellings. We enter bubkes, bupkus, and bupkes, although other forms (such as bupkis) are occasionally found.

And now ... our Antedating of the Week!

Our antedating of the week is undocumented, which may be defined as either "not supported by documentary evidence" or "lacking documents required for legal immigration or residence." The former sense is the earlier one, and previously our earliest record of such use was from 1867. Recent findings indicate that the word has been in English for considerably longer, since at least 1723.

But not only is this Piece of History altogether undocumented, which notwithstanding is a Fault, the Man scarce deserves to have pardon'd him, who can so severely discipline others for the same Oversight, but has moreover such eminent Tokens of a forged Story.
— Robert Riccaltoun, A Sober Enquiry into the Grounds of the Present Differences in the Church of Scotland, 1723

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!