Words of the Week

Merriam-Webster's Words of the Week - Dec. 17

The words that defined the week ending December 17th, 2021


Extradite spiked in lookups over last weekend, after a British court ruled that Julian Assange, the Australian founder of Wikileaks, could be extradited to the United States.

Julian Assange can be extradited to the US, court rules
— (headline) BBC, 10 Dec. 2021

Extradite, defined as “to deliver up to extradition" or “to obtain the extradition of,” is a back formation from extradition (“the surrender of an alleged criminal usually under the provisions of a treaty or statute by one authority (such as a state) to another having jurisdiction to try the charge”). Extradition may be traced to the Latin word traditio (“act of handing over”), a root it shares with both tradition and treason.


Outbreak had a considerable amount of use early in the week, following a number of tornadoes in the South and Midwest.

Tornado Outbreak: Victims Range in Age from 2 Months to 98 Years
— (headline) The Weather Channel (weather.com), 14 Dec. 2021

Among the more common meanings of outbreak is “a sudden start or increase of fighting or disease.” The word is most frequently found used in conjunction with illness, either specifically (referring to outbreaks of such as flu, cholera, or measles), or in general (as with outbreaks of disease or infection. However, the word may also simply mean “a sudden or violent increase in activity or currency”; when outbreak is used in reference to something that is related to neither fighting or disease, tornado is one of its most common companions.  

’Claw back’

Claw back was given a workout by many journalists last week, after it was announced that Andrew Cuomo, former governor of New York, would be obliged to repay money from a book deal.

The New York state ethics commission voted Tuesday to claw back the $5 million that former Governor Andrew Cuomo received for a memoir he wrote about his management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
— Karen Dewitt, WAMC, 14 Dec. 2021

We define the verb use of claw back in this sense as “to recover (money or benefits) especially by putting into effect additional taxation or clawback provisions.” The word may also function as a noun (as seen in the second definition given to the verb), in which case it is typically written as a single word.

The proceeds from “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” will be turned over to the state Attorney General’s Office. Officials will then decide where the clawback funds go, which may include the state, the publisher or another entity.
KABC.com, 15 Dec. 2021

There is yet another sense of clawback, which we define as “flatterer, sycophant.” This sense, now considered dialectal, dates in use as far back as the middle of the 16th century.

For they speake not those thinges that the trueth of the Gospel teacheth, but the thinges that are pleasaunt and acceptable to them, whom they hope to get any vauntage by. Agaynst the poore they are tyrannes, but towardes the ryche they are very clawbackes.
— Desiderius Erasmus (trans.), The seconde tome or volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus vpon the Newe Testament, 1549


Latinx has attracted attention recently, following reports that the word was neither widely adopted nor liked by many of the people to whom it might apply.

Domingo García, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation's oldest Latino civil rights organization, has instructed staff and board members to drop the word "Latinx" from the group's official communications … "Let's stop using Latinx in all official communications," García said, adding that it's "very unliked" by almost all Latinos.
— Suzanne Gamboa, NBC News, 9 Dec. 2021

We define Latinx as “of, relating to, or marked by Latin American heritage —used as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina,” and suggest that it is primarily encountered as a written form. The most common way to pronounce Latinx is the same way you would Spanish-derived Latina or Latino but pronouncing the "x" as the name of the English letter X (something like \luh-TEE-neks\).


NFT spiked in lookups, after former First Lady Melania Trump said that she would soon be selling some of these.

Melania Trump is getting in on the latest crypto craze -- NFTs. The former first lady announced Thursday that she is selling an NFT, or a non-fungible token, titled "Melania's Vision" -- her first public endeavor since leaving office almost one year ago.
— Kate Bennett and Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN, 16 Dec. 2021

We define non-fungible token as “a unique digital identifier that cannot be copied, substituted, or subdivided, that is recorded in a blockchain, and that is used to certify authenticity and ownership (as of a specific digital asset and specific rights relating to it).” The word may also be defined as “the asset that is represented by a non-fungible token.” Fungible (which was encountered considerably less often prior to 2017, when NFT began appearing in print) itself has a small range of meanings, including “interchangeable,” “flexible,” and “being something (such as money or a commodity) of such a nature that one part or quantity may be replaced by another equal part or quantity in paying a debt or settling an account.”

Our Antedating of the Week

Our antedating of the week is the aforementioned extradite. Our earliest known record of use had previously come in 1864, but recent findings show that we have been extraditing people since at least the 1840s.

The Austrians, however, endeavoured to move the Porte to extradite the Prince Ragoezi, with other Hungarian fugitives, who had placed themselves under the protection of the Porte.
The Morning Chronicle (London, Eng.), 8 Oct. 1849

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