Weekly Word Watch: from catios to frankenmissiles
Comfortable kitties? Looming nuclear catastrophe? We’ve got you covered on this week’s roundup of the most unusual and noteworthy words in news and culture:
This week, US President Trump cancelled DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The immigration policy, enacted under the Obama administration in 2012, protected undocumented children brought to the US by their parents from deportation. These nearly 800,000 individuals – a great many of whom are studying, working, paying taxes, and even serving in the military – are often called ‘Dreamers’, and their fate is now uncertain.
The name Dreamer was originally DREAMer, taken from a piece of bipartisan legislation called DREAM Act – a backronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors – which would provide a legal status for them. The DREAM Act, first introduced in 2001 and variously reiterated since, never passed, but the name has stuck for those whom it is designed to help.
Besides alluding to the legislation, Dreamer also calls up, of course, the literal meaning of ‘one who dreams’ – of one who has great hopes and visions for their life in America. Historically, the word dreamer, attested as early as 1425, carried a negative connotation, with the dreams perceived as impractical or overly idealistic. The term has since evolved a much more positive – and political – tone. Dream, though, has long been part of the political fabric of the US, with the American Dream dating back to the 1910s.
Much to the alarm of the international community, North Korea accelerated its nuclear capabilities when it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb this week. South Korea, in response, is developing so-called ‘Frankenmissiles’. These weapons are so named because they are a hybrid of two types of ballistic missiles, fitted with two-tonne bombs powerful enough for South Korea to bomb out its northern adversary’s underground military facilities. North Korea also paraded Frankenmissiles earlier this year.
Franken- is a combining form taken from Mary Shelley’s 1818 horror-romance masterpiece Frankenstein, a word now widely used in popular culture for the manlike monster brought to life by his creator, Victor Frankenstein. As prefix, Franken- took off in the 1990s to scorn genetic modification, e.g., Frankenfood. As we are seeing in the case of Frankenmissiles on the Korean peninsula, Franken- has evolved to refer to any combination of disparate elements, often formidable if not grotesque, like 2012’s powerful storm Sandy, dubbed a Frankenstorm. Frankenmissile itself may be considered a Frankenword, a playful and pejorative term for an unseemly portmanteau.
Speaking of Frankenwords, many Torontonian ailurophiles have been taking to ‘catios’. Yes, that’s a patio for cats. The catio is a small enclosure that allows domestic cats to be outdoors safely, typically with an entrance back indoors. Cat-owners in Toronto have been especially building or buying their own catios of late, a blend word that’s been around since at least 2010, as an ‘alarming number of cats have been found dead in the city’, the Toronto Star reported. The leading suspect? Another Frankenword: the coywolf, a coyote-wolf hybrid resulting from the interbreeding of the two canines.
The big bad wolf in India this week was black money. Late last year, the Indian government demonetized high-value currency notes in an effort to crack down on the country’s rampant black money, or ‘money undeclared for tax purposes’, thereby curbing tax evasion and corruption. In spite of these measures, India’s central bank recently estimated nearly all of the banned banknotes ‘were deposited or exchanged for new currency’ – quite the black spot for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
As a term, Indian black money has been in circulation in 1960s, calling up earlier uses of the phrase for ‘illegally obtained money’ in the US in the 1930s. And yet earlier, black money named copper-rich silver coins in Scotland in the 15th century, extended to any ‘counterfeit money’.
Black money may be earned on the black market, a term the Oxford English Dictionary first records in Daniel Defoe’s 1727 supplement to his business text, The Complete English Tradesman: ‘But the weaver wanting the money immediately…goes to another kind of market, and which I may say is a black market of thieves to him’. The use of black, in all these instances, plays with long-running symbolism of the colour’s evil or immorality.
To much hype this week, Kensington Palace announced that Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – Will and Kate – are ‘expecting their third child’. The press release also noted that Kate is again suffering hyperemesis gravidarum. This complication is like but more severe than morning sickness, the nausea and vomiting some expectant mothers experience early on in pregnancy.
Read the press release in full ↓ pic.twitter.com/vDTgGD2aGF
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) September 4, 2017
Hyperemesis gravidarum first appears in an 1873 translation of German doctor Karl Schroeder’s Manual of Midwifery. Hyperemesis literally means ‘over-vomiting’, joining the Greek-based hyper (‘above, beyond’, also seen in hyperactive) and emesis (‘vomiting’, also seen in emetic). Gravidarum is Latin for ‘of pregnant women’, based on the adjective gravidus, ‘burdened, swollen, heavy’, extended in the Ancient Roman imagination to the experience of pregnancy. Gravidus is also related to grave (‘serious’) and gravity (with its ‘downward’ force).