Weekly Word Watch: bomb cyclone, raw water, and gangsta
Happy New Year! We hope it brings you great happiness and prosperity. As for new and noteworthy words and phrases? We’ve got you covered, including here on our first Word Watch of 2018.
As Storm Eleanor batters Western Europe, a powerful winter storm is developing off the already icy eastern coast of the US, and many are speaking of it in just as powerful terms: bomb cyclone. Also known as a weather bomb, a bomb cyclone brings severe wind, winter precipitation, and coastal flooding, like a kind of winter hurricane.
The major weather event results from a process called explosive cyclogenesis, or more popularly, bombogenesis, which occurs when a mid-latitude cyclone intensifies from the collision of cold, dry air with warm, moist, ocean air. This causes a rapid, bomb-like drop in atmospheric pressure, suddenly generating violent weather, hence bomb cyclone.
— NOAA's Ocean Service (@noaaocean) January 3, 2018
Other winter-weather terms we’ve encountered in recent years – polar vortex, snowmageddon, and thundersnow – may suggest bomb cyclone is the latest bit of meteorological bombast. But use of the term can be found in technical papers as early as 1980, with the specific phrase bomb cyclone appearing at least by 1984. Weather bomb is even older, this metaphorical phrase for a ‘rapidly developing severe storm’ evidenced by 1948, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
The New Year may be bringing severe weather, but we are meeting it with resolve – including, for many of us, goals for leading healthier lives. For some, those resolutions might mean turning to one of the latest dietary buzzwords: raw water, or natural water which hasn’t been treated in any way.
Just before 2018 kicked off, the New York Times reported on the growing ‘water consciousness movement’ in the US. Catchily named startups like Live Water or Liquid Eden are taking water ‘off the grid’, the paper continues, by selling unsterilized water free of fluoride, chlorine, and other chemicals in tap water which they believe kill off healthful bacteria. Problem is, scientists have widely found the risks of these chemicals to be extremely low – and the risks of sickness and disease from consuming raw water to be very high.
We can find evidence for the phrase raw water in various scientific contexts as early as 1873, but startups such as Live Water may be capitalizing on the trend of the word raw towards positive connotations, e.g., raw foods. Phrases like clean eating and clean sleeping join them in our societal appetite for less processed diets or less ‘noisy’ lifestyles. But you probably don’t want to be drinking up raw water any time soon, despite all the recent word of mouth.
Speaking of diets, Shropshire restaurant owner Laura Goodman has stirred up controversy after she’s reported to have commented on Facebook: ‘Pious, judgmental vegan (who I spent all day cooking for) has gone to bed, still believing she’s a vegan’ and ‘Spiked a vegan a few hours ago’.
Goodman’s posts have led to her resignation and even death threats, but they’ve also brought an expanded application of the verb spike into the mainstream. Here, spiking a vegan means serving an unwitting person animal products, just as secretly spiking a food or drink laces it with alcohol or drugs. The Oxford English Dictionary attests spiking drinks with alcohol as early as 1889, while Green’s Dictionary of Slang finds spiking comestibles with knockout drugs in the 1920s.
Evidence for spiking vegans can be found online at least by November 2011, when a Tweeter wrote:
Evil Fridays Continue with spike a vegan's food with steak at today's stunt!
— Charles R. (@cdndodobird) November 18, 2011
And in September, 2012 a commenter on a vegan website posted: ‘There are people who think it funny to spike a vegan dish with some animal protein just as there are people who would tell a Muslim their sausage gravy is made of beef when in fact it is pork’.
Earlier in 2012, meanwhile, vegetarian cooking website This Dish is Veg used spike in a manner vegans would get behind: ‘Spiking kids’ food with vegetables is a common thought that crosses your mind when you’re entrenched in a food battle with a persnickety 3 year old’.
As veganism spikes in popularity, we suspect we’ll see more instances, unfortunately, of the extended meat or animal sense of spiking.
Nick Spicher, a recent contestant on the US gameshow Jeopardy!, lost $1600 for his rhoticity, or pronunciation of Rs at the end of words, among other places.
— Jeopardy! (@Jeopardy) January 2, 2018
As the show’s blog explains, lightly edited here for style:
The $1600 clue in the MUSIC & LITERATURE BEFORE & AFTER category called for the combined title of two works: ‘A song by Coolio from ‘Dangerous Minds’ goes back in time to become a 1667 John Milton classic’.
The correct response? ‘What is Gangsta’s Paradise Lost?’
Although Nick’s response of ‘Gangster’s Paradise Lost’ was initially accepted, the hard R sound caught the ear of one member of the onstage team, who immediately followed up with a quick check.
It turns out that ‘gangsta’ and ‘gangster’ are both listed separately in the Oxford English Dictionary, each with its own unique definition.
Nick changed not only the song’s title, but also its meaning – making his response unacceptable.
It is true the OED has separate definitions. It enters gangster (1884) as ‘a member of a criminal gang, esp. one involved in organized crime’, and gangsta (1998) as ‘a member of an urban territorial gang’. But it goes on to gloss gangsta as a ‘gangster’, as it is indeed so derived from the non-rhotic, Black English pronunciation of the word.
The judges’ ruling seems like a lot of, er, R-splitting, and it raises questions about how they would treat non-rhotic English dialects and accents. Spicher, for his part, still went on to win the game.
Elsewhere in matters of definition, Sylvain Maikan, a leader of Canadian far-right group La Meute, wrote on Facebook that he is ‘Aboriginal’ in the ‘strict sense of the word’ because his ‘family has been here for 400 years’, with autochtone the Canadian French word he originally used for ‘Aboriginal’ in his posting.
His comments sparked much outrage. As Mohawk chief Serge Simon told the Montreal Gazette: ‘Indigenous people have been in Quebec for thousands of years. Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin with this, my mind is going in a hundred different directions’.
We’ll go in just one of those directions: the big book. Now used especially for the first peoples in Canada and Australia, aboriginal literally means ‘from the beginning’ in Latin, with the OED first attesting the term in 1650 for ‘first or earliest as recorded by history’ or ‘indigenous’. It has been used for the native peoples of places before European colonization since 1698 and is today widely capitalized.
So, no, Sylvain Maikan, you are definitely not aboriginal in any literal sense of the word.