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April 26, 2019  |  Friday words #169  |  2196 hit(s)

Last week, my son posted on Facebook that he would be shoutcasting a sports match—sorry, an esports match—for a team the school where he teaches. I didn't know what the word shoutcasting meant, because my ignorance of the world of esports and Twitch, the video-game livestreaming service, is nearly total.

I asked my son and consulted some other sources, and I'm still not convinced I entirely get it, but here's what I've learned. Shoutcasting is essentially the same as sportscasting for any sort of sports match, except you're narrating a videogame. There are play-by-play casters and color casters, just like for football or whatever. My son contrasted shoutcasting with traditional sportscasting by suggesting that "a lot of the action happens all at once and involves multiple people," and it's the shoutcaster's job to try to keep everything straight for folks who are watching.

It seems obvious that the word shoutcast is based on broadcast. Fun fact: broadcasting was originally an agricultural term. To broadcast is to throw seed by hand; to cast is "to throw." It took on a metaphoric meaning of "to disseminate" in the 19th century, but really took off in the early 20th century when it became the verb for what radio and TV do. Once we had that sense of broadcast, we broke off the ‑cast part again and created new terms like sportscasting and podcasting.

But why shoutcasting? It's true (apparently) that video-game commenters can get very excited. But according to one source I found, Shoutcast was actually a piece of software that let you stream audio, i.e., broadcast on the internet. A video on YouTube recounts the history of how Shoutcast the software evolved into shoutcasting the activity.

I don't have a reason to think that that history is incorrect, and that's about as far as I care to get into the world of esports for now. But at least I know, or think I know, what it is my son is doing the next time he talks about it.

Turning now to fun origins, today's is both an etymological nugget and a mnemonic! The word is nonplussed, a term that has two meanings that are almost exactly opposites. Some people use it to mean "unfazed" or "unperturbed." Others use it to mean "at a loss" or "surprised and confused." (Both senses are in the dictionary; I'm sorry if this makes you unhappy.)

The "unfazed" meaning seems to come from the idea that the non- part means "un" or "not." Someone who is non-plussed is not … something. Fazed or perturbed. Or anyway, that's the theory. But the etymology tells a different story. The origin is non plus in Latin, which means "no more." A person who is nonplussed is someone who basically can't even, as the kids say.

Something that's not evident today is that nonplus started as a noun, meaning "a state in which no more can be said or done" (OED). Here's a cite from 1657 that describes a situation that I'm sure we all recognize even today: "Their often failings, had put them to often stops and nonplusses in the work."

The word was used as an adjective ("Soon his wits were Non plus") and also as a transitive verb meaning "to bring to a standstill." ("I know it will non-plus his power to work a true miracle.") That's the sense we have today, although you don't often see it used in the active voice like that. ("In sportsball today, the Fierce Mammals nonplussed the Large Raptors in an upset.") But nothing is stopping you from that approach, so feel free.

In any event, if you experience momentary or full-time confusion about what nonplussed means, remember the "no more" sense, and you'll be all right.

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