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November 09, 2017  |  Friday words #94  |  2900 hit(s)

Between the semi-annual change for daylight saving time and Twitter's rollout of the 280-character limit, it's been a week of much grousing. As a respite, let's think instead about words.

A couple of new-to-me terms this week. The first is, for a change, very recent. I saw it in this headline:

I'm not finding any other references to this, so it's possible that the headline writer invented the term. The article itself doesn't use the term as such; instead, the headline seems to point to this closing paragraph of the article:
Moore will be the highest-profile politician to face accounts of sexual molestation on the campaign trail since the Weinstein revelations. Breitbart, the conservative website operated by erstwhile Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, worked with Moore’s campaign to publish a story denying the accusations and characterizing the story as a smear. On the other hand, several Republican senators, including majority leader Mitch McConnell said that if the allegations are true, Moore should end his campaign. What will they do if he does not?
So what does the Weinstein test mean here? I can see it two ways. One possible take is that it refers to how a person's tribe reacts when unsavory revelations come to light. Does the tribe close ranks and protect the accused, or does it condemn and cast them out? Alternatively, it can refer not to a test of how (in this case) the GOP will react, but how the GOP will be tested in the face of these accusations. Please send your votes, along with a crisp dollar bill, to me here at Friday Words. Haha. Or if that doesn’t work for you, maybe just leave a comment.

Anyway, this is quite possibly a one-off term, never to be seen again: a nonce word. Given the cadence of these scandals, tho, who knows.

Update My wife points out that Weinstein has become a productive qualifier for talking about (at least) this flavor of scandal. Another example is the Weinstein effect ("the wider reckoning sparked by women coming forward with sexual-assault allegations against the mega-producer Harvey Weinstein"), a term that has a better foothold at the moment than Weinstein test.

As a second term, I have another one that’s scandal related. From FB Friend Sam I picked up the word volkswagened, which refers to rigging something so that it performs in a specific way when being tested, and a different way under more normal circumstances. This of course comes from the Volkswagen emissions scandal (a.k.a. dieselgate), when the company was caught with software in their diesel cars that could detect when the engine was being emissions-tested and adjust the engine for cleaner exhaust.

Friend Sam is in the software biz and encountered volkswagened at work. There's an Urban Dictionary entry that captures a generic definition: "The act of deliberately hiding bugs and issues from testers to get a product approved." Interestingly, I also found the term used in a slightly broader way just to refer to a bi-modal motor, in this case for electric bikes—a limited mode for flat roads, a "turbo mode" for hills. This usage strikes me as not quite correct, because it doesn't include the sense of subterfuge that defined the Volkswagen scandal. (In fact, this last usage just describes a governor, in the engineering sense.) But who am I to tell people how to use the term?

For word origins today, why do we say that something is "blown to smithereens"? First, of course, what the heck are smithereens? "Small pieces," okay. And whence this interesting term? Irish, apparently, from the word smidirín, meaning "fragment." There is or was apparently a variant English word that was just smithers. The OED has an example from 1847: "One brother is a rascal—another a spend-thrift..—the family all gone to smithers." Their most recent example is from 1865.

Something fun (even more fun than the word smithers) is that the -een ending is a diminutive. The such-as example that everyone gives is the name Colleen, which is from Irish caile (girl) plus the diminutive (-ín). Similar diminutives in English are something like Mike > Mikey. Ahem.

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