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Words of the Week

The Words of the Week - 4/23/21

Some of the words that defined the week ending April 23, 2021

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’Marxism’ & ‘Ponzi scheme’

A brace of eponymous words, Marxism and Ponzi scheme, trended last weekend, after Representative Boebert tweeted that the former was the greatest example of the latter ever devised.

We define Marxism as “the political, economic, and social principles and policies advocated by Marx,” and note that it is especially “a theory and practice of socialism including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society.” The Marx in question is Karl Heinrich Marx (1818–1883), the German political philosopher and socialist. Ponzi scheme is named after Charles Ponzi, a noted American swindler, who was born in Italy, and died in 1949. We define Ponzi scheme as “an investment swindle in which some early investors are paid off with money put up by later ones in order to encourage more and bigger risks.” We do not view the two words as synonymous, or particularly related, except insofar as both are taken from the names of their creators.

’Languishing’

An article in The New York Times drew attention to a word that has been proposed as a descriptor for the state between being mentally well and unwell, languishing.

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing
— (headline) , 19 Apr. 2021

We do not provide an entry for languishing as a diagnosis, as this sense of the word is not yet in common or widespread use. We define the verb in a number of ways, including “to be or become feeble, weak, or enervated,” “to be or live in a state of depression or decreasing vitality,” “to become dispirited,” and “to suffer neglect.” English has accrued a number of other words for the state of being unhappy with the world, including ennui (“a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction”), Weltschmerz (“mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state”), and taedium vitae (“weariness or loathing of life”).

’Justice is served’ & ’Sea change’

Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd last week, and a number of words and phrases in our dictionary saw dramatic increases in lookups, including justice is served and sea change.

Justice may have been served in the legal sense, but true justice would be George Floyd still being alive
— (headline) , 21 Apr. 2021

“The prosecution’s case was powerfully presented and represented a real erosion of what used to be called ‘the blue wall,’” John J. Farmer Jr., a law professor at Rutgers University and the director of the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience, said in an interview. Farmer pointed to a potential “sea change” the verdict could represent.
, 20 Apr. 2021

We enter justice is served as an idiom (which also appears sometimes as justice is done), and define it as “proper punishment or fair treatment is given by the legal system.” Sea change has an archaic literal meaning, which is “a change brought about by the sea,” and a modern figurative one, which is “a marked change, a transformation.”

’Systemic’

Also trending in lookups following Chauvin’s conviction was systemic, after both Vice-President Harris and President Biden made use of the word in their remarks on the verdict.

It was a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism the Vice President just referred to — the systemic racism that is a stain our nation’s soul; the knee on the neck of justice for Black Americans; the profound fear and trauma, the pain, the exhaustion that Black and brown Americans experience every single day.
, (whitehouse.gov), 20 Apr. 2021

Systemic has a range of meanings, many of which are based in some way on “of, relating to, or common to a system.” These include “affecting the body generally,” “supplying those parts of the body that receive blood through the aorta rather than through the pulmonary artery,” and, most relevant to the present use, “fundamental to a predominant social, economic, or political practice.”

In current use systemic is often found modifying racism. This combination of words is not particularly new; we have evidence of these words used in fixed fashion consistently for more than 50 years.

The insurance companies’ universal discrimination against black churches and homeowners is a critical example of systemic racism.
— William Alberts, The Boston Globe, 13 Dec. 1970

”I know that we still are victims of systemic racism,” and I say ‘systemic’ because I do not believe that all white people, or all people in power, are racist, whether they’re white or black. But we have systems shot through with it.”
— Dr. Thomas Kilgore Jr., quoted in The Los Angeles Times, 2 May 1971

The final stage of the challenge to systemic racism is one of reconciliation.
Los Angeles Sentinel, 20 May, 1971

Our Antedating of the Week: ’chauvinism’

Our antedating of the week is chauvinism. The word today is typically used in the senses of either “an attitude of superiority toward members of the opposite sex” or “undue partiality or attachment to a group or place to which one belongs or has belonged.”Chauvinism came into English from the French chauvinisme, which was taken from the name of a character (Nicolas Chauvin) in Théodore and Hippolyte Cogniard's 1831 play La Cocarde tricolore. Chauvin was noted for his excessive devotion and patriotism, and this character trait is strongly reflected in the earliest recorded sense of chauvinism (“excessive or blind patriotism”). Our earliest known use had come in 1851, but recent findings show that we have been chauvinistic since at least the beginning of the 1840s.

And yet the French ridicule the absurd elegance and vanity of the old Bonaparte school. They ridicule Chauvinism, as they call it, even in their theatres.
The Morning Chronicle (London, Eng.), Jul.19 1841



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