The Words of January 2012

Fourteen “Words of the Day” from the last month.

Part 1 — (Definitions and Origins. Date of First Known Use in English Taken from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, except where noted)

1/15: Outrance [oo-TRAHNS] (noun) the utmost extremity.  Origin: Outrance came from the Old French word oltrance meaning “to pass beyond.” It is probably related to outrage. First Known Use: Not found

1/17: Alate [EY-leyt] (adjective) having wings; winged.  Origin: Alate is comprised of the Latin roots āla meaning “wing” and the suffix -ate which was used in Latin to make a word an adjective (like separate) but in English came to be used to create a verb out of a noun (like agitate). First Known Use: 1653

1/20: Deucedly [DOO-sid-lee] (adverb) devilishly; damnably.  Origin: Deucedly is related to the word deuce which refers to the face of a die with one dot, as in “to roll deuces.” It comes from the Latin word for two, duos. In the mid-1600s, it became associated with bad luck, probably because it was the lowest score you could get when playing dice. First Known Use: 1782

1/22: Natheless [NEYTH-lis] (adverb) nevertheless.  Origin: Natheless is an Old English word. meant “not” in Old English, and the other roots (the and less) have remained constant in modern English. First Known Use: before 12th century

1/25: Bleb [bleb] (noun) a bubble.  Origin: Bleb was first used in the early 1600s. It is considered imitative of a blister itself. It is also related to the Middle English word blob. First Known Use: 1607

1/30: Neoterism [nee-OT-uh-riz-uhm] (noun) an innovation in language, as a new word, term, or expression.  Origin: Though it did not come into English usage until the late 1800s, neoterism originally comes from the Greek word neōterismós which meant “an attempt to change.” First Known Use: 1870-75 (

1/31: Idoneous [ahy-DOH-nee-uhs] (adjective) appropriate; fit; suitable; apt.  Origin: Idoneous is derived from the Latin word idōneus which meant “suitable.” First Known Use: 1605-15 (

Merriam-Webster lists à outrance as an adverb meaning “to the limit: unsparingly,” with the first known use occurring in 1883. Both that and the noun form are French words that have been used in English, according to the entry, by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Walter Scott. Coincidentally, an entry for a word spelled exactly the same way at Urban Dictionary (presumably pronounced “out-trance”) calls the word a fancy synonym for “exit.” There is probably no etymological connection whatsoever. In any case, this French word is interesting, but I don’t see it getting much use. Outré, on the other hand, is an adjective meaning “unconventional” or “bizarre,” which has indeed found use in contemporary English. Sometimes it really is difficult to tell which words will catch on.

At first glance, I thought of alate as a rather pretty word for “winged.” But then I saw the noun form of the word, which refers exclusively to winged insects, specifically those in a species with both winged and wingless members (ants, aphids, termites). Insect wings are lovely in their own way, but inevitably my eyes wander to the bodies on which they rest. (Sorry, ants. I respect your diligence, but I do not find you attractive.) Regardless, next I read that the term can also refer to seeds with winglike extensions. In short, this is a synonym for “winged” with specific and useful applications.

Deucedly is a very English word (the country, I mean). Originating in the Latin word meaning “two,” the term came to be used in reference to rolling a two in a game of dice. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the bad luck of rolling a two, combined with the coincidental fact that the Latin word deus (“god”) sounds so similar, led to the word’s use as a “mild oath.” If it was a mild oath two or three hundred years ago, it’s humorously mild today. It can probably best be used ironically.

Natheless is an archaic term, which should come as no surprise based on the entry — the word has come to us unchanged from Old English. There’s no hope of its getting used when “nevertheless” is perfectly adequate, but the word was used in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. In a Medieval story, words like this one add authenticity among all those anachronistic, yet understandable, neologisms (aka neoterisms, but more on those later).

Bleb, while it sounds like baby talk for “bubble,” shares with alate a specifically scientific use that allows it to replace its more common synonym. Medical dictionaries refer to a bleb as a specific type of blister or “large flaccid vesicle,” meaning a blister filled with fluid. The term also has applications in mineralogy and cell biology, but a Google Image search of “bleb” will result primarily in pictures of eyes with unwanted bubbles on them. So much for what I first thought was a cute word.

Etymologically, the word neoterism doesn’t seem to call for such a specific definition as the one given above. But Merriam-Webster agrees: a neoterism is “a newly invented word or phrase,” not just any new thing. By contrast, the definition of the adjective neoteric usually contains only the words “recent” and “modern.” This is ironic, because apparently a group of poets in ancient Greece were known as the Neoteric poets, which is the best explanation I’ve found for why neoterism is used the way it is. Also, neoteric has been used in English nearly three hundred years longer than the noun form. That probably makes this an example of a word the use of which becomes more general over time. All that aside, it could be said that neologism has beaten neoterism at its own game, since the former is more commonly used in reference to new words. The WordPress spell-checker certainly seems to think so.

Idoneous, sadly, is also labeled archaic by Merriam-Webster. And who can argue, given the four perfectly idoneous substitutes in the definition above? Let us mourn the passing of this euphonious word, but then let us turn and cheer the amount of space and mental effort we can save by using the word “apt” instead.

Part 2 — Urban Dictionary

1/15: Brainchow (noun) what zombies eat. Definition contributed in 2011

1/17: Mompetition (noun) the one-up rivalry that moms play making their child seem better, smarter, and/or more advanced than yours. May involve two or more moms and any number of children, even full-grown. Definition contributed in 2009

1/20: What’s your 20? (interrogative) your position, the place you are. Definition contributed in 2006

1/22: Open relationship (noun) a euphemism describing a relationship in which one or more participates [sic] are cheating. Definition contributed in 2010

1/25: Haters gonna hate (phrase) a phrase that represents ones [sic] complete and total disregard of another’s negative comment towards the original person. Definition contributed in 2010

1/30: iFinger (noun) it’s the finger(s) you purposely keep clean when you eat something messy so you could operate your touchscreen smartphone/tablet/GPS without making the screen look like your plate. Definition contributed in 2012

1/31: Empty gesture (noun) making a nice (fake) gesture for someone when you don’t really mean it, hoping that the person who you are making that gesture to won’t actually as [sic] you for a favor, or follow up on that offer you made. You just say it to seem like a nice person. This phrase is used in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Definition contributed in 2009

Brainchow is about as simple and direct as a word can be. And yet I can’t help but wonder: who came up with it? I’ve never known a zombie to use words, much less invent new ones. Furthermore, any living person with the least self-regard would never think of him- or herself as food. It could be a coping mechanism, upon seeing a pack of zombies eating someone else’s brains, to trivialize it. But I would consider that poor form.

Mompetition presents a relatable idea. It’s a good example of an Urban Dictionary portmanteau word, which tend to explain themselves. The facility of its construction leads me to question its longevity. See that sentence? I used big words but restrained myself from using fancier words than “leads” and “question.” Hence, the sentence is impressive but not inaccessible. My mom will be so proud.

What’s your 20? is a clear example of a word that predates Urban Dictionary. It is part of a whole argot particular to law enforcement and users of CB (citizens’ band) radio. As such, it’s been in use for decades as a code word but has leaked into the mainstream, like “10-4” (meaning, “I understand”). It may remain fun to say, but it only gets more useless when jokers like me broadcast the definition to the world.

The definition of open relationship quoted above is biased against the idea. Other Urban Dictionary definitions are biased in favor of it, with paeans like “to have it all,” “where one person does not own the other,” and “it takes two very mature people.” Objectively, an “open relationship” is one in which both partners agree not to be strictly monogamous but to allow for flirtations or even sex with third parties. Urban Dictionary allows its users to approve or disapprove of each definition. Although the negative definition got the most votes overall, more people disapprove of it than approve. The opposite is true for the favorable definitions. It’s hardly a scientific poll, but I would be surprised if a survey of the culture at large didn’t reveal more support for the idea of an open relationship than there had been twenty or thirty years ago. Monogamy is difficult and is definitely losing favor with younger people. But I side with the “cheating” definition; open relationships are a corrosive and ultimately lethal idea.

It was exciting to read on Know Your Meme that the phrase haters gonna hate was possibly invented by the 3LW song “Playas Gon’ Play,” because I think of that song whenever I hear the phrase. That sort of thing makes me feel like I was there when the phenomenon started. Not as exciting as seeing the world’s first instance of planking firsthand, perhaps, but I’ll take what I can get. The phrase itself is a concise way of silencing critics, putting them down in multiple ways all at once. The temptation, of course, would be to close one’s mind to all criticism, chalking up all disagreement to “hating.” In fact, the phrase’s mantra-like rhythm might make such closed-mindedness all but inevitable. Don’t do it! Resist the urge to call anyone who dislikes even the most trivial things about you a “hater.” Take criticism and grow from it. I don’t hate you, I promise.

iFinger is the word I can relate to the most in this group. I’ve found that, since college, I’ve become much more concerned with keeping my hands clean, always washing them before and after I eat — especially if I want to touch a laptop keyboard, remote control or my iPod after the meal. The touchscreen is particularly vulnerable to looking terrible if one touches it with dirty fingers. For me, it’s not even an iFinger; it’s an iHand. If I really need to read something on my iPod while I eat, I will eat with my left hand only. This is a rare occurrence, though. Newspapers maintain one advantage over electronic devices: they already feel a little messy. As for the word itself — I’m not sure iFinger is the best way to describe it. For one thing, Apple will probably invent an iFinger at some point. For another, the configuration of the word calls to mind a certain gesture, as would any reference to “the finger.” Still, it’s an amusing idea.

The empty gesture is a social gambit, an attempt to curry favor without risking any actual effort. It could also be seen as an empty proclamation of concern about something over which the speaker has no control. This is an excellent term, conveying an interesting idea in a simple way. In two words, it confronts an instance of pride masked as humility. As with many Urban Dictionary words, it’s difficult to find outside information about “empty gesture.” Therefore, I’m not sure if Larry David coined the term, but it feels like the term is older than his show Curb Your Enthusiasm. That’s just my guess at this point.

Natheless, I won’t hesitate to eat every bleb, as part of a healthy and balanced brainchow. It is idoneous to save the iFinger for dessert, as it is the cleanest part. Don’t be so deucedly judgmental; haters gonna hate.

One response to “The Words of January 2012

  1. Pingback: Double Feature: The Secret World of Arrietty and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids | Infinite Crescendo·

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