11 words we learned from TV this week

From narcoterrorism to norovirus, an etymologic look at some curious words mentioned on Glee, New Girl, The Daily Show, and more

(Image credit: ThinkStock/Digital Vision)

1. baller

Baller has two meanings: "one who plays basketball," and "one who lives an extravagant, money-driven lifestyle." The first meaning originated around 1867, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and referred to a player of any ball game. The second meaning is much newer, coming about around 1990, also according to the OED, perhaps "with reference to the perceived tendency of successful basketball players to spend ostentatiously."

Example: Andy: "You are officially a baller." Tom: "I've been a baller since birth, son. Now I'm an athlete."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

— "Women in Garbage," Parks and Recreation, January 24, 2013

2. Benghazi flu

Benghazi flu was coined by Rep. Allen West, a Republican from Florida, who claimed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was faking illness in order to avoid testifying about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September. It was later revealed that Clinton had been suffering from a "blood clot near her brain."

Example: Jon Stewart: "Secretary Clinton was supposed to have testified back in December but kept postponing it for 'health issues' which came to be referred to by 'medical professionals' as [the Benghazi flu]... The Benghazi flu turned out to be a cerebral blood clot."

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, January 24, 2013

3. drone

Drone meaning "a pilotless aircraft operated by remote control" is from 1946, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The aircraft was perhaps named for its similarity in purpose and/or appearance to the male honeybee. The Ryan Firebee was an early drone model. The meaning that Cummings is referring to in the example below, "a kind of stupidness," arose from the idea of the drone bee being stingless, performing no work, and producing no honey, and whose "only function is to mate with the queen bee." This gave rise to drone meaning "an idle person who lives off others; a loafer," or "a person who does tedious or menial work; a drudge."

Example: Missy Cummings [Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT]: "The professionals in the field prefer to call [drones] unmanned aerial vehicles because the word drone connotes a kind of stupidness, and they're definitely getting smarter."

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, January 23, 2013

4. gaslight

To gaslight someone means "to manipulate [them] psychologically such that they question their own sanity." This usage gained popularity in the 1960s, says the OED, and comes from Gaslight, a 1944 film "in which a man psychologically manipulates his wife into believing that she is going insane."

Example: Jake: "I thought you and Marley were friends now." Kitty: "Duh, we are. I'm still gonna gaslight her every chance I get."

"Sadie Hawkins," Glee, January 24, 2013

5. narcoterrorism

Narcoterrorism is "terrorism carried out to prevent interference with or divert attention from illegal narcotics trafficking." The term originated in the early 1980s, says the OED.

Example: Edward Berenson [Professor of History, NYU]: "Think of these groups as a kind of combination of Mexican drug organization and an Islamic terrorist group... So what you've got is narcoterrorism in a way in Mali."

The Colbert Report, January 24, 2013

6. norovirus

The norovirus is also known as the winter vomiting bug. The name norovirus is derived from Norwalk virus, originally named after Norwalk, Ohio, where "an outbreak of acute viral gastroenteritis occurred among children at Bronson Elementary School in November 1968."

Example: News announcer: "British researchers have created a projectile vomiting robot that mimics that symptoms of norovirus. Researchers created the projectile robot to test how far the dangerous contagions spreads every time someone throws up."

The Colbert Report, January 21, 2013

7. orange fog warning

An orange fog warning doesn't have to do with the color of the fog but with its density. Blue is the least serious, followed by red, orange, and finally yellow as the most serious. Some have dubbed this recent bout with air pollution in Beijing as airpocalypse.

Example: News announcer: "In China, hazardous record-high pollution levels in Beijing have prompted what's called an orange fog warning."

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, January 24, 2013

8. pogo

Pogo in this context is a nonce word, "a word occurring, invented, or used just for a particular occasion." Nonce comes from the Middle English phrase for the nones, "for the occasion."

Example: Schmidt: "A pogo is what your friends talk about when you leave the room." Cece: "Oh. Like your barnacle toenails?"

— "Pepperwood," New Girl, January 23, 2013

9. Randian

Randian means pertaining to the writer Ayn Rand, who created objectivism, a philosophy that asserted that "the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (or rational self-interest)," among other tenets.

Example: Stephen Colbert: "The Atlasphere.com is the best place for Randians to find the one they love other than their bathroom mirror."

The Colbert Report, January 23, 2013

10. straw man

A straw man is "an argument or opponent set up so as to be easily refuted or defeated." The idea of a straw man as an "imaginary opponent" is recorded from the 1620s.

Example: Paul Ryan: "... that rhetorical device [that] he uses over and over and over... a straw man." Jon Stewart: "I think a straw man is when you create or falsely characterize an opponent's argument so that you can then easily dismantle the new fictional argument... I think the president is throwing your own words back in your face without naming you. Passive-aggression, that's what he's using."

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, January 23, 2013

11. Tuiasosopo

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is supposedly the man behind the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax. To be Tuiasosopoed means to be fooled by such a hoax. The word is both an eponym, a word derived from a person's name, and anthimeria, using a word from one part of speech as another part, such as a noun as a verb.

Example: Jon Stewart: "Al, I think you've been had by Hawaiian uber-prankster Ronaiah Tuiasosopo." Al Madrigal: "What? No. I got Tuiasosopoed? No!"

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, January 21, 2013

More from Wordnik...

* A short-tempered history of the 'curmudgeon'

* Hobbit-themed words

* Giving words: Gifts, tips, and bribes

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Angela Tung's essays on language and culture have appeared at Mental Floss, Quartz, Salon, The Week, The Weeklings, and Wordnik. Her personal essays have appeared at The Frisky, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere.