This Week in Words: December 15 - 21, 2018

News flash! We’ve rounded up the top words heard, read, debated and discussed in the news this week. Take a look back at the week that was, vocabulary style.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. distinctive
    of a feature that helps to identify a person or thing
    Traditionally, Hershey’s Kisses are made in a distinctive teardrop shape with a flat bottom and a fine point on top. However, the points are now cut off leaving the tops flat or jagged instead.
    - USA Today (Dec 19, 2018)
    Did you hear? Some Hershey’s Kisses have been coming out from the manufacturer misshapen, without the point on top! We get that things change but some things must remain the same and the distinctive shape of the Hershey's Kiss is one of them. If we let this go unnoticed, what’s next? M&Ms with no “M”? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with no peanut butter inside? The people deserve better.
  2. dubious
    fraught with uncertainty or doubt
    He used his farewell address to defend his brief record and burnish a legacy of dubious accomplishment.
    - The New York Times (Dec 19, 2018)
    Paul Ryan, the outgoing Speaker of the House, gave his final address to Congress this week. In the speech he lamented the “venom” that has invaded public discourse. Burnish, which means “to make shiny,” is used here metaphorically to say that Ryan was presenting his career achievements in the best light possible, achievements the author thinks are dubious.
  3. impasse
    a situation in which no progress can be made
    The outcome would temporarily break an impasse that threatened to shutter large portions of the government this weekend and send hundreds of thousands of federal workers home without pay just before Christmas.
    - The Washington Post (Dec 19, 2018)
    Congress is trying to pass a temporary spending bill that would prevent a government shutdown just before Christmas. The bill also delays discussion of its main sticking point, President Trump’s border wall, until February. By that time the new Congress, including a House of Representatives dominated by Democrats, will have been sworn in. This balance of powers would make it harder for Trump to get the support he'd need to fund the wall, and he is threatening to veto the bill.
  4. lambaste
    censure severely or angrily
    Mike Flynn’s sentencing for lying to the FBI was unexpectedly delayed Tuesday after a dramatic court hearing in which a federal judge lambasted the former Trump adviser and suggested he first complete his cooperation that had drawn a request for leniency from prosecutors.
    - The Wall Street Journal (Dec 18, 2018)
    Michael Flynn, who was convicted of lying to the FBI, got an early Christmas present this week when his criminal sentencing was postponed. The judge in Flynn's case gave him a stern lecture before the postponement. Lambaste comes from two verbs that meant “to beat” and “to thrash”, but nowadays a lambasting is strictly verbal.
  5. prototype
    a standard or typical example
    The steak prototype currently costs about $50 to make, which the company says is “not insane” compared to the $285,000 price tag of the first lab-grown beef burger that was developed in 2013.
    - Good News Network (Dec 19, 2018)
    Scientists have developed a perfectly edible steak — as in meat — that does not harm the cow itself. Cells are painlessly taken from the animal and the steak is grown in a laboratory. While the lab steaks are reportedly a little on the thin side, the scientists say they are happy with the taste of the meat.
  6. rancor
    a feeling of deep and bitter anger and ill-will
    Now Sinema and McSally, who notably resolved their tight race without rancor, have the opportunity to show the nation the difference increased women's political leadership can make.
    - CNN (Dec 19, 2018)
    Martha McSally has been appointed to fill the late John McCain’s U. S. Senate seat for Arizona. With the election of Kyrsten Sinema last month, Arizona is now one of six states to currently have all-female representation in the Senate. Rancor isn’t polite disagreement, but deep division brimming with anger, from a Latin root which meant “to stink.” This root, rancere , also gives us English rancid, which means “spoiled and reeking.”
  7. recidivism
    habitual relapse into crime
    The First Step Act would expand job training and other programming aimed at reducing recidivism rates among federal prisoners.
    - The New York Times (Dec 18, 2018)
    In a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress approved a crime bill this week. The bill reduces mandatory prison sentences for many non-violent offenders who commit felonies, and expands job training programs. Recidivists are repeat offenders, and the word originates from a French word that means “relapse into sin.”
  8. restitution
    the act of restoring something to its original state
    In addition to shuttering the charity, her office has pursued a lawsuit that could bar President Trump and his three oldest children from the boards of other New York charities, as well as force the payment of millions in restitution and penalties.
    - The New York Times (Dec 18, 2018)
    An ongoing investigation and lawsuit have forced President Trump to shut down his charity. The organization is being investigated in New York for the improper use of funds prior to and during the 2016 campaign. In this case, restitution would take the form of money given back to people who thought they were contributing to genuine charitable causes.
  9. solstice
    when the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator
    When we talk about the length of the day at the solstice, though, we’re usually referring to the amount of time the sun spends above the horizon.
    - The Baltimore Sun (Dec 19, 2018)
    This week marks the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the day with the shortest amount of daylight all year. Coincidentally, there are also some other celestial events taking place that same day: there is a full moon on the night of the solstice that will last for two nights. A full moon won’t occur on the solstice again until 2094. In addition, the Ursid meteor shower will be visible by the light of that full moon.
  10. steadfast
    marked by firm determination or resolution; not shakable
    Mr. Erdogan steadfastly opposed the American partnership with Kurdish forces in Syria that he views as a terrorist force intent on destabilizing Turkey.
    - The Wall Street Journal (Dec 19, 2018)
    President Trump has ordered U.S. troops out of Syria. The American forces, along with the Kurds in the country, were fighting the terrorist organization called The Islamic State. The timing of President Trump’s action is puzzling many experts, and as of late Thursday Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced that he will step down.

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