This Week In Words: August 24–30, 2019

We’ve rounded up the top words heard, read, and discussed in the news this week. Take a look back at the week that was, vocabulary style.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. acerbic
    harsh or corrosive in tone
    "The two-day summit is taking place at one of the most unpredictable moments in Trump’s tenure, with his public comments and decision-making increasingly erratic and acerbic of late."
    Washington Times (Aug 24, 2019)
    The G7 meeting (of the seven largest advanced economies in the world) took place this week, and little progress was made on the major issues facing the countries in question, from trade to the fires in the Amazon. Because President Trump often changes his mind or contradicts his earlier statements, other world leaders had reportedly been lowering expectations of what could be accomplished at the summit.
  2. catamaran
    a sailboat with two parallel hulls held together by a deck
    "Days later, an Australian couple sailing to Vanatu on a catamaran encountered the raft."
    USA Today (Aug 26, 2019)
    A huge raft of pumice, a type of volcanic rock that floats, is drifting through the South Pacific. The likely result of an underwater eruption, the raft covers nearly 60 square miles of ocean. The flock of rocks supports a lot of life; since pumice is full of holes (which is why it floats) it provides habitat for lots of tiny critters. When it arrives in Australia, all this life may help to repopulate the Great Barrier Reef, which is suffering the effects of a warming and acidifying ocean.
  3. collateral
    accompanying; following as a consequence
    "American farmers have become collateral damage in a trade war that Mr. Trump began to help manufacturers and other companies that he believes have been hurt by China’s 'unfair' trade practices."
    New York Times (Aug 27, 2019)
    As the trade dispute with China heats up, American farmers are suffering economically. China recently responded to President Trump's tariffs by buying soybeans, pork, and other products from other countries. In 2014 we exported $24 billion in agricultural products to China; last year it was $9 billion. Farm bankruptcies have increased by 13 percent over last year. Collateral used as a noun refers to property (a house, a car, a farm) you promise to give a bank if you can't repay a loan.
  4. datum
    an item of factual information from measurement or research
    "Historical data show the two phenomena are closely linked: Chainsaws lead the way, followed by flames, and then cattle or other forms of development."
    Science (Aug 26, 2019)
    The burning forests in the Amazon basin occupied many people's attention this week, since keeping those forests healthy is vital to combat climate change. Studies show that increased deforestation, a result of the new government's policies, contributes to the fires. Most people familiar with the word "data" might be surprised to know that it's the plural form; "datum" is the singular, meaning one fact or statistic. So, technically, Brent Spiner should have played Commander Datum on "Star Trek".
  5. diligence
    conscientiousness in paying proper attention to a task
    "The declaration urged the G7 to strengthen import restrictions... that originate from areas affected by deforestation, enhance due diligence for investments in the Amazon to ensure they do not violate human rights and environmental controls, and to support Brazil to achieve the Paris climate targets."
    The Guardian (Aug 26, 2019)
    The G7 this week pledged $20 million to help combat the fires raging in the Amazon, but environmentalists dismissed that number as being much too small. Besides more aid money, activists also want stricter regulations on products imported from Brazil so that consumers don't end up supporting deforestation with their purchases.
  6. harangue
    a loud bombastic declamation expressed with strong emotion
    "...the New York Legislature voted to remove the religious exemption, after a contentious debate during which anti-vaxxers harangued from the galleries."
    The New Yorker (Aug 26, 2019)
    In response to serious outbreaks of measles — the most cases in the country — New York State revoked the religious exemption clause in the state's vaccination law. It will now be much harder for parents to avoid immunizing their children. Several deadly diseases that were on the verge of being eliminated are returning as vaccination rates have fallen.
  7. imminent
    close in time; about to occur
    “'The opioid crisis is an imminent danger and menace to Oklahomans,' Balkman said as he delivered his decision from the bench."
    Reuters (Aug 26, 2019)
    A judge in Oklahoma found Johnson & Johnson liable for contributing to the opioid epidemic by falsely marketing painkillers and ordered the company to pay the State $572 million. Oklahoma sought $17 billion to pay for treatment and other programs. This was the first of thousands of similar suits to go to trial, and has been closely watched.
  8. pyrrhic
    relating to a victory that is offset by staggering losses
    "Victories do not come more pyrrhic."
    The Guardian (Aug 24, 2019)
    Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova for the nineteenth time in a row (out of a total of 20 victories) in the first round of the U.S. Open this week. Sharapova has only beaten Williams twice, most recently in 2004, though Williams did withdraw from the French Open last year with an injury shortly before the two were to meet again. That's the victory the author is referring to.
  9. quixotic
    not sensible about practical matters
    "He said he was launching his quixotic bid because 'nobody in the Republican Party stepped up' despite what he described as deep dismay over Trump’s performance."
    LA Times (Aug 25, 2019)
    Former Congressman Joe Walsh has launched a primary challenge against President Trump. It's an extreme long shot, but he says it's necessary because (according to him) even most Republicans now think the President is unfit. His talk radio show was cancelled shortly after he announced his campaign. In Miguel Cervantes's famous novel of the same name, Don Quixote famously tried to duel with windmills, thinking they were giants: an impossible fight.
  10. winnow
    the act of separating grain from chaff
    "That means the first real winnowing of this historically large field is at hand."
    Washington Post (Aug 23, 2019)
    The third Democratic Presidential debate requires more robust numbers from would-be participants: at least 2% in four national polls and 160,000 unique donors. As a result, a number of candidates have not cleared the bar, meaning there will likely only be ten remaining in this round. Like cultivate, for example, winnow originated in farming but has developed a broader meaning.
Created on August 26, 2019 (updated August 28, 2019)

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