This Week In Words: November 2–8, 2019

Elections, social media surveillance, and climate change: another week of conflict, crisis, and controversy means another roundup of topical terms for turbulent times.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. assuage
    cause to be more favorably inclined
    On Friday, a stronger-than-expected monthly jobs report assuaged concerns that recent data showing a drop in business investment and a slump in the manufacturing sector may be spreading to the broader economy.
    Reuters (Nov 5, 2019)
    Economists are unsure about the economy as different indicators show both healthy growth and significant slowing. While business investment and the manufacturing sector are down, job growth and consumer spending remain strong. Members of the Federal Reserve say that reducing uncertainty would give our economy a boost. Assuage is an Old French word from the same Latin root suavis, meaning "sweet", as suave.
  2. conclave
    a confidential or secret meeting
    Last week, the ruling Communist Party concluded a Central Committee conclave that was notable for the absence of major announcements — except for a communique suffused with ideology and reiterating political backing for Xi.
    Washington Post (Nov 5, 2019)
    Continued unrest in Hong Kong is causing serious stress among Chinese leadership. Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam to show support for her as people call for her resignation. China's responses to the protests have so far failed to stop the demonstrations, and have often made them more intense. In Latin, conclave means "with key", referring to a locked room, so it's easy to see how it describes a meeting held in private.
  3. glean
    gather, as of natural products
    “Officials increasingly monitored social media platforms and conducted warrantless searches of travelers’ electronic devices to glean information about constitutionally protected activities such as peaceful protests and critical reporting.”
    Washington Times (Nov 5, 2019)
    According to a report issued by Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization funded by the U.S. government, social media represents a threat to internet freedom. Widespread disinformation and propaganda may have influenced elections in as many as 24 countries in the last year. In addition, many governments monitor their citizens' use of these sites. Glean is an Old French word for harvest, so if you take a walk and pick blackberries, you gleaned them.
  4. guru
    a recognized leader in some field or of some movement
    Now with a book out, she has reinvented herself as a data privacy guru aiming to educate youngsters about disinformation, and planning to put data back into the hands of users via blockchain technology.
    BBC (Nov 6, 2019)
    Brittany Kaiser, a tech consultant who featured in the documentary The Great Hack, has written a book about data privacy. She's advocating for banning political ads on Facebook, since data harvested from users' activity there can be harvested and used to influence elections, as happened in 2016. Guru is a Sanskrit word meaning "important" or "dignified", and came to mean "teacher", particularly in a spiritual sense, in Hindi. Now it can mean any influential expert.
  5. ingratiate
    gain favor with somebody by deliberate efforts
    That was apparently the tipping point for the failed businessman, who worked to ingratiate himself to Trump and his inner circle.
    Salon (Nov 5, 2019)
    Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian businessman tied to Rudy Giuliani and recently indicted for campaign finance violations, has agreed to cooperate with the Congressional impeachment inquiry after previously refusing to do so. The change happened after President Trump claimed not to know Parnas or his partner Igor Fruman; since there's abundant evidence the pair spent significant time with Trump people have speculated that Parnas was insulted by the comment and that motivated him to testify.
  6. inimical
    not friendly
    “The government engaged in conduct so shocking to the conscience and so inimical to our system of justice that it requires the dismissal of the charges for outrageous government conduct,” Ms. Powell wrote.
    Washington Times
    Disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is asking a judge to dismiss his case because of government misconduct. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his communication with the Russian Ambassador and is due to be sentenced next month. Inimical comes from inimicus, the same Latin root that gave us enemy.
  7. lucre
    informal terms for money
    All that scrutiny, all that face time, all that glorious lucre targeted on its prized 10 electoral votes.
    Washington Post (Nov 5, 2019)
    Wisconsin is regarded as the ultimate battleground state in the 2020 Presidential election, with its 10 electoral votes possibly deciding the winner. Because it's such an evenly divided state, elections tend to be extremely close and both parties are spending heavily to influence the outcome. If you've heard the word lucrative, meaning "profitable", then you can see where lucre comes from.
  8. pugnacious
    ready and able to resort to force or violence
    In Kentucky, Trump and his allies went all in to rescue embattled Gov. Matt Bevin, who literally wrapped himself in the president’s image in his pugnacious campaign.
    Seattle Times (Nov 5, 2019)
    Democrat Steve Beshear won the Kentucky Governorship, beating incumbent Matt Bevin in a deep red state where Republicans won all other state races. President Trump held a rally for Bevin — the only candidate he campaigned for — and the defeat was widely seen as a worrisome sign for Republicans in 2020. We get the words impugn, "to attack as false" and pugilist, meaning "boxer" from the same Latin root pugn for "fist" or "combative".
  9. salvo
    an outburst resembling the discharge of firearms
    Officials reported unusually high turnout in an election that served as an opening salvo in next year’s presidential showdown, a test of Democratic defiance and Republican resolve in the era of Trump.
    Washington Post (Nov 5, 2019)
    Democrats won majorities in both houses of Virginia's General Assembly. This victory, which received national attention, showed the dramatic transformation of the state from red to blue, driven by big changes in the suburbs which have national implications. A salvo means a bunch of guns firing simultaneously. It can also refer to something emphatic happening in a group contest, like a lot of voters making a dramatic statement at once.
  10. unequivocally
    in an unambiguous manner
    “We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” it states.
    Guardian (Nov 5, 2019)
    A statement signed by over 11,000 scientists states that the world faces “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” without dramatic changes to world population growth, energy production, agriculture, and transportation, among other factors. The report says that there's still time to act, and that worst-case scenarios can be avoided. To equivocate is to say one thing and mean another; to be unequivocal means there's no doubt about what you mean.
Created on November 6, 2019 (updated November 6, 2019)

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