This Week In Culture: November 9–15, 2019

Stories about digging pigs, the darkest pigment ever, and a rock star's astonishing hobby all contributed words to this week's list of vocabulary from the world of science, sports, and entertainment.
Read more...

Start learning with an activity...

  • Practice

    Answer a few questions on each word. Get one wrong? We'll ask some follow-up questions. Use it to prep for your next quiz!
  • Spelling Bee

    Test your spelling acumen. See the definition, listen to the word, then try to spell it correctly. Beat your last streak, or best your overall time. Spellers of the world, untie!
  • Vocabulary Jam

    Compete head-to-head in real-time to see which team can answer the most questions correctly. Start a Jam and invite your friends and classmates to join!

Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. agonistic
    striving to overcome in argument
    During this period, the scientists also tracked more than 70 agonistic interactions between individuals, establishing Priscilla as the least dominant female.
    Scientific American (Nov 12, 2019)
    For a long time, tool-making was seen as a unique characteristic of humans. But chimpanzees, crows, and some other animals have been observed using tools to acquire food or perform other tasks, and now we can add pigs to that list. In a Paris zoo, a pig named Priscilla has been seen using a piece of bark as a shovel to dig a nest. Two of her daughters imitated the behavior, though less successfully. Can you pig it?
  2. contingent
    a gathering of persons representative of some larger group
    It seems a lot to ask of the Green Book contingent, put it that way.
    Guardian (Nov 13, 2019)
    Parasite, the newest film from Korean director Bong Joon-ho, has grossed over $11 million, this year's record for a foreign film in America. Critics and industry observers are abuzz that the movie might be the first foreign effort to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
  3. enthusiast
    an ardent supporter of some person or activity
    He has long been known as a model railway enthusiast — even if at times he didn't want to talk about it.
    Daily Mail (Nov 12, 2019)
    Sir Rod Stewart, the raspy-voiced singer you may recognize from the CD from the 80s that your mom still plays, has unveiled a huge and insanely detailed model train layout based on an eastern American city around 1940. The diorama, which is 124 x 23 feet, takes up an entire room of his house and took 26 years to complete. When Stewart was on tour, he often brought parts of the model, along with paints and supplies, and rented a separate hotel room to use as a studio before his performances.
  4. illicit
    contrary to accepted morality or convention
    In that game, the Rays used three sets of signs even when there were no runners on base, a clear indication that they were concerned the Astros were using illicit means to steal signs.
    New York Times (Nov 12, 2019)
    The Houston Astros have been accused of "stealing signs" from other baseball teams, capturing the secret hand signals a catcher gives a pitcher that tell him what to throw, during the 2017 season. Those signs, if communicated to the batter, give him a huge advantage since he knows what kind of pitch to expect. The Astros allegedly had a camera hidden in center field which transmitted to a monitor in the dugout. The league is investigating.
  5. Machiavellian
    of or relating to amoral or conniving political principles
    He hits a note of dastardly Machiavellian panache that brings life to the film’s cartoon vision of three Angels taking down the patriarchy, one strike-a-pose masquerade and forearm smash at a time.
    Variety (Nov 12, 2019)
    The Charlie's Angels franchise gets going again this weekend with a movie titled, unsurprisingly, Charlie's Angels. Directed by Elizabeth Banks, the film stars Kristen Stewart. Machiavellian comes from the Italian diplomat, politician, and writer Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), who was infamous for his book The Prince, which advised aspiring politicians that all sorts of horrible behavior was justifiable in pursuit of power.
  6. nexus
    the means of connection between things linked in series
    The scarcity is difficult to miss in New Orleans, the nexus of food culture on the Gulf Coast.
    New York Times (Nov 12, 2019)
    Gulf oysters have had a rough decade or so, between oil spills and hurricanes. Now, record rainfall upstream has flooded their brackish coastal habitat with too much fresh water, killing millions of shellfish. This is hurting restaurants in New Orleans and elsewhere, where inexpensive and plentiful oysters are integral to local cuisine. Now prices are rising and Louisiana may no longer be the largest producer in the country. A nexus is a bond or connection in Latin.
  7. parse
    analyze the sentence structure of
    Some modes of thinking are more pressing to parse than others.
    Salon (Nov 12, 2019)
    The new Star Wars show The Mandalorian received favorable reviews on its release, but Disney's new streaming platform that featured it did not. Plagued with glitches and technical problems, the Disney+ app launch caused headaches for many subscribers. The series will drop a new episode every week until December 18, two days before the release of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. What a coincidence!
  8. spurious
    plausible but false
    Because it must be true, we need not discuss all the false starts and spurious claims that tarnished the reputation of planet hunters for decades.
    Scientific American (Nov 12, 2019)
    Two astronomers, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, won the Nobel Prize for discovering an exoplanet: a planet in a different solar system than our own. But it wasn't the first such body identified, so why did this pair win? It has to do with the way exoplanets are discovered — by the wobble their gravity causes in their star's orbit — and how you define "discover" and "planet". Spurius means false in Latin. Spurious is often used to refer to evidence or an argument.
  9. sumptuary
    regulating or controlling expenditure or personal behavior
    Black took on an air of cultured urbanity beginning in the Renaissance, when so-called sumptuary laws limited the wearing of rich colors like red and purple to the aristocracy.
    New York Times (Nov 11, 2019)
    Ultra black is a new color developed by scientists that uses an arrangement of carbon nanotubes to absorb 99.99% of the visible light that strikes it. Another lab may already have come up with an even blacker version. These pigments have real uses in astronomy and solar energy applications, as well as reissues of Spinal Tap's legendary Smell The Glove album.
  10. yearling
    an animal in its second year
    Two more cows, both yearlings, were found three weeks later.
    New York Times (Nov 13, 2019)
    Hurricane Dorian did significant damage to the North Carolina coast when it arrived back in September, including sweeping a herd of farm animals out to sea. Three of the missing cows were discovered, having swum more than two miles across Core Sound to reach Cape Lookout. Once their owner is identified, a plan will need to be formulated for getting them back to their home pasture. If you've ever heard someone say "Until the cows come home," this is what they were talking about.
Created on November 13, 2019 (updated November 14, 2019)

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.