This Week In Culture: January 4–10, 2020

Stories about disappearing languages, indoor skiing, and not-so-Golden Globes contributed words to this week's list of vocabulary from the tech, sports, and entertainment worlds.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. cloister
    seclude from the world
    The language, Seke, is spoken in just five villages cloistered by craggy cliffs and caves in a part of Nepal called Mustang, a region close to the border with Tibet.
    New York Times (Jan 7, 2020)
    Seke is a language spoken in five remote Nepalese villages. Only 700 Seke speakers remain in the world, and 100 of those live in New York City, half of them in one apartment building in Queens. Nepalese has largely pushed Seke out of its native region, and the surviving speakers wonder how long the language will last. Cloister comes from the Latin claustrum, meaning "lock" or "locked place." It's the same root as claustrophobia, a fear of enclosed spaces.
  2. diaspora
    the dispersion of something that was originally localized
    But over the next two decades, “Usha’s Pickle Digest,” self-published by an unknown author, with a first print run of just 1,000, became a cult classic in India and its diaspora — praised for its precision and scope, celebrated on blogs and podcasts and hunted down in shops, where it sold out.
    New York Times (Jan 6, 2020)
    Usha Prabakaran self-published "Usha's Pickle Digest," a cookbook about traditional Indian pickles, over 20 years ago. The book became hugely popular, and is now available via print-on-demand from Amazon. Containing 1,000 recipes, it deals with a vast assortment of ingredients and techniques. It represents her determination to keep these recipes alive, and she's working on her second book, which will contain 1,000 recipes for rasam, a common soup with many variations.
  3. ersatz
    an artificial or inferior substitute or imitation
    It’s a lot of white stuff piled into a warehouse, dotted with trees and ersatz Alpinery.
    Washington Post (Jan 8, 2020)
    The people behind Mall of America are building an indoor ski area in New Jersey. They're hoping that Big Snow, as it's called, will attract people who enjoy its convenience, affordable cost, and predictable year-round temperature of 28˚. Since New Jersey is the most densely populated state and right next to New York, millions of people are a short drive away and the developers are hoping that many of those people will want to ski in July.
  4. grouse
    This paragraph in particular rings true to me: Like many companies under the thumb of Big Tech, Sonos groused privately for years.
    The Verge (Jan 8, 2020)
    Sonos is suing Google for stealing smart speaker technology from them. Google denies this, saying they developed the tech independently. But Sonos says that Google is violating their patents, so it doesn't matter if it's intentional or not. A grouse is a small, reddish-brown game bird, but as a verb it means "to complain" or "to grumble."
  5. nadir
    the lowest point of anything
    That Stewart would want to use it thusly at a time when the compassion of the U.S. and Britain for the world’s neediest is at a nadir should be expected, given who he is.
    Variety (Jan 8, 2020)
    On January 23, Patrick Stewart will return to his role as the captain of the Enterprise in Star Trek: Picard. The show represents a darker, grittier view of the future, and is an effort to turn the Star Trek franchise into an endlessly expandable universe like Marvel. The show airs on CBS All Access, which already runs Star Trek: Discovery, another new show. Nadir is the opposite of zenith.
  6. nebulous
    lacking definite form or limits
    They are now marks for frivolous litigation premised upon nebulous assertions as well as a complete and willful ignorance of how pop music is actually made.
    New York Times (Jan 6, 2020)
    Bands with hit songs are increasingly being sued for stealing melodic or harmonic ideas from other, lesser known works. While plagiarism is definitely a problem, it can be hard to draw a clear line between theft and inspiration since so many pop songs have similar structures and tend to use simple chords. And since some of the legal judgements have been for millions of dollars, there's an incentive for artists to sue other artists if there's even a small similarity between tracks.
  7. noncommittal
    refusing to bind oneself to a particular course of action
    He is a free agent and both he and head coach Bill Belichick have been relatively noncommittal about his future with the franchise.
    Sports Illustrated (Jan 8, 2020)
    After a 20-13 upset playoff loss to the Titans, speculation among football commentators and fans was rampant that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady might retire. Brady said it was "unlikely" but didn't rule it out altogether. You could say he wouldn't commit either to staying or to retiring, which means he was noncommittal.
  8. opacity
    the degree to which something reduces the passage of light
    You run a charge through the conductive layers and it changes the opacity.
    The Verge (Jan 7, 2020)
    Phone maker OnePlus unveiled its Concept One. It has glass covering the cameras that darkens, hiding them. It looks cool, but the real utility of this feature is that the darkening glass also functions as a neutral density filter, which allows for taking pictures in blazing bright sunlight without blowing out any light areas. Opacus means "dark" or "shaded" in late Latin; we use opaque to mean the opposite of transparent. Opacity refers to how opaque something is.
  9. staid
    characterized by dignity and propriety
    The 77th annual Golden Globe Awards were a slightly more staid affair than usual.
    Vox (Jan 6, 2020)
    The 77th Golden Globe Awards made some waves, but overall left a lot of watchers unimpressed. Netflix did badly; apart from wins by Laura Dern and Olivia Colman for Marriage Story and The Crown respectively, none of its high-profile movies or shows won. Amazon's Fleabag cleaned up, HBO won some, and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood won best comedy movie. Host Ricky Gervais said he won't be hosting the show again.
  10. whimsical
    determined by chance or impulse rather than by necessity
    Those works and others often struck viewers as both brilliantly constructed and at the same time whimsical, although Mr. Baldessari insisted he was never trying to be funny.
    Washington Post (Jan 7, 2020)
    Artist John Baldessari died at age 88. He helped create the field of conceptual art, and was hugely influential both through his work and his years of teaching at both UCLA and the California Institute of the Arts. He combined photography, painting, sculpture, and text to make work that was challenging, clever, mysterious, and sometimes funny. A whim is a spontaneous impulse, so something whimsical is more playful than useful.
Created on January 6, 2020 (updated January 8, 2020)

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