This Week In Culture: January 11–17, 2020

Which are the 30 most evil tech companies? What's the oldest tree in the world? What's the longest winning streak in chess? These intriguing questions are all answered below, where you'll also find choice vocabulary from this week's tech, sports, and entertainment news.

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. culminate
    end, especially to reach a final or climactic stage
    The announcement culminated an elaborate media campaign that teased the collaboration over the past two days.
    Variety (Jan 15, 2020)
    Billie Eilish will be singing the theme song for the next James Bond movie, titled No Time To Die. Per usual, she co-wrote the song with her brother Finneas. Hans Zimmer will be scoring the film, which stars Daniel Craig. It's scheduled to release in April. It's the 25th James Bond film; the first was 1962's Doctor No.
  2. demur
    politely refuse or take exception to
    But asked after his victory whether he still held that position, Carlsen demurred.
    Guardian (Jan 14, 2020)
    World chess champion Magnus Carlsen broke another record when he won a 111th game in the longest unbeaten streak in history. Don't confuse demur, which means "to decline" or "to take exception to" with demure, which means "serious" or "decorous." They have different roots and are unrelated, though a demure person might demur if asked to jump in a mosh pit.
  3. enamored
    marked by foolish or unreasoning fondness
    The show is too enamored with Dracula to be played for straight horror, despite having some legitimately incredible practical effects that give us a few truly frightening scenes.
    The Verge (Jan 14, 2020)
    Steven Moffat, famous for writing Sherlock and running Doctor Who for six years, has his new show Dracula coming out on Netflix. The show is structured like Sherlock, with the first season consisting of three movie-length episodes. This review isn't very positive, but with so bloody many vampire movies and shows out there, not much is at stake. Amor is Latin for "love," so enamored means "in love."
  4. implacable
    incapable of being appeased or pacified
    Empires rose and fell; wars raged; people were enslaved and freed; and the tree from 2500 B.C. continued its implacable slow-motion existence, adding about two-hundredths of an inch to the diameter of its trunk each year.
    New Yorker (Jan 13, 2020)
    Bristlecone pines, found in the Great Basin of the American West, are the longest-lived trees on Earth. The oldest known example is 4500 years old, meaning it sprouted shortly after the Great Pyramid was built. The trees' rings offer scientists a detailed record of the climate and other events throughout the millennia. Because they are adapted to a harsh, dry, high-altitude environment, experts are hopeful that they will be able to withstand climate change.
  5. puckish
    naughtily or annoyingly playful
    His works are a puckish update of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, which present objects from daily life (a urinal, a shovel) as high art.
    Guardian (Jan 14, 2020)
    Artist Darren Bader's exhibit at the Whitney Museum includes an assortment of fruit and vegetables on pedestals. Every couple of days, museum staff chop them up and make a salad for viewers. Sadly, the show is not titled "Dressed for Success." This is recorded on video, and then all the food is replaced. There's a long history of food in art, and over a hundred years of art made from regular objects. Puckish comes from an old Scandinavian word, puki, meaning "goblin" or "demon."
  6. seedy
    shabby and untidy
    In the film, Grant plays a seedy and unscrupulous tabloid reporter.

    Guardian (Jan 15, 2020)
    Because the announced departure from the Royal Family of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle did not have enough of a celebrity gossip angle, Hugh Grant has generously waded into the fray with remarks given at a film premiere. Grant has long been a foe of tabloid journalism and paparazzi, and he said that the tabloids bore responsibility for Princess Diana's death in 1997. Seedy refers to run-down, sketchy people or places; it originates in the idea that neglected crops go to seed.
  7. smattering
    a slight or superficial understanding of a subject
    For Fall/Winter 2020/21, the designer included a smattering of women’s looks for reference.
    Seattle Times (Jan 15, 2020)
    Famed fashion designer Alessandro Michele celebrated his fifth year at Gucci with a runway show in Milan previewing the fall/winter 2020–21 collection. His work continues to blur lines between men's and women's clothing, and to celebrate an over-the-top aesthetic, with lots of colors, prints, logos, and text. His clothes also celebrate blurring the line between "very expensive" and "ridiculously expensive."
  8. solicitude
    a feeling of excessive concern
    Manfred, however, showed solicitude for a man who, by the by, was one of his bosses.
    New York Times (Jan 14, 2020)
    The Houston Astros fired the general manager and field manager over sign-stealing during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. While a player on second base can look at a catcher's signs and signal the batter accordingly, it's illegal for anyone else to do so, and the Astros used cameras and other technology to communicate the signals to the bullpen. The team must pay a fine and will lose their top draft picks.
  9. touchstone
    a basis for comparison
    The grid is a vital—yet distressingly fragile— touchstone of modern society.
    Slate (Jan 15, 2020)
    Slate's list of "evil" tech companies contains some obvious candidates, but some of them might surprise you! You won't believe #9! Seriously, though, this list is a sobering account of the degree to which we have allowed tech companies into our lives, with potentially harmful results. Touchstone originally referred to a small black rock that was used to test the purity of precious metals; now it means anything that acts as a standard against which other things are measured.
  10. vestige
    an indication that something has been present
    It’s no way to treat one of the last iconic vestiges of the early web.
    The Verge (Jan 14, 2020)
    Domain registration and web hosting company GoDaddy changed its logo from the original, quirky holdover from its founding in 1997. Critics say it's just another bland corporate identity that makes the world less interesting. The company, which is admittedly saddled with a silly name, says that as they grow and diversify their services they need to reflect the company's new nature.
Created on January 15, 2020 (updated January 16, 2020)

Sign up, it's free!

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