This Week In Words: March 14–20, 2020

A number of stories about the pandemic contributed words to this list of timely, news-related words.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. discretionary
    having the ability to act according to your own judgment
    Earlier this week, Mr Trump warned against discretionary travel and said that "we have very strong emergency powers when it comes to something like this, both on the southern and the northern borders".
    – BBC (Mar 18, 2020)
    In response to the pandemic, the President and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau have closed the U.S.-Canada border to all nonessential traffic. Trade will continue as normal. Something discretionary is a choice; your discretionary income is the money you can spend on fun things like vacations and concerts, as opposed to rent and bills which are not optional.
  2. fallout
    any adverse and unwanted secondary effect
    As the coronavirus pandemic spreads deeper in the United States and shuts down supply chains and virtually all travel, investors have panicked about its fallout on the domestic economy.
    Reuters (Mar 18, 2020)
    The stock market continued its fall. By the the end of Wednesday, the market had erased all of its gains during the Trump presidency, closing below where it was on January 19, 2017. The pandemic is doing widespread damage to the economy, and investors are panicking about how bad it might get. Fallout in this sense — bad things happening as a result of another event — was first used after World War II to refer to radioactive contamination after a nuclear explosion.
  3. flux
    a state of constant change
    Trump said Wednesday that the exact sums were in flux as negotiations progressed on Capitol Hill.
    Washington Post (Mar 18, 2020)
    Congress and the White House are working towards a massive relief bill to try to prevent an economic collapse. Proposals include sending checks to all Americans, relief for small businesses, and money for other sectors of the economy. Democrats say they don't want no-strings attached bailouts, and that individuals require relief before corporations. Flux comes from the Latin word for "flow" or "change," as in fluctuate.
  4. haywire
    not functioning properly
    A Facebook spam filter that went haywire on Tuesday evening and began removing many perfectly acceptable posts was unrelated to coronavirus, the company has said.
    Guardian (Mar 18, 2020)
    Facebook users were unhappy when many of their posts were removed by an out-of-control spam filter. The company said that the problem was unrelated to the coronavirus, and that it will be sending all its contracted workers home as planned. Hay wire refers to the stiff wire used for baling hay; because it's springy and hard to bend, it wiggles all over the place like it has a mind of its own.
  5. infrastructure
    the basic features of a system or organization
    And the Defense Department, home to 1.3 million active-duty troops and a civilian and military infrastructure that has made planning for national emergencies almost an art form, has yet to be deployed to its fullest capabilities.
    New York Times (Mar 17, 2020)
    Despite statements from the White House that the Department of Defense and other agencies will be ramping up their involvement in the pandemic response, the action is much slower and later than governors are demanding. The military and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) have vast resources and staff but have not been given clear orders about what to do. Infra- is a prefix meaning "below" or "underneath," so infrastructure is the stuff that holds something else together.
  6. invoke
    request earnestly; ask for aid or protection
    The administration will invoke 42 U.S. Code 265, a section of the federal legal code that states the U.S. surgeon general "shall have the power to prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places as he shall designate..."
    USA Today (Mar 18, 2020)
    The President says he plans to use his powers to prevent certain people from entering the country. While the stated purpose is to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, the law can also be used to stop refugees seeking asylum from crossing the border, which is normally legal. Invocare means "to call upon" in Latin; you can see the voc root in there, meaning "voice," which you know from your favorite word of all, vocabulary.
  7. seismic
    subject to or caused by an earthquake or earth vibration
    It set Biden, who began the day leading the contest by more than 100 delegates, on a clear course to a first-ballot victory at the Democratic National Convention in July barring a seismic shift in the race’s dynamics.
    Washington Post (Mar 17, 2020)
    Joe Biden won three primaries in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona. The Governor of Ohio postponed that primary until June over fears about the virus. Biden now leads Bernie Sanders by over 100 delegates. Many observers say it's time for Sanders to drop out, because he's extremely unlikely to win at this point and also because in-person voting will become even more difficult as the pandemic spreads.
  8. squabble
    a quarrel about petty points
    That a squabble between two economies — one of them smaller than Canada's, the other just a bit bigger than Turkey's — both of whom seek higher oil prices in the long run, can utterly upend the oil market shows how dangerous continued reliance on oil is for the rest of the world, including the U.S.
    Salon (Mar 16, 2020)
    Russia and Saudi Arabia are engaged in a struggle over the price of oil. Since global demand has slumped, the price has fallen. Unable to raise the price by pumping less — because U.S. production quickly made up the difference — Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Sultan flooded the market. His aim was to hurt Russia, a rival, and also the U.S. domestic shale oil industry.
  9. subsidiary
    functioning in a supporting capacity
    Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s science and technology ministry, said favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm, had produced encouraging outcomes in clinical trials in Wuhan and Shenzhen involving 340 patients.
    Guardian (Mar 18, 2020)
    According to researchers in China, a Japanese-developed antiviral drug is showing success against COVID-19. For patients without severe symptoms, the drug appeared to cut the duration of their illness by more than half, from an average of 11 days to an average of 4. It does not appear to be effective in critically ill patients. Doctors are also experimenting with other antiviral drugs, including some used for HIV and Ebola.
  10. unconscionable
    lacking a sense of right conduct
    Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a cease-and-desist letter to home improvement retailer Menards, calling its actions “ unconscionable.”
    Washington Times (Mar 18, 2020)
    State Attorneys General are cracking down on price-gouging as shoppers try to stock up on food and other supplies. Complaints have been rolling in from consumers reporting extremely high prices for in-demand goods like hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Menards, a large chain, has been accused of doubling prices on products like face masks and bleach. Unconscionable refers to something that someone with a conscience would not do.
Created on March 18, 2020 (updated March 18, 2020)

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