This Week In Culture: May 31–June 5, 2020

Stories about real and fictional space travel, real and virtual protests, and the future of the Olympics all contributed words to this week's list of vocabulary from the tech, entertainment, and sports worlds.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. ambiguous
    having more than one possible meaning
    “The spread of the novel coronavirus . . . is something very ambiguous, and we have no ability to completely understand what the situation will look like next year,” he said.
    Washington Post (June 4, 2020)
    Japanese officials want to hold the Olympics next year in some form, likely involving extensive testing and many fewer in-person spectators if the coronavirus has not been cured or prevented with a vaccine. Ambiguous is Latin, meaning "undecided" or "unreliable." The prefix ambi- means "both sides." You can see it in ambidextrous, someone who can use both hands equally well to write or play a sport.
  2. eradicate
    destroy completely, as if down to the roots
    "... We need to eradicate that problem now."
    ESPN (June 4, 2020)
    Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, issued an apology for his earlier remarks about protestors disrespecting the flag. That statement was widely criticized by fellow athletes — among them LeBron James and Saints teammate Malcolm Jenkins — and others. Eradicate is Latin for "to pull out by the roots." You can see the root radic, meaning... uh... "root," in the word radish.
  3. fraught
    marked by distress
    The U.K.’s Black community similarly has a fraught relationship with police, which famously came to a head in August 2011 with the Tottenham Riots, which centered around the police shooting of Mark Duggan.
    Variety (June 3, 2020)
    John Boyega, the British actor famous for his roles in the Star Wars franchise, gave an impassioned speech at a London demonstration against racism and police brutality. Among other things, he told the crowd "I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing.” Fraught is Germanic, and is used with words like peril, tension or dread; it's not a happy word.
  4. infiltrate
    pass through an enemy line in a military conflict
    The work of the infiltrators was to go in and learn these stories.
    Salon (June 2, 2020)
    The Infiltrators, now available on demand, is a film about the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. Members of the group get detained on purpose so that they can get inside detention centers, report on the conditions there, and work to get detainees released. The film is not a documentary, because none of the scenes inside could have been shot in real life.
  5. lamented
    mourned or grieved for
    Actor Dwayne Johnson lamented the lack of a "compassionate leader" in a lengthy video address amid protests around the country, wondering where America might find one to assure them their voices are being heard.
    USA Today (June 4, 2020)
    Pro wrestler turned actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson posted a video in which he called out the President for his response to the protests against police brutality. He never mentioned the President by name, but kept repeating "Where are you?" as a refrain as he listed a number of crises that he says have not been handled or even addressed from the White House. Johnson has said that he may run for President someday.
  6. mutual
    common to or shared by two or more parties
    Mutual dependency actually makes for a pretty good working relationship,” Todd Harrison, the director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), tells The Verge.
    The Verge (June 2, 2020)
    Now that SpaceX has successfully transported astronauts to the International Space Station, the next phase of space travel is coming into focus. If Boeing is able to send one of its Starliners to the ISS and bring it safely back to Earth, then there will be three different companies capable of getting people into orbit and eventually beyond. The third is the Russian space company Roscocosmos, which is expected to suffer in this new scenario.
  7. rebuff
    a deliberate discourteous act
    When New York’s parks commissioner at the time, Gordon J. Davis, rejected “The Gates” in 1981, setting forth his reasons in a book-length document, Christo simply incorporated the rebuff into the project.
    New York Times (May 31, 2020)
    Christo, the Bulgarian artist who created many large-scale environmental works of art, died. Most famous for wrapping buildings and islands in fabric, and for creating hundreds of orange gates in Central Park, he and his wife Jean-Claude considered all of the meetings, permitting, and other parts of the process to be part of each work. Jean-Claude died in 2009. His last work, a huge sculpture made of painted oil barrels, will be built in London next year.
  8. satire
    witty language used to convey insults or scorn
    Space Force immediately signals that it has little interest in this sort of satire, instead choosing to adhere to the conventions of the workplace comedy.
    The Verge (June 3, 2020)
    According to a number of reviews, the new Netflix show Space Force, starring Steve Carell, is just not very funny. The show was co-created by Carell and one of the people behind the American version of The Office, the show that made Carrell a household name. In classical Latin, a satira was a poem that mocked foolishness.
  9. solidarity
    a union of interests or purposes among members of a group
    On top of that, the rapper T.I. posted about a separate economic boycott on July 7, encouraging followers to withhold money in solidarity with black causes, also using the hashtag #BlackOutDay.
    Wired (June 2, 2020)
    The #BlackOutDay hashtag, accompanying black squares posted on Instagram, began as a music industry response to the killing of George Floyd and quickly spread. Because so many people also used #BlackLivesMatter as well, the problem became that everyone's feed filled up with black squares rather than useful information, causing a lot of frustration among activists.
  10. virtuoso
    someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field
    His mother, who was born in Sierra Leone, and his father, whose parents are from Antigua, both grew up in Britain and met in college. Neither was a musician, or set out to create a family of virtuosos.
    New York Times (June 4, 2020)
    21-year-old British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a rising star in classical music, gaining fans and inspiring younger musicians to follow in his footsteps while he's still in college. Since public performances stopped, he and his six siblings, all talented musicians, have been performing concerts from home twice a week. Virtuoso is an Italian word made from the Latin virtuosus, meaning "good" in a moral sense, as in virtuous.
Created on June 4, 2020 (updated June 5, 2020)

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