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

Stories about reactions — to the killing of George Floyd, the ensuing demonstrations and police crackdown, and the President's words and actions — all furnished words for this list of timely vocabulary from the week's top news stories.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. chastise
    censure severely
    As protests swept the nation over the weekend, several Facebook employees and executives took the unusual step of chastising chief executive Mark Zuckerberg for his hands-off approach to a post on the demonstrators by President Trump — and they did so on rival site Twitter.
    Washington Post (June 1, 2020)
    In an unusual display of outrage, a number of high-profile Facebook employees publicly criticized company CEO Mark Zuckerberg for leaving up a post by President Trump calling for violence against protestors. The post, which contained the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" — a line with a racist history — caused a number of employees to stage a virtual walkout, some of whom also took to Twitter to express their anger.
  2. futile
    producing no result or effect
    To ask this president to get serious seems almost comically futile at this late date.
    Bloomberg (June 3, 2020)
    The President is coming under increasingly harsh criticism for his seeming inaction in the face of multiple enormous crises. Apart from several tweets, President Trump has not addressed the country about the death of George Floyd and its aftermath. With over 110,000 Americans dead from the pandemic and 40,000,000 unemployed, calls from politicians and media figures are growing louder for the President to address the nation.
  3. infinitesimal
    immeasurably small
    “The swabs that were performed over the last 10 days showed a viral load in quantitative terms that was absolutely infinitesimal compared to the ones carried out a month or two months ago,” he told RAI television.
    Reuters (May 31, 2020)
    Some doctors in Italy are saying that the coronavirus appears to have become less deadly over time, though there's no scientific evidence to back these claims up. The country has relaxed its strict lockdown, and is now allowing people to move around and even eat at restaurants. Whether the country sees a second wave remains to be seen; that's the big fear everywhere as regions start to reopen.
  4. portent
    a sign of something about to happen
    For pro-democracy activists, though, the cancellation is a portent of Hong Kong's dark future, one in which Beijing extends ideological control over the former British colony despite mass protests and international condemnation.
    Newsweek (June 4, 2020)
    The new national security law that China passed regarding its control of Hong Kong has many residents frightened that soon they will be fully under Beijing's authoritarian control. The agreement signed with Britain stated that Hong Kong would remain capitalist and free until 20147, but this new law will change that dramatically. Portent is a Latin word meaning "sign" or "omen."
  5. quell
    suppress or crush completely
    “Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming presence until the violence is quelled,” Mr. Trump said in remarks from the Rose Garden on Monday evening.
    New York Times (June 1, 2020)
    A bipartisan bill to limit the sale of military weaponry and equipment to police departments is being written in Congress. President Obama cut back on the Defense Department's practice of providing things like armored personnel carriers and grenade launchers to town and city law enforcement, but President Trump reinstated it. A Germanic word, quell originally meant "to torture" or "to kill."
  6. rectify
    make right or correct
    However, he said, he doesn’t believe that “one successful prosecution can rectify the hurt and loss that so many people feel."
    Minneapolis Star Tribune (June 4, 2020)
    Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison upgraded charges against the four officers involved in the killing of George Floyd. The officer who knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes is now charged with second degree murder, and the three other former officers are charged with aiding and abetting murder. The original charges also still apply. If convicted of the most serious charges, each man could face 40 years in prison.
  7. rhetoric
    study of the technique for using language effectively
    The bishop, who last year joined other Washington National Cathedral leaders in a statement that excoriated Trump’s “racialized rhetoric,” firmly aligned her faith with the goals of peaceful protesters driven by Floyd’s death to decry systemic racism.
    Time (June 1, 2020)
    The Episcopal bishop of the Washington Diocese issued a statement expressing outrage at the President's appearance in front of the church near the White House holding a Bible for photographers. The Rev. Mariann Budde said she had no advance notice of the event. Another bishop said that the use of violence to clear peaceful protestors for "partisan political purposes... did nothing to heal or help us" as a nation.
  8. surmount
    get on top of; deal with successfully
    "We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.”
    The Atlantic (June 3, 2020)
    Former secretary of defense James Mattis, who resigned from that position in December of 2018 in protest over Donald Trump's decisions regarding Syria, wrote an op-ed harshly critical of the President's words and actions in response to the recent demonstrations. He specifically called out the President's stated desire to deploy troops around the country, and drew a direct line between the Nazi's strategy against the Allies in WWII and the President's remarks.
  9. upheaval
    a violent disturbance
    "These individuals have set out to sow discord and upheaval, rather than join in the righteous pursuit of equality and justice."
    USA Today (June 4, 2020)
    Attorney General Bill Barr said that he gave the order for police to use gas and flash grenades to clear protestors from in front of the White House so that the President could walk across the street for a photo op in front of a church. He defended the President's appearance at the church as "entirely appropriate." Heave is a Germanic word meaning "to throw" or "to lift." An upheaval is a dramatic event or a major disruption.
  10. veil
    a garment that covers the head and face
    Obama didn't directly criticize anyone during the event, but he closed with a veiled message to those Americans who have criticized or are worried about the protests.
    CNN (June 3, 2020)
    President Obama gave a video address to the nation in the wake of hundreds of protests in all fifty states. He spoke about the importance of both voting and activism, and said that protest and civil disobedience are an integral part of our country's history, from the Boston Tea Party through the Civil Rights movement and beyond.
Created on June 4, 2020 (updated June 4, 2020)

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