Words of the Week

The Words of the Week - Dec. 2

Dictionary lookups from geology, politics, and the world of sports

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Emerita was in the news last week, after Nancy Pelosi, the outgoing Speaker of the House, was granted this designation by a committee of Democratic representatives.

Pelosi – who was designated “Speaker Emerita” in a unanimous vote by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee Tuesday night – blessed the new trio of leaders expected to succeed them in a statement when she announced she would step down and return to being a rank-and-file member in the new Congress.
— Daniella Diaz, CNN, 30 Nov. 2022

Emerita is the feminine version of emeritus; both words are used to refer to a person retired from professional life but permitted to retain as an honorary title the rank of the last office held. In Latin, emeritus was used to describe soldiers who had completed their duty. The word entered English use in the late 17th century, applying it as both a noun and an adjective referring to non-military titles. The adjective is often used postpositively (meaning it comes after the noun it modifies rather than before it) and it is most commonly used to describe specifically those retired from a professorship. If you need to refer to multiple such people the plural is emeriti.


An ongoing eruption of a shield volcano in Hawaii has caused a number of volcanic words to likewise erupt in lookups (metaphorically), including volcanologist.

The Mauna Loa Eruption Is a Gift for Science - Volcanologists have the first opportunity in nearly four decades to examine and measure an event of this magnitude at the largest volcano in the world.
— (Headline) The Atlantic, 29 Nov. 2022

A volcanologist is “a geophysicist who specializes in volcanology (the branch of science that deals with volcanic phenomena).” The word volcano can be traced to the Latin Volcanus, name of the Roman god of fire and metalworking, who is represented in Greco-Roman myth as the blacksmith of the gods forging thunderbolts on Mount Etna and other volcanoes.

’Conspiracy’ & ‘Sedition’

Conspiracy and sedition both were also high in lookups last week, after a man was found guilty of seditious conspiracy.

Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was convicted on Tuesday along with one of his subordinates of seditious conspiracy as a jury found them guilty of seeking to keep former President Donald J. Trump in power through an extensive plot that started after the 2020 election and culminated in the mob attack on the Capitol.
— Alan Feuer & Zach Montague, The New York Times, 29 Nov. 2022

We provide a legal definition for conspiracy, which is “an agreement between two or more people to commit an act prohibited by law or to commit a lawful act by means prohibited by law. Also, the crime or tort of participating in a conspiracy.” The word may also be found in more general use, with such meanings as “the act of secretly planning to do something that is harmful or illegal.”

We define sedition as “the crime of creating a revolt, disturbance, or violence against lawful civil authority with the intent to cause its overthrow or destruction”; a person who incites or promotes sedition is a seditionist) or a seditionary. We define treason, for those who like to distinguish between sedition and treason, as “the act of levying war against the United States or adhering to or giving aid and comfort to its enemies by one who owes it allegiance.”


The World Cup is currently taking place in Qatar, which means that the minds and hearts of sporting fans the world over are captured by the sport of soccer.

Team USA knocked Iran out of soccer’s World Cup on Tuesday, and Americans have reacted like gracious winners.
— Tunku Varadarajan, The Wall Street Journal, 30 Nov. 2022

The sport that we define as “a game played on a field between two teams of 11 players each with the object to propel a round ball into the opponent's goal” is referred to as soccer in the United States, and as football in most of the rest of the world. This seeming Americanism was not coined in this country, however; soccer came into use as British slang.

The sport was originally called association football—and still is when referring to the official game. The slang version of this came about in the 19th century from the students at Oxford University adding -er to the shortened form of a word (a popular method of coining slang words at the time). Students shortened association to soc and added the suffix.  (Using the first three letters of association apparently didn't appeal to the students.)  Earlier versions of soccer are the similarly slangy socca and socker, as well as footer, cut from (association) football.

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Euonym’

Today’s word worth knowing is euonym, which is defined as “a name well suited to the person, place, or thing named.” If you need to say this word out loud an easy way to remember the pronunciation is that it sounds very similar to ‘you and him.’ The word has an antonym, for those who are more concerned with people and things which are badly named: caconym.

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