Nephanalysis, Sitar, Wombat, And Other Words That Trended On Dictionary.com This Week

What do spivvy, smuggery, stingo, and schlemiel have in common?

Sure, they begin with the letter S. But what’s more, they are also some of the leading lookups on Dictionary.com since July 8.

Since our introduction of it in our last trending writeup, our ticker has been tirelessly scrolling across our homepage.  And, we’ve continued to watch.

So, let’s get started with our top five terms. Then, we’ll move on to some interesting themes we found in the data.

1. Spivvy

Do you look spivvy in your skivvies? The top trending word on our ticker is spivvy, which spiked at a spectacular 209,000% in search interest on July 8 compared to the previous day.

Spivvy is a “spiffy” Britishism. Recorded in the early 1900s, spiv (adjective, spivvy) is a British slang term for a kind of “petty criminal”—a person who doesn’t hold down a regular job, gets by with street smarts, and often dresses flashily while doing it. Sounds more like a contestant on The Bachelorette …

This idea of “flashy dress” suggests the word may be connected to spiffy, which dates back to the 19th-century for “well-dressed, spruce.” Or, as we might say in today’s slang, drip, poppin, sauce. Let’s bring back spivvy, right?

2. Nephanalysis

We like to think of this one as a “weather map.” More technically, nephanalysiswhich skyrocketed up 74,100% on July 10—is “a map or chart showing the distribution of types and amounts of clouds and precipitation at a given time.” Yup, David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas made for a much simpler title.

The –analysis part of nephanalysis is clear enough, but the neph– part is a bit cloudier.

It comes from the Greek word for “cloud,” néphos, related to nebula, nebulous, and nebulated, a recent Word of the Day. Then there’s nephology is “the study of clouds.” Doesn’t that sound dreamy?

3. Innumerate

If you’re reading this, you’re not illiterate. But, if you’re innumerate, you might have trouble parsing out what it means that searches for this term on July 10 climbed 68,600%.

Interest in innumerate spiked after a user thoughtfully inquired after a numerical counterpart to illiterate. It’s innumerate, and in its everyday sense, means “unable to do mathematics.” Hey, we’re word nerds, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also be math people.

 

4. Labarum

One of the reasons we love our ticker is that it reminds us of all the great words we’ve hoarded away in the dictionary … not that we’ve, er, forgotten any single one of ‘em.

On July 10, labarum was hoisted up 60,800% in search interest from July 9. It can mean “an ecclesiastical standard or banner, as for carrying in procession.” (Think of the flag-like object priests carry down an aisle.) But, labarum originally refers to the imperial banner of Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor who legally sanctioned Christian worship in his realm.

His labarum notably featured a symbol (and another interesting word) called the Christogram: .

5. Smuggery

Why settle for calling out someone’s smugness when you can say smuggery? On July 9, smuggery soared 56,400% … which we’re very satisfied with.

Yep, smuggery is “smugness,” particularly “the condition of or an instance of being smug”—you know, like that dudebro sliding into your DMs getting all mansplain-y about what a labarum is because he took that History of Ancient Rome class that one time.

The –ery is a noun-forming suffix denoting such things as occupation, business, calling or condition, and goods or products in familiar words like archery, bakery, or trickery.

But, in a word like smuggery, it has a snarky, even belittling force. Try this –ery on for size: I can look up labarum on Dictionary.com without your mansplainery, thank you very much!

OK, what are other goodies are hiding in the past week’s trending data?

All creatures, great and small

Day after day, we see tons of technical terms in science and technology get our ticker moving. In this batch of trending terms, it seems the aspiring biologists and naturalists among us were quite curious, as many top lookups concerned animals.

Some of these critter terms are familiar: alpaca (up 4,000% on July 10), lamprey (1,700%, July 16), rodent (18,300%, July 10), and wombat (6,400%, July 12).

via GIPHY

Others are more obscure: baya (an Indian weaverbird; up 10,900% on July 15), geoduck (very much not a duck but … an excited-looking clam;   2,000%, July 11), sparling (a kind of fish; 1,600%, July 16), tahr (a kind of goat; 4,000%, July 8), and webworm (not an internet virus, but a moth; 2,000%, July 11).

Music to the ears

Our seventh-most top search this time around is a word for les artistes: mahlstick, searches for which shot up 50,200% on July 9. A Dutch-derived term, a mahlstick is “a stick with a padded tip used to support an artist’s working hand.” The variant maulstick also spiked nearly 10,000% the same day.

But, it was the lexicon of a different art form—music—that made for a real motif in our data:

  • eurythmic (up 31,400% on July 13): “having a pleasing rhythm”
  • glissando (11,167%, July 10): “performed with a gliding effect, as sliding the fingers over piano keys or harp strings”
  • lydian (21,700%, July 11): “sensuously sweet music,” among other modes of meaning
  • oratorio (1,700%, July 8): “a type of musical composition piece with a religious text”
  • sitar (2,000%, July 13): “a type of Indian string instrument with a long, broad, fretted neck”
  • tempi (2,800%, July 13): the plural of tempo

Merrie Olde England?

Our top term, spivvy, points to another theme in the data: British slang. Our ninth-most top ticker trend in this set is stingo, “strong beer,” which went straight to our heads at a 45,300% increase on July 12. Muggins, which can mean “fool” in the UK, rose 2,750% in searches on July 15. A more formal entrant from the Queen’s English is mattins, a British spelling of matins, up 24,500% on July 17 and referring to “a type of religious service at the early hours.”

The UK can’t claim all the Dictionary.com love, though: searches fueled the Australian and New Zealand term bowser up 23,500% on July 15. This is not the turtle-oid Nintendo villain, though. It’s a pump at a a gas station Down Under.

via GIPHY

Political debates

No trending words article these days is possible, it seems, without at least pinch of politics. Interestingly, there’s only a handful of words that the ticker registered in this past week or so that we feel comfortable immediately connecting to current events.

One is bartender, which got served an 1,800% increase on July 8. Interest in the term could be related to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has gotten attention for her work as a bartender before becoming a progressive superstar. Another is deportee, or “deported person,” which was up 3,600% on July 17, perhaps due to ongoing debates about immigration in the US. Campaigning (up 5,600%) and perjured (3,100%) both jumped on July 9.

Some other political words that trended aren’t as newsworthy, but they’re still notable:

  • Danelaw (up 22,100% on July 12), referring to “the laws enforced under the parts of northeast England where the Danes settled in the 9th century”
  • elitism (23, 900%, July 14), which commonly means “pride in belonging to a select or favored group”
  • timocracy (36,100%, July 12): “a form of government in which love of honor is the dominant motive of the rulers,” from Greek tīmḗ (“honor, worth”)

So many goldurned words!

We can’t find a rhyme or reason behind many of the top ticker terms week after week—you might call the data vagarious, or “erratic, capricious,” which also happened to climb 6,600% on July 9. Here are some other wonderful, if random, words that trended.

  • encarnalize (up 20, 600% on July 9): “to invest with a worldly or sensual nature or form”
  • eutaxy (5,800%, July 10): “good order or management”
  • gaposis (5,600%, July 9): a humorous term for “a noticeable gap, as between buttons in a shirt”
  • goldurned (24,200%, July 14): a euphemism for “godd*mned”
  • gymnasiarch (21,1112%, July 16): “a magistrate in ancient Greece who superintended the gymnasia and public games in certain cities”
  • lapidation (14,790%, July 11): “stoning (someone, as to death)”
  • longanimity (3,200%, July 11): “patient endurance of hardship, injures, or offense; forbearance”
  • nates (40,700%, July 16): the “buttocks”
  • pullulation (14,936%, July 8): “germination; sprouting; increasing rapidly; teeming”
  • schlemiel (16,700%, July 8): Yiddish for “an awkward and unlucky person for whom things never turn out right”

And oh, scrota, the Latin plural of scrotum. Go figure. It trended up 32,500% on July 16.

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