cruciverbalist (krüsəˈvərbələ̇st)

The first crossword puzzle was created by Arthur Wynne, editor of the New York World, and published in 1913. (Image from commons.wikimedia.com)

If you’ve been passing time conquering crossword puzzles during quarantine, you can thank Arthur Wynne. In 1913, Wynne, the editor of the New York World, decided that readers needed a new challenge in the Fun section of the newspaper. Wynne designed a Word-Cross (later changed to Crossword) to engage and amuse readers.

However, it wasn’t until 1924, when Simon and Schuster published the first collection of crosswords that solving these puzzles became a national craze. The Cross Word Puzzle Book, a compilation of crosswords from the New York World, was a huge success, selling over 100,000 copies. Newspapers clamored to get crosswords published in their pages in an effort to feed the public’s newfound obsession.

The New York Times decided to publish its first crossword on Sunday, February 15, 1942 in an effort to provide civilians with an escape from troubling WWII news. The crossword became a daily feature on September 11, 1950. Today, cruciverbalists consider the crosswords published in The New York Times the best puzzles in the world.

Cruciverbalist comes from the Latin words crux, meaning cross and verbum meaning word. A cruciverbalist is someone who is adept at creating or solving crossword puzzles.

Margaret Petherbridge Farrar, the first crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times, once stated, “You can’t think of your troubles while solving a crossword.” If you would like to escape into a crossword puzzle, try The New York Times daily mini crossword puzzle.

The solution to Wynne’s crossword puzzle can be found here.

neologism (nē-ˈä-lə-ˌji-zəm)

COVID-19 has contributed many neologisms to the English language. (photo from https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10912106-181/sonoma-county-signs-discourage-nonessential)

The coronavirus pandemic is not only affecting our every day lives, but also how we interact and speak. The English lexicon has expanded in recent months – new words and phrases have been added to online dictionaries at a rapid rate to keep up with society’s use of these neologisms. A neologism is a new word, usage, or expression. The word consists of two Greek roots: neo- meaning new and -log- meaning word.

During the last several months, the words coronavirus and COVID-19 have been added to online dictionaries and these words have spawned the use of phrases like self-isolation and shelter in place. Although these phrases have been around for years, the coronavirus has given them new meaning. Self-isolation was first coined in 1834 to refer to the action of isolating oneself from the rest of society – now, it refers to self-quarantine in order to halt the transmission of COVID-19. Likewise, shelter in place used to refer to staying in one’s home under the threat of nuclear warfare. It now refers to a government mandated order to stay at home in the wake of coronavirus.

We are seeing linguistic creativity in social media, too. Slang words like coronacation (forced vacation due to coronavirus), zoom-bombing (disrupting a Zoom call), covidiot (insult for people who disregard public health and safety rules) are now part of our vocabulary. Acronyms such PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) previously used by medical personnel are now part of everyday vernacular.

COVID-19 has probably contributed the most neologisms to our vocabulary than any other significant event to date – however, neologisms have been added to dictionaries throughout history, often during times of social crises. For example, WWII brought us the word radar (Radio Detection and Ranging). In 2003, infodemic was introduced to our vocabulary as a result of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Infodemic refers to the misinformation that spread during the epidemic.

To explore and learn about the neologisms that have been added to two prominent dictionaries, click here for Oxford English Dictionary and here for Merriam Webster. Chances are you already know many of them!

geisterspiel (ɡaɪstər-spēl)

Bundesliga is set to continue its season on May 16 without spectators. (photo from https://time.com/5836077/baseball-covid-coronavirus/)

COVID-19 has put a damper on sporting events around the world. All sports and gatherings of more than six people have been prohibited since March.

When sports are played without spectators, they are usually referred to as “behind closed doors.” Sports can be played behind closed doors depending on a number of reasons such as civil unrest, potential clashes between fans, and pandemics. Without fans, the passion of a sporting event is severely diminished.

A unique word from German describing this phenomenon is geisterspiel. The word geisterspiel once referred to soccer games that were so blanketed in winter fog that the players looked like ghosts and the fans had no idea where the ball was on the field. Geisterspiel contains two German words – geister, which means ghosts, and spiel, which means game. A geisterspiel is a game that is played completely in front of cameras, with no spectators in the audience.

This year marks the first geisterspiel of the Bundesliga, a professional soccer league in Germany, due to COVID-19. The season, which was suspended on March 13, will continue on May 16. German fans are being told to stay away from the stadium since no spectators will be allowed inside.

Due to COVID-19, several other notable sporting events will be held behind closed doors. Other leagues that plan to hold geisterspiele* are the K League of South Korea, and the J League of Japan. In the United States, NASCAR will return this weekend with a new set of rules and no audience members. Major League Baseball (MLB) is also set to hold games in the beginning of July with no fans present.

COVID-19 has forced us all to adapt. However, the massive disruption in the sporting schedule around the world has been unprecedented. What sport are you looking forward to watching in person after quarantine is over?

*plural of geisterspiel

toxology (täks-älə-jē)

Happy National Archery Day!

I’ve been on my school’s Varsity Archery team for two years now and find the sport highly challenging, yet relaxing. Our team qualified for the State tournament this year for the first time in school history! Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, the competition was cancelled.

The Greek word for bow is toxon. The ancient Greeks often shot poison arrows at enemy troops. When Rome conquered Greece, the Romans adopted toxon into Latin. However, the meaning of the word changed – in Latin, toxon came to mean poison.

Very rarely, the Greek definition of toxon appears in English. So far, I’ve only encountered two words that have retained the meaning – toxophilite and toxology. You can read my post about the word toxophilite here.

Toxology is the study of archery and projectiles. The word comes from the Greek word toxon meaning bow and -logy meaning study of. Toxology is commonly confused with the word toxicology, which uses the Latin meaning and refers to the study of poisons. In fact, many familiar words in English use the Latin meaning of toxon.

Name That Animal: Challenge #10

What would you name this animal? Image from https://deutschstyle.de/15-kreative-tier-surreale-fotos.

It’s been a while since my last Name That Animal Challenge, so here it is!

Pretend that you are a scientist and you have just discovered this new species and you have the privilege of naming it. Scientists usually name new species by using Greek or/and Latin roots because the prefixes, stems, and suffixes are like building blocks that can be utilized in countless ways.

Your challenge is to name the unique animal in the picture above using your knowledge of Greek and Latin roots. Keep in mind that you can use characteristics like size, color, or shape to name this animal. Feel free to search my blog to find root words to help you. I’ve provided you a list of roots with their definitions to get you started.

Greek Roots

Root                Meaning
-morph-                   shape
-cephal-                    head
-dasy-                       hairy
-ornith-                    bird
-pter-                        wing
micr-                        small
ailur-                        cat
leuk-                        white
trich-                        hair

Latin Roots

Root                Meaning
-iform                        shape
-corp-                        body
-capit-                        head
hirsut-                       hairy
avi-                             bird
ali-                             wing
-feli-                          cat
fusco-                      dark

Greek roots usually link with -o-, and Latin roots usually link with -i-. What would you name this animal? Be sure to comment and let me know!

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out Name That Animal Challenge #1, Name That Animal Challenge #2, Name That Animal Challenge #3, Name That Animal Challenge #4Name That Animal Challenge #5, Name That Animal Challenge #6, Name That Animal Challenge #7, Name That Animal Challenge #8. and Name That Animal Challenge #9.

pandemic (panˈdemik)

The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is affecting the lives of people worldwide. Image from www.cdc.gov

A novel coronavirus, more specifically SARS-CoV-2, was named a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) a few days ago. Since then, the word “pandemic” has been in the headlines a lot. Let’s break it down.

According to the WHO, a pandemic is an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people. Pandemic consists of two Greek roots: pan- meaning all, and dem- meaning people. A pandemic is something that affects all people. COVID-19, the disease that is caused by the coronavirus, has spread to all the continents (except Antarctica). As of yesterday, the death toll was 6,470 and the number of cases was 164,837.

The threat of COVID-19 is transforming the daily lives of people worldwide. People are panic buying essential goods and panic selling stocks. It is important to note that the word panic and pandemic originate from two different Greek words. Panic is derived from the Greek god of the wild, Pan. It is said that when Pan was in the midst of battle, he would release a great shout, scaring his enemies away and often causing mortals unspeakable terror, forcing them to flee from him.

In Louisville, Kentucky, schools are closed for two weeks, events have been cancelled, and gatherings of 50 or more people are discouraged. The streets are strangely empty as people stay home to contain the spread of the disease. What’s it like in your part of the world?

I hope everyone stays safe and healthy during this time!

hematite (hēməˌtīt)

Hematite, an important component of iron, is responsible for the many red pigments found on Earth.

Recently, a young speller reached out to me to ask a question about the word “hematite.”

Hematite literally means “blood stone.” The word contains the Greek root hemato- meaning blood and the Greek suffix -ite*, commonly used for minerals and rocks. The combining forms for blood also include hema- and hemo-.

An important rule in spelling is that, when combining roots, you shouldn’t have random letters left over. If we break the word hematite down using hemo- or hema-, then we would be left with -tite as the ending. The root/suffix -tite does not exist. This is the first clue that you’ve broken down the word wrong.

The more roots you study, the better you’ll be able to recognize them in the words you come across every day. I hope this insight is helpful to those of you studying for your regional competitions or the Scripps National Spelling Bee!

* -ite can also be used to indicate a person belonging to or associated with a place, tribe, leader, system, etc. such as in the words: Israelite, Londonite, and Lincolnite.

ouroboric (ôr-ə-bôr’-ĭk)

An ouroboros is a snake that eats its own tail. (photo from shutterstock)

Recently I read an article in CSO Magazine about how Nestlé is finally converting its packaging to recycled plastics. By continuing the ouroboric cycle of “make, use, reuse, remake, recycle,” companies can minimize waste and emissions that are harmful to the environment. While these cycles can be positive, they can also have negative consequences. Society’s focus on social media can often be an ouroboric cycle that leads to hours of lost time.

Ouroboric is an adjective meaning “self consuming” (Wiktionary). The word ouroboric actually comes from the Greek phrase “drakon οὐροβόρος” (ouroboros). Drakon refers to a serpent-like dragon. The word ouroboros comes from the Greek root oura meaning tail and bora meaning food. Ouroboros literally means a snake that eats its own tail (for food or otherwise).

The word ouroboros has a long history in mythology. In Egypt, the ouroboros symbolized the beginning and end of time, and was associated with the god of the Sun (Ra). It most famously appears in Norse mythology as the legend of the Midgard Serpent, the son of Loki and the sworn enemy of Thor.

Jörmungandr (or the Midgard Serpent) is a giant snake that encircles Midgard/Earth and is so long that he ends up swallowing his own tail in an effort to cling to the world. Jörmungandr symbolizes never-ending suffering. Over time and across religions, the ouroboros has come to represent eternity, the end of the world, or the schism of birth and death.