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"Stymied" on Syria? Ten Words in the News That You Need to Know

September 18, 2013
This week, Russia brokered a deal over chemical weapons with Syria, a gunman went on a deadly rampage at the DC Navy Yard, and Obama considered making a historic nomination of a woman for job as Fed chief.

To fully understand the coverage of these unfolding stories, learn ten key words taken from this past week's New York Times.
impunity
Impunity was a key concept in the unfolding Syria story, given that Obama was determined not to allow the Syrian government to use chemical weapons without it.
The repercussions have elevated the 30-month-old Syrian conflict into a global political crisis that is testing the limits of impunity over the use of chemical weapons.
--"Forensic Details in U.N. Report Point to Assad’s Use of Gas," The New York Times, September 16, 2013
concerted
When taking action on the international stage, the U.S. often tries to work together with other nations. Thus, concerted crops up, describing actions taken by groups rather than individuals. (See unilateral below.)
It could also lead to the first concerted action on the war at the United Nations Security Council, which up to now has been paralyzed over Syria policy.
--"Forensic Details in U.N. Report Point to Assad’s Use of Gas," The New York Times, September 16, 2013
unilateral
(See concerted above.) As the U.S. contemplated taking action without the support of other nations in the United Nations Security Council, you heard the word unilateral used to describe this solo action.
But George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, emphasized that the possibility of unilateral American military force was still on the table.
--"U.S. and Russia Reach Deal to Destroy Syria’s Chemical Arms," September 14, 2013
stymie
The United Nations Security Council would not endorse military action against Syria because member nations China and Russia were opposed to it. They were determined to stymie U.S. efforts to hold Syria accountable for its violation of international law.
And the president did not use his speech to describe his expectations for the role of the United Nations, which has been all but stymied by Russia and China during the two-year civil war in Syria.
--"Planned as Call to Act, Obama’s Speech Became Plea to Wait," September 11, 2013
erupt
Erupt suggests sudden violence, but like burst or outbreak, it doesn't require you to say where the violence is coming from. That means Times writers were able to use erupt to report on the Navy Yard shooting story before it was known who was shooting and from where.
Civilian employees described a scene of confusion as shots erupted through the hallways of the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, on the banks of the Anacostia River a few miles from the White House and about a half-mile from the Capitol.
--"Gunman and 12 Victims Killed in Shooting at D.C. Navy Yard," September 16, 2013
atrium
It would be impossible to understand the physical blocking of this shooting without knowing that an atrium space is large and several stories tall.
Inside, Mr. Alexis made his way to a floor overlooking an atrium and took aim at employees eating breakfast below.
--"Gunman and 12 Victims Killed in Shooting at D.C. Navy Yard," September 16, 2013
rampage
With its suggestion of a spree of violence and destruction, rampage is the perfect word to describe Monday's senseless killing. And the fact that the word rhymes with rage can help you remember what it means.
Aaron Alexis, 34, the man killed by police officers and identified as the gunman in the deadly rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, served his country as a Navy reservist, had an abiding interest in Buddhism and Thai culture, and had problems with the law, records and interviews show.
--"Suspect in Shooting Had Problems With the Law," September 16, 2013
vicinity
For anyone in the area of the Navy Yards, understanding what the police meant by vicinity was crucial.
The chief of police in Washington, Cathy L. Lanier, said that as of Monday evening, investigators had uncovered no evidence that a second gunman was involved in the shooting at the Navy Yard and announced that the department was lifting a shelter-in-place advisory issued for residents living in the vicinity of the base.
--"Updates From Washington Navy Yard Shootings," September 16, 2013
averse
Averse, which describes feelings or attitudes, is often confused with adverse, which describes things that are harmful, such as "adverse driving conditions during a hurricane." When reading about Obama's initial reaction to Janet Yellen as a candidate for Fed chief, it's important to know the difference. Read more about averse v. adverse here.
Nonetheless, the president’s advisers insisted throughout the summer that Mr. Obama was not averse to Ms. Yellen but simply more comfortable with Mr. Summers, a former Treasury secretary to President Clinton who was Mr. Obama’s chief White House economic adviser through the height of the financial crisis and recession in 2009 and 2010.
--"Push for Yellen to Lead at Fed Gathers Steam," September 16, 2013
forfeit
When you show up for a soccer match but don't have enough players, you're forced to forfeit the game and have it count as a loss. In the story of the Janet Yellen nomination, her supporters don't want to give up, or forfeit, this chance to have the first woman in history assume this important office.
--"Push for Yellen to Lead at Fed Gathers Steam," September 16, 2013
Administration officials and supporters acknowledged that the president would enrage his party’s base if he were now to reject Ms. Yellen and forfeit the chance to name the first woman to the most influential economic job in the world.

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