WORD LISTS

"Looming" "Catastrophe"? Ten Words in the News You Need to Know

October 9, 2013
As a second team of weapons inspectors enters Syria, two theoretical physicists win the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the "God" particle. Meanwhile, Americans continue to sign up for government-subsidized healthcare via state and federal exchanges, President Obama nominates Jane Yellen to be the first woman Fed chief, and Republicans in Congress rebuff his latest overtures to end a government shutdown.

To fully understand these unfolding news stories, learn ten key words taken from Washington Post, CNN, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times coverage.
obtain
Obtain is a synonym of get. You can obtain something physical, such as a can of soup, or something more abstract, like health insurance or the right to park on campus.
Ms. Skrebes, who is 32 and uninsured, said she had selected a policy costing $179 a month, before tax credit subsidies, and also had obtained Medicaid coverage for her 2-year-old daughter, Emma.
-- Uninsured Find More Success via Health Exchanges Run by States, The New York Times, Oct. 8, 2013
particle
In Physics, particles refer to the protons, electrons, neutrons that are the building blocks of atoms. This week's Nobel winners made particle physics, or the study of these tiny fragments of matter, their life's work.
Two theoretical physicists who suggested that an invisible ocean of energy suffusing space is responsible for the mass and diversity of the particles in the universe won the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday morning.
-- For Nobel, They Can Thank the ‘God Particle, The New York Times, Oct. 8, 2013
theoretical
Theoretical physicists use math to predict and hypothesize what experimental physicists will later try to prove through experimentation.
Two theoretical physicists who suggested that an invisible ocean of energy suffusing space is responsible for the mass and diversity of the particles in the universe won the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday morning.
-- For Nobel, They Can Thank the ‘God Particle’, The New York Times, Oct. 8, 2013
imbue
One person's good mood can imbue everyone at a party with a feeling of high spirits; in a sermon, a sense of spiritual depth can imbue a preacher's words with deep meaning. Here, imbue helps us understand the way that the "cosmic molasses" in the universe attaches to particles, imbuing them with mass.
According to this model, the universe brims with energy that acts like a cosmic molasses, imbuing the particles that move through it with mass, the way a bill moving through Congress attracts riders and amendments, becoming more and more ponderous and controversial.
-- For Nobel, They Can Thank the ‘God Particle’, The New York Times, Oct. 8, 2013
renowned
Renown is another word for "well known," and, according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, it derives from the Old French "renomer," meaning "make famous," which was formed from "re-" ("repeatedly") + nomer ("to name"). Here, renown lets us know that Jane Yellen is famous within her field and thus deserving of this appointment.
President Obama on Wednesday will nominate Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen to lead the U.S. central bank, officials said, selecting a renowned economist focused on combating unemployment for one of the most powerful positions in the world.
-- Obama to name Yellen as Federal Reserve chairman on Wednesday, The Washington Post, Oct. 8, 2013
dismantle
Knowing dismantle will help you understand the complexity of the task facing the United Nations in Syria, as inspectors and security and logistical experts figure out how best to dispose of hazardous weapons within a theater of war.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons...said additional experts will reinforce the 19 inspectors and 16 U.N. logistics and security personnel who started work in Damascus last week on a plan to dismantle, destroy or impound Syria's toxic stockpiles.
-- Second group of chemical weapons inspectors is heading to Syria, The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 8, 2013
potential
As you sift through the facts of the government shutdown, keeping track of what's real (furloughs, health care exchanges) and what's only just being threatened (defunding Obamacare, the U.S. defaulting on its debts) is important. The word potential, meaning possible but not happening at this moment, can be of great help in this regard.
The impasse sparked a rising tide of warnings about the potential global economic chaos of a U.S. default, with foreign creditors and the International Monetary Fund's chief economist warning of the potential consequences.
-- Boehner: Short-term deal on government shutdown would be 'unconditional surrender', The Chicago Tribune, Oct. 9, 2013
loom
When you hear loom as a verb, think of danger hanging on the horizon as in storm clouds or the massing of enemy troops. Here, the danger is an international financial meltdown if Congress does not raise the borrowing limit and the U.S. defaults on its debt.
President Barack Obama has invited the House of Representatives Democratic caucus to a meeting at the White House to discuss the budget crisis and the looming debt limit deadline, a White House official said on Wednesday.
-- Boehner: Short-term deal on government shutdown would be 'unconditional surrender', The Chicago Tribune, Oct. 9, 2013
ineffectual
If you know that an effect is an outcome, you can guess that "in" ("not") + "effectual" means having no outcome. And that is precisely what this word suggests. Entering a second week of stalemate, attempts at compromise are ineffectual, or having no effect on the stalemate.
House Speaker John Boehner, speaking Tuesday afternoon after what he called a "pleasant" but ineffectual phone call with Obama, promptly rejected the president's comments as nothing new.
-- Obama says he'd talk on GOP's terms -- if they raise debt ceiling, fund government, CNN, Oct. 9, 2013
catastrophic
Catastrophe means a disaster in the order of a city-flattening earthquake or a five-alarm fire. In its adjectival form, it is a big flashing siren of a word meant to suggest the potential financial upheaval of a world in which the U.S. defaults on its debt.
Yet Democrats are hopeful some Republicans would vote across the aisle to prevent the potentially catastrophic economic repercussions of a default.
-- Obama says he'd talk on GOP's terms -- if they raise debt ceiling, fund government, CNN, Oct. 9, 2013

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