WORD LISTS

A Polar "Vortex" and a "Mercurial" Basketball Star: Ten Words in the News You Need to Know

January 8, 2014
With much of the U.S. braving record-breaking cold weather, the U.S. government launched a new investigation into fraudulent bond sales by some of Wall Street's largest and most prestigious banks, and Dennis Rodman organized an exhibition game for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's birthday celebration.

To fully understand these unfolding news stories, learn ten key words taken from this week's New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post coverage.
defraud
Most of us know that fraud is something intended to deceive, as in a forged check. A fraud is a person who commits this kind of deception, and to defraud is the act of doing so.
Federal prosecutors in Connecticut accused Jesse C. Litvak of defrauding investors, including funds linked to the bailout, in trades on residential mortgage-backed securities.
-- Federal Probe Targets Banks Over Bonds, The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 7, 2014
fictitious
When bank salesmen wanted to pretend a third party was selling bonds the bank in fact owned, they created a fictitious, or made-up (think fiction as in novels) entity.
In one example, the SEC alleged the trader emailed an investor promising he was about to "go beat up" a fictitious outside seller of a bond owned by Jefferies.
-- Federal Probe Targets Banks Over Bonds, The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 7, 2014
concoct
Concoct, which means to make by mixing (remember it by thinking of cocktails), often has devious undertones when applied to people concocting a plan. Here, like fictitious or fraudulent, it means "fake" or "made up."
Shortly afterward, in a message that began "winner winner chicken dinner," he said that the concocted negotiation had yielded a better price.
-- Federal Probe Targets Banks Over Bonds, The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 7, 2014
flamboyant
When you're learning a new word, it's helpful to attach an image to it in your mind's eye. For flamboyant, look no further than basketball player Dennis Rodman, whose hair dying, wedding-dress-wearing ways define this word perfectly.
Officials from the NBA, the State Department and the White House have tried to distance themselves from Rodman’s efforts and flamboyant tactics, which they describe as inappropriate outreach to an undeserving leader.
-- Former NBA player Dennis Rodman serenades N. Korean leader Kim Jong Un on his birthday, The Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2014
mercurial
The element mercury is famous for its ability to change quickly--a mercury thermometer reflects shifts in temperature within minutes. But sudden change is not always so wonderful, especially in the case of a national leader such as Kim Jong Un, whose mood shifts lead to great suffering on the part of his people.
Even so, Kim Jong Un's chumminess with the mercurial athlete stands as a curious choice and raises questions about his savvy for mystique-building.
-- Former NBA player Dennis Rodman serenades N. Korean leader Kim Jong Un on his birthday, The Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2014
vortex
If you live in the U.S., you're likely been hearing about the "Polar Vortex." But what does it mean? Vortex is another word for "twister," or "cyclone," and the polar variety are found at both the North and South Poles of our planet.
As the polar vortex put the Washington area into a deep freeze, the weather seemed to divide people into two categories: Those who were undaunted by the extreme cold and everybody else — the shivering masses who braced for the weather rather than attacking it with bravado.
-- Shiver or shrug: On a bitter cold day, a telling personality test, The Washington Post, Jan. 7, 2014
brace
With cold temperatures descending on much of the U.S., journalists are trotting words like brace--it means to prepare oneself, as you do before stepping out into the icy cold.
As the polar vortex put the Washington area into a deep freeze, the weather seemed to divide people into two categories: Those who were undaunted by the extreme cold and everybody else — the shivering masses who braced for the weather rather than attacking it with bravado.
-- Shiver or shrug: On a bitter cold day, a telling personality test, The Washington Post, Jan. 7, 2014
acclimate
This word is pronounced "AH-cli-mate" so you might not know until you see it spelled out that the word climate is embedded within it. It means "to adjust," and you'll hear it a lot this week used to describe the way people in northern climates get used to cold weather, which is catching Southerners woefully unprepared.
Some researchers think it takes just a matter of weeks to become acclimated.
-- Shiver or shrug: On a bitter cold day, a telling personality test, The Washington Post, Jan. 7, 2014
frigid
Frigid, chilly, icy. Journalists this week are plumbing the depths of their mental thesauruses to come up with novel and interesting synonyms for cold.
Slusser, known as Mandolin Mike, standing on a frigid Nashville sidewalk and playing Bill Monroe and Jimmie Rodgers tunes for an audience consisting largely of a barely disturbed tip box.
-- Arctic Blast Proves Unwelcome Novelty, Especially Across South, The New York Times, Jan. 7, 2014
meteorology
Meteorology is the study of weather. And while some -ology or "study of" words may be as obscure as the fields themselves (limnology or "the study of lakes and ponds" comes to mind), meteorology is one to know this week as record-breaking cold grabs headlines.
You don’t have to have a meteorology degree to be able to speak to that.”

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