WORD LISTS

The End of "Impunity" in Mexico

February 26, 2014
A Mexican drug lord's arrest, Ukraine's new reality, skinnier U.S. preschoolers, and a trove of marine fossils in Chile...

Follow this week's news coverage from a vocabularian's perspective by learning 10 words from this week's New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post coverage.

Commit to this list on weekly basis! Here are six reasons why.
fief
In the Middle Ages, a fief was the estate a king's subject held in exchange for loyalty to that king. Today fief's a word you'll hear used metaphorically, as it is here describing a city whose inhabitants and government are loyal to a crime lord.
They reacted here with utter disbelief. Joaquín Guzmán Loera, El Chapo, drug kingpin to the world, the Robin Hood of Sinaloa, had been arrested in his home state, in the resort town that is a loyal fief of his empire?
-- How a Kingpin Above the Law Fell, Incredibly, Without a Shot, The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2014
impunity
Don't confuse impunity with immunity. Though they share seven of eight letters both refer to protection or exemption, immunity is the only one that refers to protection from disease while impunity refers more specifically to punishment. Remember: Diplomatic immunity gives you license to park your car with impunity.
The takedown this weekend of the world’s most wanted man — the chief executive of what experts describe as the world’s most sophisticated narcotics enterprise, the Sinaloa cartel — upended long-held assumptions about the impunity of Mexican mobsters.
-- How a Kingpin Above the Law Fell, Incredibly, Without a Shot, The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2014
epidemic
A closer look at the definition of epidemic -- "a disease that attacks members of a community simultaneously" -- sheds light on how science and government conceive of this health crisis. Calling it an epidemics means they see it not so much as a personal failing on the part of many individuals as they do a contagious phenomenon we must address as a society as a whole.
Federal health authorities on Tuesday reported a 43 percent drop in the obesity rate among 2- to 5-year-old children over the past decade, the first broad decline in an epidemic that often leads to lifelong struggles with weight and higher risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke.
-- Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade, The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2014
consensus
In the world of scientific discovery, consensus is king. It means "agreement," and in general, scientists look for agreement of several scientific studies before they consider a theory to be verified.
There was little consensus on why the decline might be happening, but many theories.
-- Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade, The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2014
oust
In our era of revolution and toppled governments, oust is a word to know. It means to "kick out" of office, although you can also be ousted from a nightclub or a classroom if you're rowdy behavior crosses a line. Later in the same piece, look for the noun form ouster.
The move comes amid growing tension between Russia and Ukraine, whose pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted by European-leaning protesters at the weekend following violence last week in which more than 80 people were killed.
-- Russia Puts Troops on Alert Amid Ukraine Tension, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 26, 2014
at large
If you don't already know what at large means, you might mistakenly think it has something to do with size. It doesn't. It refers to a lack of limits, as in an escaped convict wandering at larger, or "who knows where." On a committee, a member at large is one who has no fixed duties or responsibilities.
A warrant for his arrest was issued this week but he remains at large and is believed to be hiding in Crimea, a pro-Russian region on the Black Sea.
-- Russia Puts Troops on Alert Amid Ukraine Tension, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 26, 2014
dissolve
Although the most familiar definition of dissolve is to "pass into a solution" or break apart in water, here it means to disband or disburse a group. Think of a meeting breaking up and the members dispersing into a crowd the way salt molecules disperse into H2O and you'll understand why the two meanings are linked.
Separately on Wednesday, Mr. Avakov signed an order dissolving the feared Berkut—a special antiriot unit of the police that had been blamed for some of the worst abuses during a wave of violence following months of protests that led to the collapse of the government.
-- Russia Puts Troops on Alert Amid Ukraine Tension, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 26, 2014
commission
Commission springs from the verb commit. As a verb, it means to transfer or delegate authority, and a commission is a group given the authority to carry out a particular task, as in this group assembled to investigate misconduct by the police in the Ukraine. But you can also think of it as a group who has committed themselves to a specific job.
Mr. Avakov had also announced on Tuesday that he had dismissed several top police officials and had appointed a special commission to investigate police misconduct and the abuse of authority during the violence that rocked the capital last week.
-- Russia Puts Troops on Alert Amid Ukraine Tension, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 26, 2014
assemblage
This story about a significant discovery of a group of fossils in Chile gives journalists the chance to trot out some interesting synonyms for "group." Here assemblage refers to objects that have been "assembled" or brought together. Read the rest of the article and you'll find cache, trove, profusion, and treasure.
Pyenson is the lead author of a paper describing the assemblage of cetacean fossils, published Tuesday evening in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
-- Chilean highway project unearths amazing graveyard of fossilized whale skeletons, The Washington Post, Feb. 25, 2014
paleontology
Do the words paleontology and paleontologist make you think of dinosaurs? If they do, you're on the right track to knowing what this impressive-sounding word means. Paleontology is the study of fossils--if you're a dinosaur hunter, fossils are the name of your game.
Pyenson believes that the Cerro Ballena site is a paleontological treasure on par with the La Brea Tar Pits.
-- Chilean highway project unearths amazing graveyard of fossilized whale skeletons, The Washington Post, Feb. 25, 2014

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