This Week In Words: November 28–December 4, 2020

November 30, 2020
Stories about a more normal 2021, the discovery of "a prehistoric Sistine Chapel," and exciting news for Nintendo fans all contributed words to this week's roundup of vocabulary from the top news.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the head of Iran's nuclear program, was reportedly assassinated by a remote-controlled machine gun hidden in a vehicle. Iran blamed Israel for the attack, and said that it would respond appropriately. Israel denied any involvement. Iran's nuclear weapons program is a major source of tension in the Middle East. "Assassin" comes from the Arabic word "hasisi," referring to a hired murderer.
President-Elect Biden began receiving the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). The PDB is a collection of top-secret intelligence and other information that is presented to the President every morning. In the past, presidents-elect began receiving the briefing right after the election. This year, President Trump delayed Biden's access as he protested the election outcome and fought to overturn it in court.
37 states and Washington, D.C. have certified their election results, including all the states where President Trump tried to have the outcome overturned in court. Certification means that the official, verified vote count is recorded. The state's electors then cast their votes accordingly in the electoral college. "Certificare" is a Latin verb based on the root "certus," meaning "certain."
After suffering extensive damage from hurricanes and a couple of serious cable failures, the huge observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico collapsed. Engineers had predicted the event, so nobody was injured. The 900-ton platform that was suspended over the 1,000-foot-wide dish crashed down, destroying the structure. The National Science Foundation, which runs the observatory, has not said whether it will be rebuilt. A petition to repair the structure gained 35,000 signatures in about a week.
The discovery of prehistoric rock paintings in the Colombian jungle has just been revealed. The discovery was made last year, but was kept secret to protect the site. The paintings, which span nearly eight miles of cliff faces, date from about 12,500 years ago. The images depict geometric patterns as well as humans, plants, and animals — including extinct species like mastodons — and stretch high up the cliffs. A British TV series about the site will air this month.
President-Elect Biden hurt his foot while playing with Major, one of the Bidens' two dogs. X-rays revealed a hairline fracture in his foot, so he will have to wear an orthopedic boot for a few weeks while it heals. Doctors say he should be fully recovered in plenty of time for the inauguration on January 20. Fracture comes from the Latin "frangere," meaning "to break," which is also the root of "fraction" and "fractious."
Plans for the Biden inauguration are taking health and safety concerns into account, focusing on keeping crowds much smaller than normal and requiring social distancing between attendees. In normal years, 200,000 tickets are given out by Congress for seats close to the stage and many thousands more spectators flock to the Capitol for the event. Officials are still debating how best to manage the crowds, and which of the traditional ceremonies to keep, alter, or eliminate.
Britain has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for public use, becoming the first Western nation to do so. In America, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a meeting scheduled for December 10, during which they will review all the technical data from the trials prior to making a decision about authorizing its use in this country. Inoculation is Latin, originally referring to grafting fruit trees and later used in medicine to describe a vaccination.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory over the Tigrayan insurgency after federal forces captured the city of Mikelle and rebel leaders fled into the mountains on the Sudanese border. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had been Ethiopia's dominant political party since the 1990s, but Abiy's election in 2018 removed them from power. Some observers fear that the TPLF will continue to fight a guerilla war that drags on for years.
Not long after a stainless steel monolith was found in a remote corner of Utah, the object disappeared. After its discovery, the internet exploded with speculation about its origin and purpose. Many people compared it to the famous monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Others suspected that it was a work of art, possibly by the late sculptor John McCracken. The piece was removed by four men who said that the huge crowds coming to see it were damaging the fragile wilderness.
Archaeologists in Spain have discovered an ancient necropolis containing over 4,500 bodies in more than 400 tombs. The burials date from the 8th–11th centuries, during the Islamic conquest of the area, and the bodies all appear to have been buried according to Islamic tradition. The location of the site in Spain's northeast shows that the Muslim presence in the country was more extensive than previously thought. Necropolis means "city of the dead" in Greek.
President Trump reportedly discussed issuing pardons to protect his three children and son-in-law, who have all been active in the White House during his administration. He also talked with advisers about pardoning his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and has spoken about pardoning himself, which some legal experts say he cannot do. A presidential pardon means that a person cannot be prosecuted or face punishment for whatever crimes are listed in the document.
The NBA announced that Kobe Bryant's posthumous induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame will take place in May of next year. The ceremony, which was postponed due to the pandemic, has been scheduled for May 13–15. Other inductees include Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Tamika Catchings. Posthumous comes from the Latin "humus," meaning "earth," so it literally means "after burial."
Holiday shoppers spent $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday, making it the biggest online shopping day ever. The total was 15 percent higher than last year, and experts say that much of the increase was driven by people choosing to stay home and shop online rather than risk entering potentially crowded stores. Many retailers launched extensive online promotions to attract shoppers looking for deals.
Proteins are the basis of life, and the complex shapes that they fold into governs the ways in which they behave and interact. Scientists using a type of artificial intelligence called "deep learning" appear to have unlocked the secret behind protein folding, correctly predicting the final folded shapes of proteins based only on their component amino acids about two thirds of the time. This discovery will likely have a huge impact on medicine, especially the fight against Covid-19.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that it will likely be summer before anything like normal crowds will be able to attend sports events. Most leagues have been playing games without any spectators, though the NFL has added digital crowd noise and cheering to the audio of their television broadcasts. Fauci said that once 75–85 percent of the population gets vaccinated that large public gatherings will be safe again.
Universal Studios Japan says that Super Nintendo Land will open on February 4 of next year. The park, which is in the lager Universal theme park in Osaka, will feature an augmented reality-enhanced Mario Kart roller coaster. Riders will wear headsets shaped like Mario's hat that have AR goggles attached. A Donkey Kong-themed area is under construction and will open at a later date.
President-Elect Biden announced a number of appointments to key posts in his administration, including economist Janet Yellen to Treasury Secretary. Yellen served as Federal Reserve Chairman from 2014–2018. He also named an all-female communications team, and chose Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget. Republican Senators have said they plan to oppose a number of Biden's cabinet picks.
Mars has lots of water, but even if it's not frozen solid it's likely to be extremely salty. Engineers have developed a new energy-efficient method for breaking down salt water into hydrogen and oxygen that could make long-term human habitation on Mars into a viable possibility. Hydrogen is fuel, and oxygen is for breathing, and the two can be recombined to make fresh water. The new method will be useful on Earth, too, turning sea water into fuel or drinkable water at low cost.
Attorney General William Barr said that contrary to President Trump's repeated assertions, the Justice Department found no evidence of the sort of widespread voter fraud that could result in changing the outcome of the election. The President did not comment on Barr's statement, but Rudy Giuliani and the Trump campaign both blasted Barr, saying there had been no investigation into the alleged fraud.

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