This Week in Words: Current Events Vocab for November 27–December 3, 2021

November 29, 2021
Stories about a dog rescued from a tortoise burrow, a fire-eating fungus, and a search for extraterrestrials all contributed words to this list of vocabulary from the week's news.
Scientists have observed that albatrosses, birds that normally mate for life, are increasingly separating from their partners. A new study by New Zealand’s Royal Society suggests that climate change is to blame for the rising number of albatross divorces. It found that during years with a higher sea temperature, more of the enormous seabirds split up, and they fledged far fewer chicks. Albatross derives from the Arabic al-ghattas, "sea eagle."
Two Native American tribes in Delaware bought back a small part of what was once their ancestral homeland. With financial support from the state, conservation groups, and a private donor, the Lenape and Nanticoke Indian tribes purchased just over 40 acres near where their forebears lived for centuries. The land holds deep cultural significance for the tribes, which plan to hold powwows and other community-building events there. Ancestral's Latin root means "to go before."
In its first test of a system meant to defend Earth from future collisions with large asteroids, NASA launched a spacecraft that will smash into a 525-foot-wide space rock named Dimorphos. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, will travel 6.5 million miles by rocket, a trip that will take nearly a year. When DART collides with the enormous object at 15,000 miles per hour, astronomers will be able to measure whether the impact alters the asteroid's orbit.
Firefighters in Scottsdale, Arizona came to the rescue when a family’s French bulldog became trapped in another pet's underground den. Bianca, a 15-year-old sulcata tortoise, had dug the deep burrow, using it to stay cool and hide from predators. When Bruce the dog wandered in, the tortoise trapped him, wedging her body in the hole. Rescuers dug carefully for three hours to avoid the tunnel collapsing in on the animals, until Bianca finally emerged, freeing the little dog at last.
Stephen Sondheim, one of the most important composers and lyricists in American musical theater, died at the age of 91. Sondheim's musical career lasted more than fifty years; he wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy before transitioning to composing music as well. Shows for which he wrote both the musical score and lyrics include Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. Sondheim won eight Tony Awards for his compositions, as well as a Pulitzer Prize.
The U.S. and the European Union have pledged new aid of over a billion dollars to Afghanistan, but experts say it's not enough to stave off a humanitarian disaster as the country's economy nears collapse. Since the Taliban seized power three months ago and most foreign aid was withdrawn, Afghanistan's cash shortage has caused the closure of businesses and banks and a drastic increase in food and fuel prices. The lack of resources has already resulted in a desperate and hungry populace.
The newest scientific search for extraterrestrial life will focus on Alpha Centauri, two sun-like stars about four light-years away from Earth. A small space telescope will launch in 2023 and begin exploring the system's surrounding planets by 2025, seeking signs of life outside of our planet and solar system. New scientific techniques make it possible to detect even microbial evidence of living organisms on distant planets.
Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, began on the evening of November 28 and will end eight days later. On December 1, President Biden celebrated the holiday with a menorah lighting, which was attended by a relatively small number of masked guests. The traditional White House event started in 1979, and every U.S. president since then has marked Hanukkah. Festival is derived from the Latin festus, "feast."
A new study of a fungus that appears in forested areas after major wildfires offered clues into how the spore-producing organisms thrive. These pyrophilous — or "fire-loving" — fungi, which often sprout in brilliant shades of pink and orange, seem to initially feed on the dead matter of organisms killed by fire. Once those have been consumed, they eat charcoal, an adaptation that scientists say can eventually help bring other living organisms back to areas devastated by wildfires.
On December 1, a letter written by 18th-century Russian empress Catherine the Great was sold at auction for over $1 million. The empress was a supporter of an early form of smallpox inoculation, and the 1787 missive to a governor-general illustrates her enthusiasm. Catherine (who had been inoculated 20 years earlier) urges her correspondent to make the preventative measure widely available, writing "Such inoculation should be common everywhere."
As European countries rush to meet looming climate deadlines, several are focusing on nuclear power as a clean and reliable energy source. Britain, France, and Poland will all build new plants to harness the energy produced by splitting the nuclei of atoms. Others are wary of nuclear power and its radioactive waste. Since the meltdown of Japan's Fukushima plant ten years ago, countries including Germany have pushed for a reduction of Europe's reliance on nuclear power.
An expansive new survey of people who live in 21 countries yielded surprising results: young people in very poor countries were the most optimistic. While most U.S. respondents between the ages of 15 and 24 said they thought they would be economically worse off than their parents, the same age group in low-income countries were extremely hopeful about their chances of faring better financially. Optimistic comes from a Latin root, optimus, "the best."
Faced with a shortage of bus and train drivers, transit companies around the United States are aggressively working to recruit former employees to come back to work. In an effort to lure retired drivers to return, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority will pay up to $35,000 for three months of work, and New Jersey Transit is offering $6,000 sign-on bonuses to returning bus drivers. The verb recruit was originally used to mean "strengthen, reinforce, or repair."
Barbados officially became a republic on November 30, after nearly 400 years as a constitutional monarchy. Britain's Prince Charles attended a ceremony marking the end of his mother Queen Elizabeth II's position as the country's head of state and the inauguration of Sandra Mason as the first president of Barbados. The pop star Rihanna was also named a National Hero. The shift to a system in which power is held by elected representatives is seen as symbolic freedom from a colonial past.
A satellite launched in September by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey returned its first images this week. The Landsat 9 orbits the earth from about 400 miles above the ground, scanning Earth's surface in exacting detail. Instruments onboard can detect subtle changes in light and temperature, providing crucial climate details and information about wildfires, water quality, and farm and forest health. In the 1500s, satellite meant "follower of a superior person."
When It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia returned for its fifteenth season on December 1, it became the longest-running live action sitcom in television history. While several animated comedy series have beat this record, Sunny, renewed through season 18, is the most long-lived sitcom with live actors. Sitcom is short for "situation comedy."
Dozens of people who had gathered in a remote U.K. inn to listen to Noasis, an Oasis tribute band, were stuck there over the weekend after a snowstorm left them stranded. Three-foot drifts of snow and impassable roads trapped the patrons inside Yorkshire’s Tan Hill Inn for three days with the musicians, who exclusively play covers of songs by the 90s Britpop band. Stranded comes from the noun strand, "shore or beach," in the sense of a ship left aground on the shore.
Rufus Gifford, who served as deputy campaign manager for the Biden campaign, posted a video on Twitter on November 28 of his young niece Avery talking to President Biden. The girl, who speaks with a stutter, smiled as Biden, a former stutterer himself, offered words of encouragement. Biden has often discussed his lifelong struggle with the speech disorder, which is characterized by repeated sounds or syllables that prevent a flowing speech pattern.
On November 29, Czech President Milos Zeman, who was recently released from the hospital after being treated for Covid-19, swore in the new prime minister from the safety of a transparent box. The see-through cubicles have become increasingly common in courtrooms and government offices during the pandemic, used as protective measures to avoid spreading the virus. Transparent is from the Latin roots trans, "through," and parere, "come in sight."
Austin, Texas now has the dubious distinction of being one of the most unaffordable cities in the United States. A housing crisis caused by Austin's popularity has made life in the city much more costly for residents. Nearly 180 new residents move to Austin daily. Once among the least expensive cities in the country, Austin is likely to be the least affordable metro area outside of California by the end of 2021.
On November 29, the World Health Organization announced that the newly detected Covid-19 variant omicron poses a high risk worldwide, although much remains unknown about it. Like all viruses, Covid mutates constantly as it spreads, forming many slightly different variants. Experts are concerned about omicron, which has mutations that may allow it to spread more quickly and has so far been found in at least 30 countries. The Latin root of variant means "change."

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