This Week In Culture: February 22–28, 2020

A tennis star retires, a jazz genius inspires, and a math great passes on — these and other stories contributed words to this week's list of vocabulary from the sports, tech, and culture worlds.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. colossal
    so great in size or force or extent as to elicit awe
    That doesn’t mean we’ll never hear music from him again — Resonance Records will release a set of previously unissued performances this fall — but it does mean that Rollins’s colossal record as a musician is a thing of the past.
    New York Times (Feb 24, 2020)
    Living jazz saxophone legend Sonny Rollins had to stop performing a few years ago for health reasons, but he's still as sharp as ever and sat down for a long interview. He talks about playing with Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and even recording with the Rolling Stones. Colossal, which comes from the Latin colosseus — as in the Colosseum — is an especially apt word to use in a piece about Rollins, since he recorded an album called Saxophone Colossus in 1956.
  2. esteemed
    having an illustrious reputation; respected
    An index of just how esteemed she was came from Mr. Glenn, Mercury astronaut and future United States senator, who died in 2016.
    New York Times (Feb 24, 2020)
    Katherine Johnson died at the age of 101. She was one of the African-American NASA mathematicians portrayed in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. The work that she and her team did was crucial in the Apollo 11 moon landing and many other missions. Though they were called "computers," they did most of their work by hand, using paper, slide rules, and adding machines. In 2015, Johnson received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, and she got a standing ovation at the 2016 Oscars.
  3. fastidious
    giving careful attention to detail
    They always give you notes. But Tyler is fastidious. And he’s a proper eccentric, which I like because I get on with eccentrics.
    The Verge (Feb 24, 2020)
    Silent House is a company that designs stage sets, props, and effects for musical acts like Tyler The Creator, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and The Weeknd. Getting all the details right — for the projections, pyrotechnics, and lights — takes a lot of careful work and planning with the artists and their teams. Fastidious comes from the Latin fastidium, which means "loathing." Over time it has come to mean a person who is extremely picky about every detail, and not always in a good way.
  4. garish
    tastelessly showy
    The 2005 artwork by anonymous street artist Invader uses the plastic puzzles’ squares to create a mosaic of the Mona Lisa and her famous smile in garish colors.
    Reuters (Feb 23, 2020)
    A Mona Lisa made entirely out of Rubik's Cubes sold for over half a million dollars in a Paris auction. The work, by an anonymous street artist known as Invader, is made of 330 cubes, each arranged so that the colored squares act like pixels, forming a larger image when grouped together. Because Rubik's Cubes only have six colors, the image is very low-resolution.
  5. innuendo
    an indirect and usually malicious implication
    But the leaks and innuendo so far don’t have the air of inevitability that often accompanies Apple rumors yet, so I wouldn’t block off your calendar just yet.
    – The Verge (Feb 25, 2020)
    Rumors are swirling about what the next group of Apple releases will be. In response to antitrust pressure, especially in Europe, Apple may soon allow consumers to set third-party apps as the default on iPhones. Innuendo comes from Latin, where it means "nodding at," "pointing to," or "signifying." So an innuendo is a hint or a suggestive remark that lets the listener draw the intended conclusion.
  6. malady
    impairment of normal physiological function
    Landmark critiques of social maladies often seem to arrive right when the culture is about to self-correct, which makes their authors look more influential than they really were.
    Slate (Feb 25, 2020)
    High Fidelity, the 1995 Nick Hornby novel made into a 2000 movie starring John Cusack and Jack Black, has been rebooted as a TV series starring Zo? Kravitz. Kravitz plays a record store owner, and the show falls somewhere between a sitcom and a drama exploring different aspects of contemporary life. Maladie means "sickness" in French, and malady can refer to a variety of ailments, either physical or metaphorical.
  7. precipitous
    extremely steep
    With Betelgeuse’s light on the rise, astronomers are now hoping to figure out what caused such a precipitous drop in brightness at the end of 2019—while simultaneously dealing with the disappointment of not witnessing a nearby supernova.
    National Geographic (Feb 26, 2020)
    After a lot of recent speculation about Betelgeuse's dimming, and whether that meant the star could go supernova soon, the red supergiant appears to be brightening again. The latest theory is that two of the star's regular cycles matched up, leading to an exceptionally dim period. A Precipice is a steep cliff, so precipitous describes a steep drop, like stepping off a cliff.
  8. unctuous
    unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating
    For a while, her sister becomes her enemy, but Cecilia agrees to have a rapprochement with her in a very public place — a posh Chinese restaurant, where the movie catches us up in an acerbically funny scene that skewers the latest in unctuous waiter etiquette.
    Variety (Feb 24, 2020)
    Elizabeth Moss stars in The Invisible Man, an updated remake of the classic 1933 film starring Claude Rains. This version features a creepy ex-boyfriend with a high-tech suit that allows him to vanish. Unctuous means greasy or oily, and can refer to substances or foods. When used to describe a person, it's not a compliment; it means someone unpleasantly slick and phony.
  9. vocation
    the particular occupation for which you are trained
    Maria Sharapova took her work seriously. In short, she was a professional. Tennis was passion. But it was also her job, not her hobby. Vocation, not avocation.
    Sports Illustrated (Feb 26, 2020)
    Maria Sharapova retired from tennis at the age of 32. She won five Grand Slam titles, including a victory over Serena Williams at Wimbledon when Sharapova was just 17, and 36 WTA (Women's Tennis Association) titles. She always said that she wasn't a natural athlete, and credited her success to hard work on and off the court.
  10. writhe
    move in a twisting or contorted motion
    Beneath her feet, the carpet writhes with symbols of changing media, from printing presses and binding tools at one end of the room to radios, TVs, computers and smartphones at the other, arranged like ornamental motifs in a baroque ceiling, yet printed in an eye-searing palette of clashing colours.
    Guardian (Feb 27, 2020)
    An architecture exhibition in London is using virtual reality headsets to augment the viewer's experience, making it more engaging and educational. The exhibition, exploring different architectural styles through history, was conceived by Space Popular, a design studio. A simple model of a building comes to life when seen through a headset, overlayed with text, animations, and informational details. Writhe comes from the Old English wríean for "twist" or "coil."
Created on February 25, 2020 (updated February 27, 2020)

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