The best words of TED2016
By Kate Torgovnick May
At TED2016, some amazing words got a moment in the spotlight. Session 11, hosted by Kelly Stoetzel, was themed: “Fantasists and Catalysts.” A ‘fantasist’ is ‘one who creates fantasies.’ Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED
If words could dream, they’d dream of being used in TED Talks. These words lived the dream in Vancouver at TED2016.
Precrastinator. Adam Grant explained that a precrastinator is someone who hurries to complete work and cross things off to-do lists. You might be interested to know that the crastin part of precrastinator comes from a Latin root meaning ‘belonging to tomorrow.’
Chordstick. The chordstick is a musical instrument invented by Bryce Dessner, described as “a cross between a hammered dulcimer and an electric guitar.” Sō Percussion used the unconventional instrument during Session 2.
Magnetar. A magnetar is a neutron star or pulsar with an extremely powerful magnetic field. Magnetars can have starquakes, which are thought to be the source of some gamma-ray bursts, and according to Wikipedia, “At a distance of halfway from Earth to the moon, a magnetar could strip information from the magnetic stripes of all credit cards on Earth.” Wanda Diaz Merced used the term in a talk on sonic astrophysics.
Indigenomics. ‘Indigenomics’ (pronounced /in-dij-ee-NO-miks/) is the study of the genomes of indigenous peoples, whose genetic diversity has been ignored by Western genome research. TED Fellow Keolu Fox is leading this field. (Just be aware that when it’s pronounced /in-dij-ee-NOM-iks/, indigenomics is the study of the economic systems of indigenous peoples.)
Omnicopter. The omnicopter is a micro aerial vehicle) that has “two central counter-rotating coaxial propellers for thrust and yaw control and three perimeter-mounted variable angle ducted fans to control roll and pitch and provide lateral forces.” Or, you know, is just really, really cool as Raffaello D’Andrea demonstrated in Session 6.
Lo-fab. Lo-fab is a shortening of the phrase ‘locally fabricated,’ used to refer to projects (like Session 8 speaker Michael Murphy’s) that use not just local materials and labor, but include local ideas and innovations, too.
Roustabout. Fields-Medal-winning mathematician Cedríc Villani showed us a slide listing the best and worst jobs — with ‘mathematician’ at the top of the best list. One of the worst jobs was that of roustabout, a word that used to mean a circus or dockside worker or, derogatorily, any “shiftless vagrant who lives by chance jobs,” but now is used to refer to oil field maintenance workers.
Idiogenic. Professor Brian Little talked about the traits that make up our personalities. Our unique combination of traits is motivated partly by biology (biogenic), partly by society (sociogenic), but partly — and this is the hopeful part — motivated by our desire to achieve our own unique goals and dreams. In other words: idiogenic.
No-nothingism. In her talk, New Yorker copy-editor Mary Norris suggested that ‘no-nothingism’ — used in error for ‘know-nothingism’ (a conservative, anti-immigration and isolationist American political party of the 1850s) — has a new life as a synonym for ‘nihilism.’ This kind of coinage — a word that begins as an error but takes on an independent life as a word — is sometimes known as a catachresis.
Hum. Number one this year is a tie. We have lots of ways to talk about the sensation of successful absorption in our working lives: “flow,” “being in the zone,” “in the groove,” “hyperfocus.” Shonda Rhimes’s talk has added “the hum” to our repertoire of these words.
Moonshot. If any word could be called the word of TED2016, it was moonshot — referenced by multiple speakers, including the appropriately-named Astro Teller and actual astronaut Mae Jemison. Each used it in the context of having audacious, world-changing dreams, and achieving them. The word moonshot can also mean “intermittently illuminated by moonlight” and a moonshotter can be both someone who is “shooting for the moon” … and someone who sneaks away in the middle of the night to avoid paying rent.
But really, speakers at TED2016 used so many interesting and unusual words. Some runners-up:
- David Larson: agnosia
- Brian Little: assholic
- Travis Kalanick: jitney
- Adam Savage: cosplay
- Andrew Pelling: biohacker
- Kenneth Lacovara: palimpsest
- Meron Gribetz: proprioception
- Parag Khanna: connectography
- Joanna Bloor: LILA, a ‘late in life athlete’
- Tom Hulme: desire path
- Lidia Yuknavitch: misfit
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