Slang explanations in the NYT


Well if everybody in your middle school knows what a crasp is, then outsiders who don’t know are hilarious. But for the most part, the Times is just doing a pretty good job explaining the world to… well, whoever still reads it. Except the punk one - that one was hilarious.

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Goodness, such mogonistic language!

I agree: assuming a correct explanation, an explanation is good to give.

I wish blogs would do that, especially those that aspire to a wider audience. And not just for slang. Often I’ll read a headline or articles about artist I’ve never heard of. That’s fine if it is gossip I’m not likely to care about, but it is confusing if the writer is trying to tell me something politically significant or introduce to me to something new. A simple parenthetical, whether long (artist, a graphic novelist known for satire critical of police) or short (artist, an LA-based musician) make things easier to read. Similarly, given the age range of Internet users, I think it is smart when writers remember that that not everyone has lived through the same thing. We are probably within a decade of needing a parenthetical to explain what 9/11 was, let alone protest events of the 70s and 80s (or gasp) even longer ago.

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Yea, sometimes I just figure the article wasn’t meant for a noob like me and move on.

If only there were some way, perhaps using a large collection of information accessible to everyone, indexed in a way that one could easily find details about topics, people, and events that they were unfamiliar with. One can only dream that in the future, such a service will exist.


Wikipedia to the rescue!

(Seriously, “w” as a search accelerator for wp queries is a great thing. Unknown thing encountered? Ctrl-T, "w ", enter. (Not successful there? Google around and then write a note to wp for later.))

I’ve read some ridiculously unhelpful wikipedia articles… some of the math and physics related pages don’t provide so much as a layman-friendly blurb.


The problem with sufficiently advanced math and physics concepts is that they are not exactly layman-accessible. I tried to understand some. With help of a mathematician. I gave up For Now.

If you can write some friendly intro to such things, pleasepleasepleaseprettyplease do so!

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The condescension is embarrassing.

This… was so delightfully, perfectly Timesian…. What other terms had the paper of record decided to wordsplain in this way?)

What I love is the Atlantic thinking that they’re the much more worldly arbiter. They seem genuine in their enthusiasm for the Times’ definitions, yet they couch that enthusiasm in language that paints the Times as a hopelessly out-of-touch (true enough, I suppose.) The Atlantic’s use of the term “wordsplain” evokes the current feminist slang word “mansplain,” said of a man who presumes authority and condescends to explain any given topic when speaking to a woman, thereby making an ass of himself. It follows, therefore, that the Atlantic also considers the Times as worthy of derision, however roundaboutly they imply it. Laughably, the Atlantic then succeeds in demonstrating that they are just as square* as the Times.

We marveled at the way these expressions—the ones we understood, anyway—captured the spirit of the era in which they were defined. It makes sense, for instance, that the Times defined… macking (“a slang term for making out”) in 1999.

Despite indicating that they “understood” it, the Atlantic goes right along with the Times’ incorrect definition of “macking;” nor did they catch that “the era in which (it was) defined” was off by a large margin. First of all, “macking” could more accurately be defined as “making successful sexual overtures, usually said of a man towards a woman e.g. a pimp.” Making out could be a result of macking, but it is not used in place of any specific sexual act. Moreover, the term presumably dates back to at least slightly before the film which popularized it: The Mack, released in 1973. I mean, sure, give it a few years to become part of the zeitgeist, but 1999 is a decade later than when I first heard it in the parlance of my peers, and I was a dumb-assed thirteen-year-old white kid from Tennessee, for chrissakes.

So, speaking of slang, is there a phrase analogous to “gray lady down” as it applies to the Atlantic?

*“Square” is a mid-twentieth-century slang term for a straight-laced, ordinary member of the population, used by members of subcultural groups (e.g. drug users, the mafia, jazz musicians etc) to denote one who does not understand the cultural norms of said group.

This is the usual response to such suggestions (and this goes for the other comment to use wikipedia, so don’t think I am singling you out). Frankly, I think this is rude. I hear this especially among technologists, so it isn’t limited to pop culture references. “Go google it yourself” can come across, even if it is not meant that way, as “you, reader, are not worthy of me. Leave my presence until you have proved yourself ready for my wisdom.” I do get that a line has to be drawn somewhere. One can’t explain everything. But sometimes adding a few extra words is simple courtesy. It also gives the skimming reader a clue whether the topic warrants more investigation or not.

It was intended to be rude, so you got that part right.

What you’re perceiving is an ingroup-outgroup thing. If I want to show all the hipsters how hip I am, I can start off a post mentioning steampunk ukuleles and of course we all know how cool or how lame those are, and if you don’t already know, that gives me the golden opportunity to sneer, “google it, noob.”

But like I said above, if your post (or whatever) is going to be opaque without some research on my part, I just assume it’s not my attention you’re seeking. If I’m intrigued I might just google it and learn something, but more likely I’ll skip over your contemptuous words and read something more friendly.

Actually, it wasn’t intended to be rude. It was intended, however to point out that while we live in an age of increasingly insular, high-context information, we also live in an age where detailed information is readily accessible to everyone. Unlike with print, where parentheticals are more necessary to make sure the reader understands without having to go retrieve a copy of Encyclopedia Britannica, the Internet provides a myriad of tools for readers to get the information they need. With everything from Wikipedia to plug-in dictionary and google search tools giving readers literally one-click access, it is not the writer’s responsibility to ensure that every reader is able to find out everything they need from the article - ultimately the reader bears the burden of self-education if they want to find out more about a topic. If the writer had to explain every term in an article, or provide backstory to every topic, every piece would be like the Do Re Mi song from Sound of Music (“Ray, a drop of golden sun”). That’s just not efficient or necessary at this point.


95% of the time the first hit on Google will tell you everything important about a reference anyway.

I think this is an expectations thing. People sit down and expect to digest the article in its entirety and suddenly they are being diverted off to research some reference they didn’t get. It’s distracting, but ultimately going off and doing your own research is a good habit to have. Don’t take the article at face value, do a little basic fact checking of your own to make sure you’re not being fed a pile of horseshit. This is truly the wonder of the information age.

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