Curt's Nerd Word List - Empty Nest


Being a writer with my little ole undergraduate Degree in English from Iowa State, I pay closer attention to words than maybe most people. My one class in linguistics (I didn't even know what “linguistics” was) taught that language is fluid, and constantly changing to reflect times and needs, i.e., “evolving.” I enjoy hearing words pop up that are sort of strange, and then all-of-a-sudden, usually through politics and the media, everyone is using them like they've been around forever.

A good example is “herd immunity.” The term was so unfamiliar that then President Trump flubbed and called it, “herd mentality.” Thinking about “herd immunity,” I visualize a herd of zebras or buffalo that have become resistant to a certain disease through exposure, increased numbers, death and survival through built up resistance. Now the term “herd immunity” is being applied to humans. Fair enough, we are herd animals. Just get me the dang vaccination, please.

Or “granular.” All the talking heads are “granular” this and “granular” that. “A more 'granular' report that shows daily rather than weekly bla, bla, bla.” The word “detailed” would work just fine and be less confusing. Dr. Deborah Birx, the “Scarf Lady,” was a big fan of “granular.”

When COVID 19 first reared its ugly head, it was called the “Novel Coronavirus.” Anything called “novel,” I have a hard time taking serious. I think of “novel” as a work of fiction on a Best Seller List. I don't hear the term “Novel Coronavirus” being used much anymore since “variants” have arrived. “Variants” is just a pretty word for “mutations” which is much more scary sounding, therefore not to be used. Once again, just get me the vaccination.

“Metrics” jumped on the bandwagon immediately, and everyone was running around talking about the “metrics” like they had been using the word everyday for most of their life. Really. I think of “metric” as the “metric system,” as in meters and kilometers. Should I run a 5K this morning or sleep in? I'll sleep in.

Quick on the heels of “metrics” was “efficacy,” which sent people, me included, scrambling to Google or Alexa. So popular has “efficacy” become that Dr. Fauci might use it three or four times in one briefing. “Effectiveness” would fill the bill just as well, but doesn't sound near as important.

On the political front we have “bifurcate,” “equity,” “tribalism,” “reconciliation,” “robust,” “heterodoxy,” “K-shape recovery,” “nuclear option,” “extra legal,” and “circle back,” to select just a few. Both “bifurcate” and “equity” cross over into the pandemic world. (BTW: The Spanish Influenza of 1918, that killed more people than WW I, was called an “epidemic.” It wasn't promoted to the status of “pandemic” until recently.) “Bifurcate” could be “divide” just as easily. The political party “divided.” The virus “divided.” Why scare people with “bifurcate”?

When I think of “equity” I think of the cash value of my home. When I hear “viral equity” or “racial equity,” my first reaction is, “Huh?” I think “equity” is being confused with “equality,” as in “viral equality” or “racial equality.” Just saying.

When I hear “tribalism,” I think of African tribes warring against each other—spears, arrows and blow guns. To use “tribalism” as describing political parties? Well, come to think of it, maybe “tribalism” is being used correctly, after all.

“Reconciliation:” I think of a husband and wife reconciling their differences, or getting back together. To use “reconciliation” to indicate that the political party in power is going to push a bill through without the agreement of the other party is a complete misuse of the term, as far as I'm concerned. It should be called “non-reconciliation” or the “go-it-alone” bill.

“Robust:” I think of my morning coffee or the economy as being “robust,” not a political discussion. “Robust” just means the two parties didn't kill each other.

“Heterodoxy:” Good grief! Come on people, just say “unorthodox.”

“K-Shape Recovery:” This is economists' lingo for, “Different parts of the economy are going in different directions,” or a “K” shape. I had to study this a bit. “Helter skelter” might be a better way of expressing the “K-Shaped Recovery.”

“Nuclear Option:” You've got to be kidding me. To compare a senate procedure to the atomic bomb. Give me a break. Who is trying to impress whom?

“Extra Legal:” They don't want to say it, but “extra legal” really means, “illegal.”

“Circle Back:” This is one of Press Secretary, Jen Psaki's, favorite escape clauses when she doesn't know the answer to something. It's caught on and now everyone is using it.

So, this is my Nerd Word List for 2021. When more nerdy words come out, which might be tomorrow, I'll circle back to you.

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or visit his website at

Column, Curt Swarm, editorial, Empty Nest, Mt. Pleasant, opinion, Pen City Current, words


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