Pop Culture Quest: How I Met Your Mother

One of my favorite shows of all time, CBS’s How I Met Your Mother (or HIMYM for short) is well known for spawning neologism’s left and right. The cult sit-com follows five friends in New York City as Ted Mosby, the main character, searches for his future wife.

As far as their extensive vocabulary of words and phrases that have entered pop culture, let’s be honest. Barney, played by Neil Patrick Harris, is responsible for most of them.


Here are a few of my favorites!

Revertigo: The change that happens to someone’s personality when he or she spends time with someone from his or her past.

Desperation Day: Feb. 13, the last day to find someone with whom to spend Valentine’s Day

woo-girlsWoo Girls: Single women who go out in large groups and yell “wooo!” a lot—even when nothing is actually exciting them

Steak sauce: A-1, the tops, the best, awesome.

Superdate: One date that includes “17 dates-worth of romance”

Lawyered: What a lawyer says upon winning an argument. (Not actually invented by HIMYM, but often used by Marshal)

Suit Up!: A common declaration by Barney, referring to his policy of wearing a suit for almost every occasion and often expecting others to do the same.

The Bro Code: a set of written rules for bros to follow635603241805640236-306960360_Hot Crazy Scale

The Hot/Crazy Scale: A person is allowed to be crazy, as long as they are equally hot. A
graph is used to display someone’s hot-to-crazy ratio. Ideally, you want your date to be above the diagonal line, indicating that they are hotter than they are crazy.

Slap Bet: The bet to end all bets. If you win, you can slap the person in the face as hard as you can.

On The Hook: A relationship between two people- person A is infatuated with person B, person B likes being adored, but isn’t ever going to date them. Person A is “on the hook.”

The Dobler-Dahmer Theory: “If both people are into each other, then a big romantic gesture works: Dobler, but if one person isn’t into the other, the same gesture comes off serial-killer crazy: Dahmer.” “Dobler” refers to Lloyd Dobler from the late 1980’s romantic comedy film, Say Anything, while the Dahmer is referenced to serial killer Jeffery Dahmer.

Graduation Goggles: The nostalgic feeling one has about a time or someone in their life when it is about to end, even if the time/that person was completely miserable. As soon as you are about to leave, quit or break up with someone or something, you start to enjoy everything you hated about it before because you realize that it will soon be gone forever.

ewok_line-thumb-330x199-73183.jpgThe Ewok Line: The Ewok line correlates the birth year of a person and the subsequent appreciation of Ewoks. It is used to determine whether someone is too old for you to date.

The Chain of Screaming Theory: The Chain of Screaming (also known as The Circle of Screaming or The Pyramid of Screaming), states that once screamed at by a higher authority, one must scream at an inferior.

The Lemon Law: The Lemon Law entitles either party on a date to call off the date within the first five minutes with no repercussions or hard feelings. Just cite Lemon Law and you’re out.

The Mermaid Theory: Theory that single men and married women can’t really be friends,
because every woman, no matter how initially 5727734409_aaec2abfberepugnant, has a mermaid clock— the time it takes for a man to realize he wants to sleep with her. This is due to a woman’s hotness being in direct proportion to the time exposed to her

The Sexless Inkeeper: When you have someone go home with from the bar just because they want to sleep at your place for free, not to be actually with you.

Platinum Rule: Never date someone you will see on a regular basis. Such relationships never work out in the end and lead to never-ending suffering as those involved would constantly see each other.

Nothing Good Happens After 2 A.M. Rule: … Exactly what it sounds like.


Thanks for joining me today! Want more Pop Culture Quests? Check out my two part series on Harry Potter here and here, as well as Jurassic World here.

(Resources: Time, Tampa Bay Times, EW, The HIMYM Wiki, Buzzfeed)


Pop Culture Quest: Jurassic World

I saw Jurassic World earlier this summer, and I loved it (even though I am pretty sure Michael Crichton is muttering “I told you so” somewhere in his grave)! In the movie, InGen genetically spliced together a new “hybrid” dinosaur to keep up attendance at the park. This terrifying new addition, who proceeds to kill everything in its path, was named the Indominus Rex.


And, of course, my first thought was wondering how they named it.

A little research revealed that the name is Latin, meaning “fierce” or “untamable king”, which is fitting. The dinosaur was bred in captivity but manages to escape, leaving untold destruction in its wake. Wave after wave of “asset protection” officers are sent to take her down, but nothing works. Untamable? Yea, that seems about right.

Fortunately for us, most dinosaur names are easily broken down to give clues about the species. Let’s take a look at a few examples from lesser known species!

dinosaur main pic

Some dinosaur names are as easy as breaking down the root words, which are usually Greek, to reveal either physical features or theorized behaviors:







Others have more interesting stories behind their names:





Thanks for joining me today!

(Resources: Enchanted Learning’s list of roots and list of dinosaur names, all dinosaur photos from Rareresource but the text and image creation is mine)

Pop Culture Quest: Harry Potter (Part 2- Spells)

I couldn’t let a Harry Potter post stand alone… I had to have a sequel!

The words and names that I explored in the last post are not the end (or even the very beginning) of the wordsmithing that JK Rowling did for the seven novel series. Her magic system included the use of wands and incantations for magical spells, all of which she had to make up as well. Just for fun (because this is what I consider fun), I put together a list of some of the spell names that she came up with, and their most likely etymologies.

This only scratches the surface of the full list, but the following are a few of the easier spell words to guess how Rowling put them together. Let’s begin!


1. Accio – summoning charm; Causes an object to fly to the caster, even over quite some distance

Latin: “Accio” is “to call to, summon.”

2. Aguamenti – Charm that conjures a fountain or jet of clear water from the caster’s wand

“Agua” is Spanish for “water” + augment (to increase).

3. Aparecium – revealing charm; used to make invisible ink visible

“Appareo” is Latin for “to become visible.” (also goes for “Apparate”, a spell to appear in any location)

4. Avada Kedavra – Causes instant death in a flash of green light, usually leaving no sign of physical damage or of the cause of death that would be detectable to a Muggle autopsy. Unblockable with no counter-curse

“Avada kedavra” is an Aramaic phrase (adhadda kedhabhra) that means “may the thing be destroyed.”

5. Colloportus – Seals a door, making an odd squelching noise.

From the Latin “colligo” meaning “to bind” and French “porte” (door).

6. Crucio – One of the “Unforgivable Curses,” this spell causes the victim to suffer almost intolerable pain. Some victims of prolonged use of this curse have been driven insane

“Crucio”, which is the spell word, is Latin for “to torture”.

7. Densaugeo – Curse to make your victim’s front teeth grow

“Dens” is Latin for “teeth”. “Augeo” is Latin for “to enlarge”.

8. Episkey – Heals/repairs damage that has been inflicted on the target

“Episkeuo” is Greek for “to repair”

9. Evanesco – Makes something vanish (not just become invisible, but go away completely)

“Evanesco” is Latin for “to disappear”

10. Expecto Patronum – Conjures a Patronus, a silvery phantom shape, usually that of an animal, which is the embodiment of the positive thoughts of the caster. A Patronus will drive away Dementors

Patronus means “protector”, so “expecto patronum” means “to expect or look for a protector”.

11. Expelliarmus – Disarming charm; Causes opponent’s weapon to fly out of his or her hand

Combination of “expel” (to force or drive out; eject forcefully) and “arma” which means “weapons” in Latin

12. Finite Incantatem – Stops currently operating spell effects

Combination of “fini” (stop, end) and “incantation”, which is a ritual recitation of verbal charms or spells to produce a magic effect

13. Flagrate – Causes the target object to burn anyone who touches it

From the Latin word “flagro”, which means to blaze or burn

14. Impedimenta – Stops an object or slows it down

“Impedio” is Latin for “to hinder”or “hindrance”.

15. Imperio – One of the Unforgivable Curses, this spell causes the victim to be completely under the command of the caster, who can make the victim do anything the caster wishes.

“Impero” is Latin for “to command”, and “imperium” is Latin for “absolute rule”.

16. Impervious -Makes something waterproof or water repellent

The prefix “im-” means “not” and “pervius” is Latin for “letting things through, allowing something to penetrate”

17 and 18. Levicorpus – spell used to suspend one’s victim by the ankle and Liberacorpus – counteracts levicorpus spell

Levitate meaning “to float” + “corpus” which is Latin for “body” and Liberate (to set free) + “corpus” (Latin, “body”).

19 and 20. Mobiliarbus – Spell used by Hermione to move a tree in Three Broomsticks and Mobilicorpus – Spell used by Black to move Snape when he was unconscious.

Mobile (capable of movement) + “arbor” which is Latin for “tree” and Mobile (capable of movement) + corpus (Latin, “body”). As The Harry Potter Lexicon explains, “The basic spell for moving something starts with the “Mobili-” prefix. It is up to the caster to be able to tack on the correct Latinate word for the object to be moved, in this case a tree. It seems unlikely that there is a “standard” spell for moving a tree to one side!”

21. Muffliato – Fills the ears of target persons near the caster with an unidentifiable buzzing, so that the caster can hold lengthy conversations without being overheard

Derived from muffle meaning “to repress; stifle” or “to make vague or obscure”.

22 and 23. Lumos– Causes a small beam of light to shine from the end of the caster’s wand and Nox – turns the light off

“Lumen” is Latin for “light”, and “luminous” means “giving off light”. “Nox” is Latin for “darkness” or “night”.

24. Obliviate – Modifies or erases portions of a person’s memory

“Oblivio” is Latin for “forgetfulness”. Oblivious can mean “lacking all memory”.

25. Oppugno – Causes conjured creatures under the control of the caster to attack the target

Latin for “to fight against, attack, assault”.

26. Portus – used to transform an object into a Portkey

Latin for “to carry”, or from “porta” meaning “gate or entrance”

27. Reducio – counteracts an enlargement charm

“Reduce” means “to bring down in extent, amount or degree; diminish”, and comes from Latin “reducere”, which means “to bring back; return”.

28. Reparo – repairs broken or damaged objects

“Reparo” is Latin for “to restore, renew, make good”

29. Scourgify – cleaning charm

From “scour”, to vigorously remove grime and dirt. Also could be from the Latin word “excoriata” meaning “to be stripped of [dirt]”

30. Serpensortia – Causes a large serpent to burst from the end of the caster’s wand

“Serpens” is “snake” in Latin + “ortus” is “to create” in Latin

31. Shield Charm (Protego) – This spell creates a magical barrier that will deflect hexes thrown at the caster

“Protego,” comes from the Latin protegere, “to protect or defend.”

32. Sonorus – Makes the caster’s voice carry over long distances

“Sono” is Latin for “to make a sound” and “sonorus” means “loud”

33. Stupefy – Renders the target of the spell unconscious

“Stupere” is Latin for “to be stunned”. “Stupefy” in English means “to dull the senses of; daze”.

34. Wingardium Leviosa – Spell used to lift objects

Wingardium: “Wing” + “arduum” is Latin for “steep, high”. Leviosa: To “levitate” is to rise into the air.

(Resources: The Nine Muses for the possible etymologies and The Harry Potter Lexicon for the more concise definitions)

Pop Culture Quest: Harry Potter (Part 1)

How better to start a topic about words introduced by pop culture than with one of the largest franchises in the world?

Any story is capable of spawning its own dictionary, especially with heavy world building á la Lord of the Rings. But JK Rowling is well-known for the intensive research and thought she puts into the words and names she comes up with for her novels. On the Oxford Dictionary blog, they called her a “Linguistic Innovator”, and had this to say about her:

J. K. Rowling uses language in her books to enhance the other-worldliness of her theme. She not only references mythology through the inclusion of creatures such as centaurs and hippogriffs, but follows in the footsteps of such authors as Tolkien by creating a number of innovative new words for her world.

Not only has she created words for her series, but one of them even appears in the official Oxford Dictionary!

Certainly the most prolific of her creations is muggle – a non-magical person – which has now gained its own meaning outside of Harry Potter as ’a person who lacks a particular skill’, and is included in our dictionaries. For an invented word by an author to reach this status is a great achievement, and a clear indication of the impact of the language within her novels; readers have transferred the language from her world into our own. . – Adam Pulford, Oxford Dictionary Blog, July 2011

Rowling is on record for saying that she came up with the word ‘muggle’ from the British slang ‘mug’ meaning ‘fool’, then added the diminutive ending to suggest both foolishness and loveability. While Rowling has explanations for some of her words on record, we can only guess at the origins for the rest. Here are some of the most well known words that she coined for the Harry Potter universe:

1. Squib (n.): a non-magical person who is born to magical parents

No, this is not a squid. It’s not confirmed, but some believe the origins of this word come from the expression “damp squib”, which is a firecracker that fizzles out rather than exploding properly, essentially meaning something that is a disappointment.

2. Mudblood (n.): a magical person who is born to non-magical parents

Used as a derogatory term, this word is a simple combination of ‘mud’ and ‘blood’. Put together, it means someone with unclean or dirtied blood because they are not from pure magical families. While not the fanciest word Rowling has penned, the word itself is a gem, with the two halves not only rhyming, but also ending in hard ‘d’s, giving Malfoy an easy phrase to all but spit at Hermione.

3. Horcrux (n.): an object infused with a fragment of a person’s soul

As the definition explains, a Horcrux is an object Voldemort used to contain pieces of his soul for the purposed of immortality. It’s believed that the word ‘Horcrux’ is from the French words “dehors” (outside) and “crux” (soul). Together, these would mean “the outside soul”, which matches up with the definition perfectly.

4. Animagus (n.) a witch or wizard who can morph into an animal at will

The best examples in the series would be Sirius (changed into a large, black dog) and Professor McGonagall (changed into a cat). Rowling put together the English word “animal” and the Latin word “magus” (magician or sorcerer) to form a portmanteau that essentially means “animal magician”.

5. Dementor (n.): a dark creature that absorbs the happiness of the creatures around them

In the books, the Dementors are the guardians of the wizarding prison, Azkaban. They suck the happiness out of their victims, leaving them insane and soulless. This is a great name for these creatures, since it is from the Latin word “dememto”, meaning “to drive mad” or “deprive of one’s mind”.

6. Quidditch (n.): a sport within the realm of the wizarding world

Arguably one of the best parts of the Harry Potter world, Quidditch is a sport played on broomsticks with bewitched balls that either get thrown through the goal, try to hide, or try to injure players. Different sources I have checked have had different things to say about where the name came from, but it seems to be confirmed that Rowling made it up with no set etymology. Apparently, she wrote out 5 pages of new words starting with the letter ‘Q’ until she found one that she liked. But my favorite explanation is that it is a combination of the three words used to describe the three different balls: quaffle, two bludgers, and the golden snitch.

7. Auror (n.): Dark Wizard Catcher

Auror’s are like the police force or the CIA of the wizarding world. This is also one of the harder words to guess the etymology, as there isn’t any instant connection on how Rowling came up with this name. The only explanation I have found is from The Nine Muses, suggesting that, “Auror derives from the Latin “aurum,” which means “gold.” Meanwhile, Brits call policemen “coppers.” A higher class of policeman would be a “golder” or as JKR suggests, auror.” I’m not sure I am completely sold on that, but Rowling has never confirmed, so we may never know.

8. Howler (n.): a letter that shouts its message and explodes if unopened. Used as punishment.

It was every students worst nightmare to receive a Howler from an angry parent, depicted in the movies as a red envelope that would start shouting at the recipient. It’s easy to see that this word comes from the English word “howl”, meaning “to cry or wail loudly for a prolonged period of time”. But in addition to that, a “howler” is Australian slang for “a glaring blunder, typically an amusing one”, which also fits perfectly for the embarrassing nature of how they are usually received publically in front of the entire student body at Hogwarts.

9. Legilimency (n.): mind-reading method, and Occlumency (n.): method of blocking said mind reading

Let’s all thank our lucky stars that this is not something we have to deal with in the real world! I put these two together since they so directly relate and both words are easy to break down. Legilimency comes from the Latin “legere” (to read) and “mens (the mind), so literally, it is “reading the mind”. Occlumency is the opposite, coming from the Latin “occlude” (to close off) and “mens (the mind).

10. Parselmouth (n.): a person who can converse with snakes

The easiest of all, this is a word confirmed directly by JK Rowling. In her own words, “Parselmouth is an old word for someone who has a problem with the mouth, like a hare lip.”

What are your favorite words from the series?

(Resources: Hello Giggles, The Nine Muses, Oxford Dictionaries, Language Realm, The Harry Potter Lexicon)