This Week In Words: April 26–May 2, 2020

Stories covering good news about some homemade masks, a promising treatment, and the origins of the coronavirus lead off this list of vocabulary taken from this week's top stories.

Start learning with an activity...

  • Practice

    Answer a few questions on each word. Get one wrong? We'll ask some follow-up questions. Use it to prep for your next quiz!
  • Spelling Bee

    Test your spelling acumen. See the definition, listen to the word, then try to spell it correctly. Beat your last streak, or best your overall time. Spellers of the world, untie!
  • Vocabulary Jam

    Compete head-to-head in real-time to see which team can answer the most questions correctly. Start a Jam and invite your friends and classmates to join!

Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. curtail
    terminate or abbreviate before its intended or proper end
    President Trump’s advisers presented him with the results of polling last week that showed him falling behind former vice president Joe Biden in key swing states, part of an effort by aides to curtail Trump’s daily briefings on the coronavirus pandemic.
    As his poll numbers fell, aides tried to dissuade President Trump from continuing with his daily briefings, which some in the White House said were contributing to his growing unpopularity. After the briefing in which he suggested that injecting poisonous cleaning products might help against Covid-19 — which was quickly rejected by medical experts as dangerous, and even deadly — the President saw poll results that reportedly showed Joe Biden with a commanding lead in many swing states.
  2. de facto
    existing, whether with lawful authority or not
    "Jared is running everything," one former White House official told Sherman. "He's the de facto president of the United States."
    Reports out of the White House suggest that the delay in responding to the pandemic was due in part to the dynamic between the President and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. de facto is Latin, meaning "in fact;" its counterpart, de jure, means "by law." When something may not be legal but is the reality of a situation, like when a king is ill and the Prince rules from behind the scenes, the Prince is the de facto ruler of the kingdom.
  3. dire
    fraught with extreme danger; nearly hopeless
    The figures announced Thursday by the Labor Department bring the number of workers joining the official jobless ranks in the last six weeks to more than 30 million, and underscore just how dire economic conditions remain.
    Nearly 4 million more people in the U.S. applied for unemployment last week, and experts think that's probably lower than the number of people who actually lost their jobs. This report brings the official total number of unemployed people in the last six weeks to over 30 million. It's possible that another 15 million more may also have lost work but didn't or couldn't apply for benefits.
  4. exacerbate
    make worse
    Steve Meyer, an economist for Kerns & Associates in Iowa, said panic buying will only exacerbate shortages.
    USA Today (Apr 30, 2020)
    Slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants in the Midwest became hotspots in the pandemic since workers stand close together and many companies were slow to establish distance protocols or provide protective gear. As some plants shut down, the President issued an order declaring them essential businesses, but without clear guidelines for safe work practices experts say that workers will continue to get sick and there may be interruptions in the meat supply.
  5. filigree
    delicate and intricate ornamentation
    The workings of the great round world, as revealed by pictures of the blue-white filigreed Earth from space that were so inspirational in 1970, really do link all its components.
    Most people stayed home on April 22, so planned public demonstrations for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day did not take place. Once the pandemic crisis fades, though, activists say the climate crisis needs immediate action. In Latin, filum and granum mean "thread" and "grain" respectively. Filigree is a combination of the two, via French, taken from the delicate ornamental metalwork done on some jewelry.
  6. liability
    the state of being legally obliged and responsible
    It’s also unclear where a compromise might be found on the question of including liability protections for businesses as McConnell is demanding.
    House Democrats are considering another $1 trillion aid package for state and local governments. As unemployment grows and tax revenues fall, more and more states, cities, and towns are suffering severe budget crunches and are having to make deep cuts and in some cases begin laying off essential workers like police, teachers, and paramedics. Liable probably comes from the Latin ligare, to tie up.
  7. placebo
    an innocuous or inert medication
    Independent monitors notified study leaders just days ago that the drug was working, so it was no longer ethical to continue with a placebo group.
    Remdesevir, an experimental antiviral drug, has been shown to be effective as a treatment for Covid-19, shortening the average illness of hospitalized patients by nearly a third. Its effectiveness in people with milder symptoms is unknown, though results from a study will be released soon.
  8. quilt
    bedding made of layers stuffed and stitched together
    Tighter-woven cotton alone was found to be effective, particularly two layers of 600 thread-per-inch cotton. So was a cotton quilt made of two 120 thread-per-inch cotton sheets, with a 0.5-centimeter batting of cotton, polyester and other fibers.
    Some homemade face masks can be nearly as effective as the N95 masks used by medical professionals at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Most effective are multi-layer constructions with cotton on the outside and a layer of silk or polyester inside. The different materials, besides forming a physical filter, also generate an electrostatic charge that can attract and trap particles, including droplets containing the virus.
  9. rigorous
    demanding strict attention to rules and procedures
    “The (Intelligence Community) will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” it added.
    The Director of National Intelligence issued a report that the coronavirus was not manmade or genetically engineered. It said that U.S. intelligence agencies are continuing to investigate the virus's origin, whether from a wild animal or an accident at a research lab in Wuhan, China, where the first outbreak occurred. Rigor is Latin for "unbending," "inflexible," "hard," or "severe."
  10. staunch
    firm and dependable especially in loyalty
    Even as Republican operatives are seeking to scale up their vote-by-mail operations, congressional Republicans have staunchly opposed efforts in coronavirus stimulus bills that would make it easier to vote.
    According to experts, the easiest way to ensure public safety during the November election is to make voting by mail as easy as possible nationwide. Democrats want to include provisions along these lines into pandemic relief legislation. There is no evidence that mail-in ballots favor one party over the other, but Republicans are resisting. To bind a wound so it stops bleeding is to staunch the flow of blood. It comes from the Old French estanche, meaning "watertight."
Created on April 30, 2020 (updated April 30, 2020)

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, sheffieldwind.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.