Student of the stars: How do you become an astronomer?
NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller explains what astronomers actually do, and how can you become one.
Dr. Michelle Thaller is an astronomer who studies binary stars and the life cycles of stars. She is Assistant Director of Science Communication at NASA. She went to college at Harvard University, completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Calif. then started working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Spitzer Space Telescope. After a hugely successful mission, she moved on to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), in the Washington D.C. area. In her off-hours often puts on about 30lbs of Elizabethan garb and performs intricate Renaissance dances. For more information, visit NASA.
MICHELLE THALLER: There are a lot of people that are fascinated by astronomy, and they think, hey, you can actually get a job where it's your life to make new discoveries, to actually work with larger NASA missions. So how do you get this gig? How do you become an astronomer?
For some strange reason, I always wanted to be an astronomer, ever since I was a very small child. I think for a while I wanted to be an astronaut, and then I actually realized I was afraid of flying and I did not want to be an astronaut. But I loved space, and I could just never get the questions out of my head. I was told many times I didn't have the right personality to be a scientist. That really didn't matter at all. That turned out not to be true.
But here are some of the things that kind of need to happen. So if you want to become a professional research astronomer, one of the things you will have to have is a doctorate in astronomy.
Now, there are a lot of other ways to be involved in astronomy. I work with a lot of people who are engineers who help us build the telescopes or the instruments that we use. They, for the most part, do not have PhDs. They may have an undergraduate degree in engineering. Some of them have master's degrees. But usually, they actually start working in a more practical way, building the instruments, doing some testing. They start that fairly early in their careers.
But to be an astronomer, you do have to get a doctorate. So there is a fairly well-defined path for that. So you go through high school, and after high school, you can apply to any number of colleges that have degree programs in either physics, or mathematics, or computer science. Or, in some cases, they'll actually have full degree programs in astronomy or astrophysics. And these days, those two words, astronomy and astrophysics, are used fairly interchangeably in a professional setting. So if you're majoring in astronomy, you're basically a physicist majoring in things that are in the sky. So astrophysicist, astronomer, pretty much the same thing.
So what I did is, I actually did go to a university—I went to Harvard University—that had a major in astrophysics as an undergrad. And so we took pretty much all of the physics requirements for a physics degree, all the math that's involved in that, too, but then there were specialized classes in topics in astronomy. We'd read papers about the Big Bang. We'd get together and we'D go to observatories to learn how telescopes work. And there were classes in things like how does a star work, how does a supernova explosion work, what is a galaxy like?
And these really are physics classes. They involve a lot of math, usually calculus—figuring out how a galaxy evolves over time, how all the different stars work, how gravity affects everything. So there certainly is a good deal of math and physics involved.
But then, as you become a professional astronomer, while you certainly know the basics of that and you use that in your career, there's a lot more emphasis on being able to, interestingly enough, write. And so I think one of the things people don't realize is, don't just get all the physics and math that you can, also become very good at writing. And if you can, I think the most useful thing I did as a younger student—like high school and undergrad—is I joined the debate club. Because one of the things you're going to have to do is write proposals. Astronomers need funding and time on telescopes.
So let's say you want to use the Hubble Space Telescope, you want to observe something in the sky. The way that happens is that you—and not just you, a team of people together—will actually write a proposal to the Hubble Space Telescope and say, this is the object we'd like to observe, and here's why we think that's interesting, and these are the instruments we want to use, and we've done the calculations, this is how much time we need. And so you present this paper, basically. You send it in.
And once a year, astronomers from all over the world send their papers in to the Hubble Space Telescope, or maybe to the Peak Observatory in Arizona, or maybe the Keck Telescope in Hawaii. And those telescopes assemble a panel of experts, and these people, they may get many, many thousands of applications, so the panels may be huge—dozens or up to 100 different scientists go through, and they read all the proposals, and they rank them in terms of what they think are the best ideas. Who has the most dramatic idea, but they—you have to prove you can do it. You understand what's going on. You understand the telescope, what it can do. Maybe you've published other papers before, and you actually can reference that and say, look, I used this before, and I made some good discoveries.
So you have to be good at writing an argument. And now that I'm sort of on the other side of that, where I've been on panels that decide who gets time on telescopes, I can tell you I have read so many bad proposals, so learning how to write, learning how to make a case for what you want to do and having a really good narrative is a huge advantage in being an astronomer.
Some people have the idea of an astronomer being kind of a lone person, at night, at a telescope, just doing their own thing. And that's very intimidating. I mean, how do you know what to observe? How do you know what questions to ask?
When you are an undergraduate in college, you will probably start working with some of your professors as an assistant. They will actually have you help set up their experiments. They'll explain to you why they want to look at a certain type of star, or what sort of question that they want to answer. Maybe, as they write papers, they'll ask you to contribute something to the paper—write a section of it, write a description of an instrument that you're building, whatever.
And you start working with a group of people. And then, as you become a more senior student, going on past your undergrad, getting your doctorate, you meet people all over the world, at conferences that the university will send you to—and they'll pay for it. Don't worry, you don't have to have the money to travel—and you will meet people working on similar things that you are, and you'll start working together.
You'll understand what you want to observe because all these people have had more experience than you, and they'll take you along with them as sort of an apprentice. So it's never just you trying to think, off the top of your head, what should I discover? It doesn't work that way. There are always people there with you, and you're always working in groups, trying to get money and time on the telescopes, funding to support your time to analyze that data. And you'll work together on those proposals.
So eventually, what happens is, after you get your doctorate, usually you will take a-couple-year temporary appointments where you basically help with research. You do your own research. These are called post-doctoral research fellowships. And they can be a lot of fun, but they're temporary—they usually last about three years—and they don't pay very well, just enough to live on.
And then, if you're fairly successful as a postdoc, the next step is to get a permanent job, either at a university as a young professor, or at a large government laboratory, like where I work. I work at the Goddard Space Flight Center, which has about 10,000 people. And, of those, there are a couple hundred people that are professional astronomers. So some of these big government labs do hire many hundreds of astronomers at once.
Then you have a job. And you still have to bring in your funding to actually have time to do your work to actually make observations on different telescopes. So I get a government salary. And that's actually defined just by my seniority in the government. There is a very, very strict regulation as to how much government workers are paid, and that's what I get paid. But you still need to win proposals to support your time and actually sort of buy your time back from NASA to have time to work on your research. So in a way, you never stop asking for money, writing proposals.
I think one of the things that a lot of young people don't realize is that being a scientist is much more about that social aspect—writing, finances, budgets, plans, being able to work in a large group. Honestly, the thing I spend the single most amount of time on is attending meetings.
So yes, I do go out to telescopes, and that's wonderful. And you spend time working at computers. Of course computer skills are paramount, being able to analyze that data and discover things from it. But the most amount of time is looking for funds, trying to figure out how to work with everybody that's in your team, and getting organized, and then writing reports back to the people that are paying you to make sure that they know you're doing good work.
That doesn't have to be a bad thing. I've had many proposals rejected, and I've had many proposals accepted. That's part of life. You will learn to deal with that. And I love working with the people. People that are passionate about what they do and really enjoy it are just a joy.
So I hope that gives you some idea. You can major in physics, you can major in astrophysics, you can come at it from more of a computer science specialist. But once you get your doctorate and then you become part of a research group, you're sort of on the path to becoming a professional astronomer. And this is something I have enjoyed—I'm now looking back on a career of more than 20 years—something that I enjoy to this day.
- What's the difference between an astronomer and an astrophysicist? NASA's Michelle Thaller explains that these terms are used interchangeably: both are physicists who study objects and phenomena in the sky.
- How can you become an astronomer? There is a defined path to take: Do an undergrad degree in astrophysics, physics, mathematics or computer science, then complete a doctorate in astrophysics. You could also work with astronomers by studying engineering and building telescopes.
- In this fascinating explanation of what an astronomer's day-to-day job actually looks like, Thaller shines a light on the unexpected skills you might need and answers the question on every ambitious astronomer-to-be's mind: How will I know what to discover?
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People tend to reflexively assume that fun events – like vacations – will go by really quickly.
For many people, summer vacation can't come soon enough – especially for the half of Americans who canceled their summer plans last year due to the pandemic.
But when a vacation approaches, do you ever get the feeling that it's almost over before it starts?
If so, you're not alone.
In some recent studies Gabriela Tonietto, Sam Maglio, Eric VanEpps and I conducted, we found that about half of the people we surveyed indicated that their upcoming weekend trip felt like it would end as soon as it started.
This feeling can have a ripple effect. It can change the way trips are planned – you might, for example, be less likely to schedule extra activities. At the same time, you might be more likely to splurge on an expensive dinner because you want to make the best of the little time you think you have.
Where does this tendency come from? And can it be avoided?
Not all events are created equal
When people look forward to something, they usually want it to happen as soon as possible and last as long as possible.
We first explored the effect of this attitude in the context of Thanksgiving.
We chose Thanksgiving because almost everyone in the U.S. celebrates it, but not everyone looks forward to it. Some people love the annual family get-together. Others – whether it's the stress of cooking, the tedium of cleaning or the anxiety of dealing with family drama – dread it.
So on the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2019, we surveyed 510 people online and asked them to tell us whether they were looking forward to the holiday. Then we asked them how far away it seemed, and how long they felt it would last. We had them move a 100-point slider – 0 meaning very short and 100 meaning very long – to a location that reflected their feelings.
As we suspected, the more participants looked forward to their Thanksgiving festivities, the farther away it seemed and shorter it felt. Ironically, longing for something seems to shrink its duration in the mind's eye.
Winding the mind's clock
Most people believe the idiom “time flies when you're having fun," and research has, indeed, shown that when time seems to pass by quickly, people assume the task must have been engaging and enjoyable.
We reasoned that people might be over-applying their assumption about the relationship between time and fun when judging the duration of events yet to happen.
As a result, people tend to reflexively assume that fun events – like vacations – will go by really quickly. Meanwhile, pining for something can make the time leading up to the event seem to drag. The combination of its beginning pushed farther away in their minds – with its end pulled closer – resulted in our participants' anticipating that something they looked forward would feel as if it had almost no duration at all.
In another study, we asked participants to imagine going on a weekend trip that they either expected to be fun or terrible. We then asked them how far away the start and end of this trip felt like using a similar 0 to 100 scale. 46% of participants evaluated the positive weekend as feeling like it had no duration at all: They marked the beginning and the end of the vacation virtually at the same location when using the slider scale.
Thinking in hours and days
Our goal was to show how these two judgments of an event – the fact that it simultaneously seems farther away and is assumed to last for less time – can nearly eliminate the event's duration in the mind's eye.
We reasoned that if we didn't explicitly highlight these two separate pieces – and instead directly asked them about the duration of the event – a smaller portion of people would indicate virtually no duration for something they looked forward to.
We tested this theory in another study, in which we told participants that they would watch two five-minute-long videos back-to-back. We described the second video as either humorous or boring, and then asked them how long they thought each video would feel like it lasted.
We found that the participants predicted that the funny video would still feel shorter and was farther away than the boring one. But we also found that participants believed it would last a bit longer than the responses we received in the earlier studies.
This finding gives us a way to overcome this biased perception: focus on the actual duration. Because in this study, participants directly reported how long the funny video would last – and not the perceived distance of its beginning and its end – they were far less likely to assume it would be over just as it started.
While it sounds trivial and obvious, we often rely on our subjective feelings – not objective measures of time – when deciding how long a period of time will feel and how to best use it.
So when looking forward to much-anticipated events like vacations, it's important to remind yourself just how many days it will last.
You'll get more out of the experience – and, hopefully, put yourself in a better position to take advantage of the time you do have.
A global survey shows the majority of countries favor Android over iPhone.
- When Android was launched soon after Apple's own iPhone, Steve Jobs threatened to "destroy" it.
- Ever since, and across the world, the rivalry between both systems has animated users.
- Now the results are in: worldwide, consumers clearly prefer one side — and it's not Steve Jobs'.
A woman on her phone in Havana, Cuba. Mobile phones have become ubiquitous the world over — and so has the divide between Android and iPhone users.Credit: Yamil Lage / AFP via Getty Images.
Us versus them: it's the archetypal binary. It makes the world understandable by dividing it into two competing halves: labor against capital, West against East, men against women.
These maps are the first to show the dividing lines between one of the world's more recent binaries: Android vs. Apple. Published by Electronics Hub, they are based on a qualitative analysis of almost 350,000 tweets worldwide that presented positive, neutral, and negative attitudes toward Android and/or Apple.
Steve Jobs wanted to go "thermonuclear"
Feelings between Android and Apple were pretty tribal from the get-go. It was Steve Jobs himself who said, when Google rolled out Android a mere ten months after Apple launched the iPhone, "I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."
Buying a phone is like picking a side in the eternal feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Each choice for automatically comes with an in-built arsenal of arguments against.
If you are an iPhone person, you appreciate the sleekness and simplicity of its design, and you are horrified by the confusing mess that is the Android operating system. If you are an Android aficionado, you pity the iPhone user, a captive of an overly expensive closed ecosystem, designed to extract money from its users.
Even without resorting to those extremes, many of us will recognize which side of the dividing line that we are on. Like the American Civil War, that line runs through families and groups of friends, but that would be a bit confusing to chart geographically. To un-muddle the information, these maps zoom out to state and country level.
If the contest is based on the number of countries, Android wins. In all, 74 of the 142 countries surveyed prefer Android (in green on the map). Only 65 favor Apple (colored grey). That's a 52/48 split, which may not sound like a decisive vote, but it was good enough for Boris Johnson to get Brexit done (after he got breakfast done, of course).
And yes, math-heads: 74 plus 65 is three short of 142. Belarus, Fiji, and Peru (in yellow on the map) could not decide which side to support in the Global Phone War.
What about the United States, home of both the Android and the iPhone? Another victory for the former, albeit a slightly narrower one: 30.16 percent of the tweets about Android were positive versus just 29.03 percent of the ones about Apple.
United States: Texas surrounded!
Credit: Electronics Hub
There can be only one winner per state, though, and that leads to this preponderance of Android logos. Frankly, it's a relief to see a map showing a visceral divide within the United States that is not the coasts versus the heartland.
- Apple dominates in 19 states: a solid Midwestern bloc, another of states surrounding Texas, the Dakotas and California, plus North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
- And that's it. The other 32 are the United States of Android. You can drive from Seattle to Miami without straying into iPhone territory. But no stopovers in Dallas or Houston – both are behind enemy lines!
North America: strongly leaning toward Android
Credit: Electronics Hub
Only eight of North America's 21 countries surveyed fall into the Apple category.
- The U.S. and Canada lean Android, while Mexico goes for the iPhone.
- Central America is divided, but here too Android wins hands down, 5-2.
Europe: Big Five divided
Credit: Electronics Hub
In Europe, Apple wins, with 20 countries preferring the iPhone, 17 going for Android, and Belarus sitting on the fence.
- Of Western Europe's Big Five markets, three (UK, Germany, Spain) are pro-Android, and two (France, Italy) are pro-Apple.
- Czechia and Slovakia are an Apple island in the Android sea that is Central Europe. Glad to see there is still something the divorcees can agree on.
South America: almost even
Credit: Electronics Hub
In South America, the divide is almost even.
- Five countries prefer Android, four Apple, and one is undecided.
- In Peru, both Android- and Apple-related tweets were 25 percent positive.
Africa: watch out for Huawei
Credit: Electronics Hub
In Africa, Android wins by 17 countries versus Apple's 15.
- There's a solid Android bloc running from South Africa via DR Congo all the way to Ethiopia.
- iPhone countries are scattered throughout the north (Algeria), west (Guinea), east (Somalia), and south (Namibia).
Huawei — increasingly popular across the continent — could soon dramatically change the picture in Africa. Currently still running on Android, the Chinese phone manufacturer has just launched its own operating system, called Harmony.
Middle East: Iran vs. Saudi Arabia (again)
Credit: Electronics Hub
In the Middle East and Central Asia, Android wins 8 countries to Apple's 6.
- But it's complicated. One Turkish tweeter wondered how it is that iPhones seem more popular in the Asian half of Istanbul, while Android phones prevailed in the European part of the city.
- The phone divide matches up with the region's main geopolitical one: Iran prefers Android, Saudi Arabia the iPhone.
Asia-Pacific: Apple on the periphery
Credit: Electronics Hub
Another wafer-thin majority for Android in the Asia-Pacific region: 13 countries versus 12 for Apple — and one abstention (Fiji).
- The two giants of the Asian mainland, India and China, are both Android countries. Apple countries are on the periphery.
- And if India is Android, its rival Pakistan must be Apple. Same with North and South Korea.
Experts point to the fact that both operating systems are becoming more alike with every new generation as a potential resolution to the conflict. But as any student of human behavior will confirm: smaller differences will only exacerbate the rivalry between both camps.
Maps taken from Electronics Hub, reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps #1096
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reality is far stranger than fiction.
- Black holes are stranger than fiction, especially when we explore the weird effects of watching someone or something fall into one.
- Rotating black holes may be traversable if the physics as we understand it holds.
- To discuss the physics, we explore a fictional tale with a grand ending.
What happens when someone falls into a black hole? If you are the unfortunate soul being gobbled up, things don't look too bad until they turn really bad. Unless, there is an outlet through a wormhole. And you are really lucky.
The fictional story below — an abridged version of one published in my 2002 book The Prophet and the Astronomer explains why. Since we now know that black holes exist and that even Jeff Bezos can fly into outer space, it is only a matter of time before humans fly into black holes — albeit a very, very long time from now: the nearest black hole to Earth (as of now) lies a "mere" 1,500 light-years away.
But first, a refresher. In his general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein equated gravity with the curvature of space around a massive body. The effect is quite negligible for light masses but becomes important for massive stars and even more so for very compact massive objects such as neutron stars, whose gravity is 100,000 times stronger than at the sun's surface. Distortions of space caused by a larger mass (stars) will cause small moving masses (planets) to deviate from what Newtonian gravity predicts. Another remarkable consequence of Einstein's theory of gravity is the slowing down of clocks in strong gravitational fields: strong gravity bends space and slows down time.
Now, on with the story.
In my young days, I traveled from planet to planet looking for old spaceship parts. It was in one of my travels in search of a rare gyroscope for a 2180 Mars Lander that I found "Mr. Ström's Rocket Parts," an enormous hanger littered with mountains of space garbage. While I was consulting the store's virtual stock-scanning device to search for the gyroscope, Mr. Ström himself came to greet me. He was famous throughout the galaxy for claiming to have come closer than anyone to a black hole, a story that, to most, was just that — a story.
Like many before me, I asked Mr. Ström to tell me his story. After hesitating a while, he gave in.
"I was commander of a fleet built to explore the complex astrophysical X-ray source known as Cygnus X-1," he started. "Since the 1970s, over three millennia ago, this was suspected to be a binary star system 6,000 light-years from Earth. The two members of the binary system, thought to be a blue giant star about 20-30 solar masses and a black hole about 7-15 solar masses, orbited so close together that the black hole frantically sucked matter from his huge companion into a spiraling oblivion. This mad swirling heated the in-falling stellar matter to enormous temperatures, producing the X-rays astronomers on Earth observed. Even though the data indicated that the smaller object of the pair had a mass much larger than the maximum mass for neutron stars, it was still not clear if it was a black hole. Since other attempts to identify it had failed, the League of Planets decided that the only way to know for sure was to go there.
"The fleet consisted of three vessels, each under the command of a Ström, a great honor to my family. I led the vessel named CX1, my middle brother led CX2, and the youngest led CX3. I will spare you the details of how the mission was prepared, and how, after many problems with our hyper-relativistic plasma drive, we finally arrived to within one light-month of our destination. Through our telescopes we could see an enormous hot blue star being drained by an invisible hole in space.
"We were instructed to fly single file toward the black hole, keeping a very large distance from each other; my younger brother first, my mid-brother second, and me last. We knew that, from a large distance, a black hole behaves like any other massive object, as the differences general relativity predicted happen only fairly close to it. We also knew that every black hole has an imaginary limiting sphere around it known as the 'event horizon,' which marks the distance from which not even light could escape.
"My young brother's ship, the CX3, was to approach the hole, sending us periodic light flashes with a given frequency; we were to follow at a distance, measuring the frequency of the radiation emitted by my brother's ship as well as the time interval between the pulses, and then compare them with the theoretical predictions for gravitational redshift and time delay. The three vessels plunged to a distance of 10,000 kilometers from the hole; while CX1 and CX2 hovered at that distance, my brother closed in to 100 kilometers from the hole. He was instructed to send us infrared radiation, but we detected only radio waves. The gravitational redshift formula was indeed correct. Furthermore, the intervals between two pulses increased quite perceptibly; time was flowing slower for my brother, as viewed from our distant ships. He plunged to the dangerously close distance of ten kilometers from the hole, only seven from the event horizon; this was the closest distance the ship could stand, due to the enormous tidal forces around the hole, which stretch everything into spaghetti. (Numbers assume a one-solar-mass black hole.)
"From that close orbit, my brother was to send pulses of visible light, but all we detected were (invisible) radio waves; we could not see my brother's ship any longer, and I started to feel very uneasy. The theory was correct: a ship falling into a black hole will become invisible to a more distant ship (us) due to the red shifting of light. That also meant that we would never be able to see a star collapsing into a black hole, as it will become invisible before it meets its end. A related effect was the slowing of time. As my younger brother approached the black hole, the radiation pulses were arriving at increasingly long intervals. Thus, not only could we not see him, but we would also have to wait an enormous amount of time to receive any message from him. This confirmed the prediction that for a distant observer, the collapse of a star would take forever. Of course, for the unlucky traveler that freefalls into the black hole, nothing unusual with the passage of time would happen, as explained by the equivalence principle: gravity is neutralized in free fall. Unfortunately, his body would be horribly stretched.
"The turbulence and steady bombardment of matter swirling around the black hole caused my brother's spaceship to drift uncontrollably into the maelstrom. I had to try to rescue him. After all, this was a rotating black hole, and the theory predicted that instead of a crushing singularity at its center, there should be a wormhole connected to another point in the universe. A desperate maneuver to be sure.
"My mid-brother waited in a safe distant orbit around the black hole. As I plunged in, the whirling of space dragged me in as water into a drain. The combination of enormous gravitational pull and furious bombardment of radiation and particles took a toll on my ship; but its fuselage miraculously — what else could it be but a miracle? — survived, as I did, thanks to the once controversial anti-crunch shield. Outside, space seemed to convulse into infinitely many coexisting shapes. Inside a black hole, I realized, reality had no boundaries.
"I felt an enormous push, as if the spaceship was being coughed up by a giant. I must have remained unconscious for quite a while. When I looked into a mirror, I could hardly believe what I saw; my hair had turned completely white, and my face was covered with wrinkles I didn't have moments (moments?) ago. I checked my location in the computer and realized that, somehow, I re-emerged 2,000 light-years away from Cygnus X-1. The only possible explanation was that I traveled through a wormhole, which somehow was kept open inside the black hole and was tossed out by a white hole at a faraway point in space."
Apart from the sequence of facts inside the black hole — where we know very little — the rest is what we should expect from watching someone fall into a black hole. Reality, for these cosmic maelstroms, is definitely stranger than fiction.
English is a dynamic language, and this summer's new additions to dictionary.com tell us a lot about how we're living.
- The summer update to Dictionary.com added hundreds of new words and definitions.
- Many of them are in areas related to justice, technology, and COVID-19.
- The new slang terms will leave more than a few people confused.
In any given year, new words are added to the dictionary to reflect how society's use of them has changed, often in response to ongoing events. For Summer 2021, more than 1200 new, improved, and revised definitions were introduced to Dictionary.com, including 231 entirely new words. A review of those words, the subjects they cover, and the stories behind their creation tells a rich story about the times we live in.
A word by any other definition?
You might wonder why we need to carry out such extensive addition and redefining campaigns. John Kelly, the Managing Editor of Dictionary.com, explained in a statement why these changes were made and their importance:
"The latest update to our dictionary continues to mirror the world around us. Long COVID, minoritize, 5G, content warning, domestic terrorism — it's a complicated and challenging society we live in, and language changes to help us grapple with it. But sometimes language changes just for fun. Yes, yeet is now in the dictionary, which may prompt some of us to use one other of our new entries: oof! Perhaps these lighter slang and pop culture newcomers to our dictionary reflect another important aspect of our time — a cautious optimism and a brighter mood about the future ahead after a trying 2020."
The English language isn't static, so it is up to lexicographers to get the dictionaries up to speed. Let's face it, we might need more than a few new words to talk about last year.
The times they are a-changin'
Good Communication 101: Mirroring, Jargon, Hifalutin Words | Alan Alda | Big Think www.youtube.com
Words that describe the continuing COVID-19 pandemic are still being added. The recent additions, which include long haul and long hauler may speak to the shift in how we interact with the pandemic — it is now a long-term rather than an acute concern for many people. Changes to our lives as a result of the pandemic and new ways to cater to those challenges, like ghost kitchen and side hustle, also made their way in.
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, Americans searched for terms related to racial issues at significantly higher levels than before. This not only called for updates and additions to words in this area last year but a continuing review, which has added new terms like the acronyms JEDI and DEI and the new word one-drop rule. Other terms long included, like Jim Crow and Black Codes, saw updates this summer.
Technology continued to advance through thick and thin as well. Terms like 5G, asynchronous, and abandonware made it into the recent update. Given how much time we all spent using tech in the last year and a half, it is only fitting that we would need these terms. 5G also has the unfortunate distinction of being both a telecommunications technology and a target for conspiracy theorists, perhaps making a dictionary entry for it all the more important.
Other words previously defined as regional or cultural in nature have been redefined in the light of their evolving use. Y'all is now listed as its own term and deemed an "informal" pronoun rather than a mere variant of "you-all." The post explaining the update noted that the term is now more known for informality than regionalism and has enjoyed a surge in use as a gender neutral pronoun.
Mind hack: 7 secrets to learn any new language | Steve Kaufmann | Big Think www.youtube.com
Perhaps it is necessary that after a year that required so many of the above words to be added or clarified, there are new slang terms that will seem like absolute gibberish to somebody disconnected from popular culture. New words like yeet, zaddy, and oof were added this year, showing that even in difficult times, fun new ways to use language are cropping up all the time.
The website's lexicographers also saw fit to officially add one of the honorable mentions for 2020's word of the year to the list of vulgar slang terms. Regrettably, it is unfit for publication, but it rhymes with spit-snow.
So, now that y'all know about these updates, perhaps we can all order from the new ghost kitchen from apps on our 5G smartphones before getting back to our side hustles. Yeet!