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Middle Initials Make You Seem Smarter

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George R.R. Martin sure seems smart. It might not be the hundreds of characters and complicated plots in the Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones to neophytes) that make him seem so intelligent, though—it might be his middle initials. A recent study found that we believe that people who use their middle initials with their full names are automatically smarter than those who do not.

“We noticed that middle initials seemed commonly used in domains associated with intellectual performance. We wondered if this link between the common use of middle initials and intellectual domains of performance affected people's impressions of others,” writes Wijnand A.P. van Tilburg, a research fellow in psychology at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

In a series of experiments, van Tilburg and his colleague, Eric R. Igou, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Limerick, Ireland, asked people to evaluate written passages by authors with or without middle initials. In one experiment, 85 university students read the exact same paragraph about general relativity. The only difference was that the paragraph had different author names on it—either an author without a middle initial or an author with one, two, or three middle initials.

The students thought the excerpt written by an author with middle initials was better than if it were by the author without a middle initial in the name. The researchers suspect that people believe that smarter people use their initials in professional endeavors. But the positive effects only relate to brainy pursuits.

“The display of middle initials only increased perceived performance in intellectual domains. Middle initials do not seem to increase, for example, perceived athletic skills,” says van Tilburg.

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'Froyo,' 'Troll,' and 'Sriracha' Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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Looking for the right word to describe the time you spend drinking before heading out to a party, or a faster way to say “frozen yogurt?" Merriam-Webster is here to help. The 189-year-old English vocabulary giant has just added 250 new words and definitions to their online dictionary, including pregame and froyo.

New words come and go quickly, and it’s Merriam-Webster’s job to keep tabs on the terms that have staying power. “As always, the expansion of the dictionary mirrors the expansion of the language, and reaches into all the various cubbies and corners of the lexicon,” they wrote in their announcement.

Froyo is just one of the recent additions to come from the culinary world. Bibimbap, a Korean rice dish; choux pastry, a type of dough; and sriracha, a Thai chili sauce that’s been around for decades but has just recently exploded in the U.S., are now all listed on Merriam-Webster's website.

Of course, the internet was once again a major contributor to this most recent batch of words. Some new terms, like ransomware (“malware that requires the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files”) come from the tech world, while words like troll ("to harass, criticize, or antagonize [someone] especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts”) were born on social media. Then there’s the Internet of Things, a concept that shifts the web off our phones and computers and into our appliances.

Hive mind, dog whistle, and working memory are just a few of the new entries to receive the Merriam-Webster stamp of approval. To learn more about how some words make it into the dictionary while others get left out, check these behind-the-scenes secrets of dictionary editors.

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How New Words Become Mainstream
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If you used the words jeggings, muggle, or binge-watch in a sentence 30 years ago, you would have likely been met with stares of confusion. But today these words are common enough to hold spots in the Oxford English Dictionary. Such lingo is a sign that English, as well as any other modern language, is constantly evolving. But the path a word takes to enter the general lexicon isn’t always a straightforward one.

In the video below, TED-Ed lays out how some new words become part of our everyday speech while others fade into obscurity. Some words used by English speakers are borrowed from other languages, like mosquito (Spanish), avatar (Sanskrit), and prairie (French). Other “new” words are actually old ones that have developed different meanings over time. Nice, for example, used to only mean silly, foolish, or ignorant, and meat was used as blanket term to describe any solid food given to livestock.

The internet alone is responsible for a whole new section of our vocabulary, but even the words most exclusive to the web aren’t always original. For instance, the word meme was first used by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.

To learn more about the true origins of the words we use on a regular basis, check out the full story from TED-Ed below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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