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Today's Word

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Aug 5, 2013
This week's theme
Words coined after baddies

This week's words
Ponzi scheme
Potemkin village
Typhoid Mary

Charles Ponzi
Charles Ponzi
Photo: Smithsonian

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with Anu Garg

Getting yourself into the dictionary may be considered the ultimate way to immortality. There's more than one way to do it. You could write great works of literature (orwellian, kafkaesque) or you could devise a medical procedure (Apgar score) that helps countless sick people regain good health, for example. Or you could do things so bad your name becomes enshrined in the language.

This week we'll feature five baddies who took the last route and are now an integral part of the English language, even though that wasn't their motivation. We'll look at a cheater, a traitor, a killer, a faker, and an infector.

To meet the characters in this rogues' gallery, we'll start with the US, then visit Norway, Scotland, and Ukraine, and then back to the US.

Ponzi scheme

(PON-zee skeem)

noun: An investment swindle in which high profits are promised from fictitious sources and early investors are paid off with funds raised from later ones.

After Charles Ponzi (1882-1949), a speculator who organized such a scheme during 1919-1920. He was neither the first nor the last person to float this or a similar scheme, just someone who did it on a massive scale. See the list of Ponzi schemes in history. Earliest documented use: 1920.

"In China efforts to educate the unwary extend to the streets. Walls are daubed with murals illustrating the dangers of Ponzi schemes."
Stoneless Rivers; The Economist (London, UK); Jan 5, 2013.

The fingers of your thoughts are molding your face ceaselessly. -Charles Reznikoff, poet (1894-1976)

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