TIME weather

Here’s a Closer Look at the ‘Snowmenclature’ People Are Using

Literal is so hot right now

Every great blizzard that hits the U.S. sends people running to the grocery store to stockpile canned goods and, in recent years, to their keyboards for rampant hashtagging. As snow hit the Northeast on Monday and Tuesday, social media was rife with references to the #snowicane, the #snowjam and the #snownado.

TIME partnered with Hashtracking to find out which trending hashtags were getting the most traction on Twitter, as New York residents geared up for chaos that never really hit and New Englanders battened down the hatches. The results are in: The top hashtag for tweeting about the storm is the quite literal #blizzardof2015. (You can get a closer look at the chart here.)

Chart complied by Hashtracking

But, as with many competitions, the winners aren’t as interesting as the losers. Juno, the green line above in a solid third place, is the name for the storm chosen by the Weather Channel. That cable network decided two years ago that it would start giving names to winter storms like the government does for hurricanes, a move many saw as a branding “ploy”.

The government hasn’t endorsed the Weather Channel’s names and doesn’t name winter storms itself because snowstorms are more frequent and more ambiguous than events like hurricanes. The network has said its aim is to make people more aware of such events, but it appears that people prefer to orient themselves with the more straightforward #blizzardof2015 than the more arbitrary #Juno.

That unpoetic hashtag has also trumped the long-dominant blizzard-time puns #snowmageddon and #snowpocalypse. This blizzard may mark the first time some people are hearing this duo of “portmansnows”—as Stanford University linguist Arnold Zwicky dubbed them—but they have been around for at least a decade. And they may finally have reached a point of exposure where they’re on the way out.

Ben Zimmer, executive editor at Vocabulary.com, found evidence of bloggers using this “snowmenclature” when storms hit the U.S. in 2005. But, he says, they didn’t really blow up until Twitter had taken hold in 2010. Even President Barack Obama was on board that year. “Hashtags lend themselves to this play with blended words,” Zimmer says. “And a successful blend, one people recognize and understand, is one where the parts are obvious at first glance, like snowmageddon.”

MORE: Why Blizzards Turn Us Into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

Clearly snowmageddon is a blend of the white precipitation commonly known as snow and Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil that leaves the earth in ashes—just as snowpocalypse is a blend of snow and apocalypse, a last catastrophe that marks the end of the world.

But what really makes these words irresistible (at least for a while) is the nature of the events that inspired them. As Zimmer says, “It makes you feel like you’re in a disaster movie.” And what’s the best part of a huge snowstorm or a zombie takeover that leaves 10 newly acquainted survivors huddled in a farmhouse? The same thing. There’s a suspension of the rules. You’re expected to figure things out for yourself and you get to do things you wouldn’t on any regular day. Walking right down the middle of what is usually a busy street is a thrilling little treat, whether everybody’s dead or everybody’s cars are stuck in their driveways.

Just like those survivors in the farmhouse, there is also a sudden solidarity among everyone who is having their normal lives upended. “There’s something kind of exciting and it kind of draws everybody together,” says Tom Skilling, top weather broadcaster for WGN in Chicago. “‘We’re about to go through this as a group and if we all deal with this together, we’ll get through this.’ Major weather events affect everybody, all ages, all demographic groups. And if it doesn’t happen too often, there’s a drawing together that goes on.”

That said, Skilling is not a big fan of these “gimmicky” words. He’s more of a #blizzardof2015 kind of guy. The fact that they’re so hyperbolic—clearly no one is taking a snowstorm as seriously as an apocalypse—makes them playful. And the fact that they’re playful might lead to people not taking dangerous weather events as seriously as they should, he says. “You’re dealing with an event in nature that really does have great consequence,” he says. “Sometimes we’re better off just dealing with facts.” (Then Skilling apologizes for being a killjoy.)

Here is a short selection of puns and plays on words the people are using to get themselves through this cold, dark time.

#snowku (for haikus about the storm)

(Feel free to tweet the author with other puns to add.)

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. We spent more than $170 billion on the wars they fought for us. Can we spend $5 billion to give veterans a guaranteed income?

By Gar Alperovitz in Al Jazeera America

2. A ‘teaching hospital’ model could work for journalism education by making students work collectively to produce professional results.

By Adam Ragusea at Neiman Lab

3. Humans are born with an intimate understanding of pitch, rhythm, and tone. We’re all musical geniuses.

By Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis in Aeon

4. WarkaWater Towers — which produce up to 25 gallons of water out of fog and dew every day — could change lives in drought-stricken countries.

By Liz Stinson in Wired

5. Private sector investment savvy and funds can help us tackle poverty’s toughest challenges. It’s time for impact investing.

By Anne Mosle in The Hill

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

7 State of the Union Quotes That Sound Like Lines From Spider-Man

Even before Spider-Man existed!

With great power comes great responsibility. The oft-quoted Spider-Man line dates back, in one form or another, to Spidey’s earliest days, in the 1960s — but for at least a century before that, U.S. Presidents have been saying pretty much the same thing.

The constitution requires the President to talk to Congress about the state of the union — though the fact that he does so annually and with an in-person speech is more a matter of tradition — so the record of such addresses dates all the way back to 1790. Unsurprisingly, the themes evolve: early messages tended to focus on whether the U.S. stood a chance of continuing to exist; those in the middle years, which were not delivered as speeches, read more like interoffice memos; more recent ones, especially since they began to be broadcast to citizens, are full of feel-good inspiration.

But one theme has been constant: with great power comes, well, you know…

Abraham Lincoln in 1862: “We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free–honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth.”

William McKinley in 1899: “Presented to this Congress are great opportunities. With them come great responsibilities. The power confided to us increases the weight of our obligations to the people, and we must be profoundly sensible of them as we contemplate the new and grave problems which confront us. Aiming only at the public good, we cannot err.”

Theodore Roosevelt in 1902: “As a people we have played a large part in the world, and we are bent upon making our future even larger than the past. In particular, the events of the last four years have definitely decided that, for woe or for weal, our place must be great among the nations. We may either fall greatly or succeed greatly; but we can not avoid the endeavor from which either great failure or great success must come. Even if we would, we can not play a small part. If we should try, all that would follow would be that we should play a large part ignobly and shamefully.”

Calvin Coolidge in 1923: “The time has come for a more practical use of moral power, and more reliance upon the principle that right makes its own might. Our authority among the nations must be represented by justice and mercy. It is necessary not only to have faith, but to make sacrifices for our faith. The spiritual forces of the world make all its final determinations. It is with these voices that America should speak. Whenever they declare a righteous purpose there need be no doubt that they will be heard. America has taken her place in the world as a Republic–free, independent, powerful. The best service that can be rendered to humanity is the assurance that this place will be maintained.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945: We cannot deny that power is a factor in world politics any more than we can deny its existence as a factor in national politics. But in a democratic world, as in a democratic Nation, power must be linked with responsibility, and obliged to defend and justify itself within the framework of the general good.” (FDR would have loved Spider-Man, if it’s any indication that his 1938 address also said that “in every case power and responsibility must go hand in hand.”)

John F. Kennedy in 1963: “In short, both at home and abroad, there may now be a temptation to relax. For the road has been long, the burden heavy, and the pace consistently urgent. But we cannot be satisfied to rest here. This is the side of the hill, not the top. The mere absence of war is not peace. The mere absence of recession is not growth. We have made a beginning–but we have only begun.”

George H.W. Bush in 1992: “Much good can come from the prudent use of power. And much good can come of this: A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and preeminent power, the United States of America. And they regard this with no dread. For the world trusts us with power, and the world is right. They trust us to be fair and restrained. They trust us to be on the side of decency. They trust us to do what’s right.”

As for whether 2015 will add another quote to this list, we’ll find out on Tuesday, when President Obama delivers the State of the Union.


#blacklivesmatter Is the American Dialect Society’s 2014 Word of the Year

Black Lives Matter Protest Disrupts Holiday Shoppers At Mall Of America
Thousands of protesters from the group "Black Lives Matter" disrupt holiday shoppers on Dec. 20, 2014 at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. Adam Bettcher—Getty Images

By an overwhelming majority

The members of the American Dialect Society invented the word of the year. These academics and linguists have been choosing one since 1990, which means Jan. 9 marked their 25th exercise of this ritual. While outfits like Oxford may get more attention for their annual picks these days (though they’ve been selecting since just 2004), the stalwarts of the Society like to claim that they were the first to choose a “WOTY” and they’re still the last, because they wait until the year is actually over to make their decision.

Among 2014 selections, this last pick proved to be the most creative, and the most intentional. After Oxford chose vape, Dictionary.com chose exposure and Merriam-Webster selected culture, 196 of those gathered at the Society’s annual meeting in Portland, Ore., raised their hands for #blacklivesmatter. The next most popular nominee got 11 votes.

Choosing a hashtag as a “word” of the year is sure to drive some traditional types to snap their bifocals in half. Some still furrow their brows at the mere idea of selecting a phrase as a “word” of the year (“because technically a phrase is not a word,” etc.). Linguistically, that makes the Society’s pick the edgiest of the bunch.

“By traditional standards, a hashtag that combines three words would not be considered a word,” Ben Zimmer, the chair of the New Words Committee who presided over the meeting, told TIME. “But clearly the membership feels that it’s a time to recognize that hashtags are an innovative linguistic form that deserve our attention.”

Yet that’s not what drove the voters. The room where the vote was held was standing room only, with graduate students piled 10 rows deep at the back. People sat on air-conditioning vents and on the floor. And for each round of voting, anyone present was invited to say a brief piece in support or against a nominee.

Indiana State University’s Leslie Barratt was the one who nominated #blacklivesmatter. “It’s one of the most important issues in our country this year, and every year,” she said.

Another speaker said that this was the one time of year when the average media consumer might pay any attention to what a room full of phoneme-loving linguists cared about. She, too, backed the hashtag for its sentiment, saying, “Here’s our moment to say what we want to say to the world outside of this meeting.”

Though she didn’t make the official nomination, Sonja Lanehart, a linguistics professor at the University of Texas—San Antonio, was really behind the charge. She has been coming to the Society’s meetings since she was an undergraduate.

“It was mostly old white men. I was an anomaly,” says Lanehart, who is black. “To go from being an anomaly to saying this is important and we need to vote for it, and people stood up and did it …” She trailed off. People congratulated her (“You represent”) and thanked her (“I wish I had said something”) as they walked out of the room.

“It’s important to realize that black lives do matter,” Lanehart told TIME. “We’ve been here. We’re going to still be here. You can’t just treat us like we don’t matter.”

The vote for the Word of the Year fell at the end of the meeting, after less prestigious categories such as “Most Useful” and “Least Likely to Succeed.” No other nominee for any category had the kind of support that #blacklivesmatter did.

In fact, a highlight of the meeting was a rumble between the under-30 and over-3o crowds over whether budtender or basic was “Most Likely to Succeed.” Both had been re-nominated after losing in other categories. (For reasons unexplained, the older crowd was very pro-budtender.) But their raucous split—which involved chants of “BAS-IC! BAS-IC!”— paved the way for an insurgent third part to win the category: salty, meaning “exceptionally bitter, angry or upset.”

For every vote, there were arguments about the nominees. Were they really new in 2014? (Eligible words are required to be “new-ish” or have taken on new meaning that year, like occupy did in 2011.) Were they clever or ridiculous? Was the hashtag #notallmen really a rally cry to eradicate tall men, as one very tall man suggested?

Perhaps the second-most-agreed-upon sentiment was that the word platisher is terrible. One of the moderators cheekily, silently typed messages on a screen at the front of the room as the nominees were discussed. “UGLIEST WORD OF 2014,” he wrote by platisher, a blend of publisher and platform. “PEOPLE VOMITED. THE STREETS WERE SLICK.”

After the final vote, the claps were loud. Here are the nominees and winners from all of the categories.


budtender: a person who specializes in serving marijuana to consumers, especially in legal dispensaries
Ebola: deadly virus that, in 2014, had a huge outbreak in West Africa that killed thousands
**even: v. to deal with or reconcile difficult situations or emotions (from “I can’t even”)
robocar: a self-driving car
unbothered: not annoyed or distracted


**columbusing: cultural appropriation, especially the act of a white person claiming to discover things already known to minority cultures
manspreading: of a man, to sit with one’s legs wide on public transit in a way that blocks other seats
misogynoir: misogyny directed toward black women
narcissistick (or narcisstick): pejorative term for a selfie stick


**baeless: without a romantic partner
basic: plain, socially awkward, unattractive, uninteresting, ignorant, pathetic, uncool, etc.
lumbersexual: fashionably rugged man who adopts the stereotypical dress and facial hair of a lumberjack
narcissistick (or narcisstick): pejorative term for a selfie stick


God view: display mode used by ride-sharing service Uber providing employees with real-time information on all users
**second-amendment: v. to kill (someone) with a gun, used ironically by gun control supporters
sugar-dating: pay-to-play relationship between an older, wealthier person (sugar daddy/ momma) and a younger partner (sugar baby)


bye, Felicia: a dismissive farewell to someone deemed unimportant
conscious uncoupling: a divorce or romantic separation by polite mutual agreement
**EIT: abbreviation for the already euphemistic “enhanced interrogation technique”
thirsty: so hungry for a romantic partner as to appear desperate


basic: plain, socially awkward, unattractive, uninteresting, ignorant, pathetic, uncool, etc.
budtender: a person who specializes in serving marijuana to consumers, especially in legal dispensaries
casual: a new or inexperienced person, especially a gamer (also in filthy casual)
plastiglomerate: type of stone made of melted plastic, beach sediment, and organic debris
**salty: exceptionally bitter, angry, or upset
selfie stick: a pole to which a smartphone is attached to take selfies from a distance


normcore: “anti-fashion” trend of adopting an intentionally ordinary, inexpensive personal style from cheap off-the-shelf brands
pairage: term proposed by Utah legislator Kraig Powell to refer to same-sex marriages
**platisher: online media publisher that also serves as a platform for creating content

MOST NOTABLE HASHTAG (new category this year)

**#blacklivesmatter: protest over blacks killed at the hands of police (esp. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in Staten Island)
#icantbreathe: final words of Eric Garner, turned into rallying cry against police violence
#notallmen: response by men to discussions of sexual abuse, sexism, or misogyny that they see as portraying all men as perpetrators (countered by #yesallwomen, used by women sharing stories of bias, harrassment, or abuse)
#whyistayed: explanation by women about staying in abusive domestic relationships


bae: a romantic partner
**#blacklivesmatter: protest over blacks killed at the hands of police (esp. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in Staten Island)
columbusing: cultural appropriation, especially the act of a white person claiming to discover things already known to minority cultures
even: v. to deal with or reconcile difficult situations or emotions (from “I can’t even”)
manspreading: of a man, to sit with one’s legs wide on public transit in a way that blocks other seats

TIME language

‘Ferguson’ Is 2014’s Name of the Year

Snow covers a yard sign placed outside a home near the police station on Nov. 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
Snow covers a yard sign placed outside a home near the police station on Nov. 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Beating out Uber, Malala and a princess from Frozen

In the basement of a Portland hotel Friday, a room full of members of the American Name Society gathered for their big annual event: voting on the name of the year for 2014. They nominated and spoke for and against the names of people, places and things that mattered last year before a decisive vote. By a 15-vote margin over the other finalists, “Ferguson” became their name of the year.

Ferguson, of course, is the name the St. Louis suburb where a police officer shot and killed teenager Michael Brown last year, setting off weeks of racially charged unrest around the country. Others also spoke up in favor of the eventual winner. “We can use our voice for social good and also for a movement that has some political weight to it,” said one member.

Iman Laversuch Nick, the incoming president of the society, gave a short speech in support of Ferguson right before the vote. “It’s the amount of power that it evokes,” she said. “It’s a name like Columbine. This name will always have that meaning. … Ferguson is going to take that kind of place historically where we will immediately have those associations, and I think it’s incredible that a name can do that.”

The town beat out Uber (the car service), Malala (the Nobel Peace Prize winner) and Elsa (the Disney princess of Frozen fame) in the final round of voting. Each of the four were winners in their own respective categories: place names, trade names, personal names and fictional names. About 30 people cast their votes by a raise of hands.

The American Name Society is the oldest and largest society dedicated to the investigation of names and how they develop. Laversuch Nick, a New Yorker who teaches at the University of Cologne, is passionate about how much power names have and how much they say about the people who use them. “It starts with the fact that everything that’s significant to us gets a name,” she says.

She reels off examples. The identity crises people have in naming their first-born child; the arguments people have over who can call themselves a Native-American or whether black is preferable to African-American; why some products have names that resonate with consumers and inspire copycatting across industries (See: the iPod); the life-and-death power of names written on Schindler’s List; genocidal killers in Africa targeting victims with certain tribal names; the act of taking away a prisoner’s name and giving him a number; a woman’s decision about whether to keep or drop her last name when she marries; the fact that tampons are euphemized on aisle guides as “feminine hygiene” products; the unclear reason that it’s hard to imagine a lumbersexual named Herbert.

Because of her first name, one used among Muslim people, Laversuch Nick has had to deal with being constantly flagged going through customs post-9/11. “People aren’t aware how much these names mean to them,” she says. Though among the people gathered for the vote, Ferguson was an obvious exception.

“I don’t think anyone in here had heard it before,” said another member right before votes were cast. “It’s this innocuous place that suddenly is a major city in the world’s perspective. I don’t think anybody will ever forget about Ferguson.”

TIME language

Actually, That Boston Time Capsule Isn’t Technically a Time Capsule

The Century Safe
The Century Safe assembled and buried in Philadelphia on the occasion of the American centennial, to be opened in 100 years time, 1876 Archive Photos / Getty Images

Time capsules weren't invented until the 19th century. So what do you call the copper box found in the Massachusetts State House cornerstone?

The news that a copper box from the Revolutionary era had been unearthed in Boston drew excitement from history buffs eager to see what Paul Revere and Samuel Adams had chosen to preserve. Examination by x-ray suggested that it contains coins and documents from the 18th-century Massachusites, and its unveiling on Tuesday evening will provide a window into their world — which is exactly the purpose of burying a time capsule.

However, though countless news outlets (TIME included) have heralded the discovery of the time capsule, the copper box that Revere and Adams buried in 1795 isn’t technically a time capsule.

As time-capsule expert William E. Jarvis explained in his 2002 book Time Capsules: A Cultural History, one of the defining characteristics of a time capsule is that it must have an end date. A box placed in a building foundation — as the Boston box was in the cornerstone of the State House there — without specific instructions as to when it should be opened is instead, Jarvis writes, a “foundation deposit.”

But why put a box in a cornerstone if the point isn’t that someone in the future will find it? (Unless it contains a singing frog, which is an entirely different situation.)

It turns out that repositories in foundations and cornerstones have an ancient history, which Jarvis traces back thousands of years, to ancient Mesopotamia. The origins of these rituals are presumed to be connected to the sanctification of the building in question; then, as with some 13th-century European churches and cathedrals, holy objects might be placed in the foundation of a building that would be used for religious purposes.

“People have been putting things in the foundations of buildings for millennia,” says Knute Berger, another expert on the topic. (Berger and Jarvis are two of the founders of the International Time Capsule Society.) The reasons why, he says, are “spotty but interesting.” Some groups, he says, did intend to leave knowledge for the future — for example, a fraternal order called the Rosicrucians believed their founder had done so with his tomb — and some were making offerings, while others were merely doing the equivalent of signing a painting, as medieval workers did when they chiseled their initials into buildings.

Ceremonial cornerstones, often associated with rituals of Freemasonry, were common in early American history. In 1793, George Washington himself conducted just such a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol; it remains unfound and its contents are a mystery. The cornerstone deposit in Boston was likewise laid as part of a grand Masonic ceremony, on July 4th, 1795; at the time, Paul Revere was Grand Master of the state’s Freemason fraternity. On the day in question, the participants started at the old State House and processed to the location where the new one would be. Fifteen white horses drew the stone to its new home — one horse for each of the states in the union at the time, according to the current Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office — and Revere then delivered a speech congratulating those gathered on having been part of the establishment of a country where liberty and laws would prevail. “May we my Brethren, so Square our Actions thro life as to shew to the World of Mankind, that we mean to live within the Compass of Good Citizens that we wish to Stand upon a Level with them that when we part we may be admitted into that Temple where Reigns Silence & peace,” he said.

Revere’s remarks don’t mention the contents of the cornerstone being unearthed in the future, or whether the contents would indicate anything about the world of 1795. And when the box was found in 1855, during State House repairs, and resealed with added contents, it still wasn’t technically a time capsule.

But if that’s not a time capsule, what is?

Jarvis’ book identifies the first-ever true time capsule as the Century Safe (pictured above) created for the 1876 Philadelphia World’s Fair and designed to be opened a century later, but the idea didn’t really take off until the 1930s or so. Perhaps interest in science around the turn of the 20th century sparked the birth of the fixed-end-date time capsule, guesses Berger: a true time capsule is like an experiment conducted with the scientific method, in that it has a set beginning and end.

The International Time Capsule Society is particularly concerned with the Crypt of Civilization, a time capsule conceived in 1936 and sealed in 1940, designed to be opened on May 28, 8113. It was meant to contain a complete record of civilization, including English lessons so that its eventual finders could read that record. The publicity surrounding the idea for the Crypt (which was first mentioned in an article by Thornwell Jacobs in Scientific American) also set off a fad, which prompted the Westinghouse Company’s decision to include a similar project in their exhibition for the 1938 World’s Fair. They called the project, meant to be opened 5,000 years later, a “time capsule” — widely seen as the first usage of the term. As TIME wrote when that project was announced, it was going to be buried 50 ft. underground and contain missives to the future from luminaries of the present. “Anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror,” read Einstein’s.

When the capsule was buried in its steel-lined, concrete-stoppered tube in 1940, TIME reported that it contained much else as well:

Among the objects which went into it were a woman’s hat, razor, can opener, fountain pen, pencil, tobacco pouch with zipper, pipe, tobacco, cigarets, camera, eyeglasses, toothbrush; cosmetics, textiles, metals and alloys, coal, building materials, synthetic plastics, seeds; dictionaries, language texts, magazines (TIME among them), other written records on microfilm.

Still, whether or not the Boston box is a time capsule, we people of the present can learn from it. Though the capsule may include gold or silver, burying such treasure is more interesting than digging it up.

“The ritual is almost more important that the substance,” says Berger. And when it comes to that, it doesn’t even really make a difference whether the Massachusetts State House cornerstone technically fits into Jarvis’ definition of a time capsule. “What matters is that you were there.”

Read TIME’s original story about the 1940 burial of the World’s Fair time capsule, here in the TIME Vault: 5,000-Year Journey

TIME language

These 11 Speeches from the Last Two Centuries Changed the World

Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his I Have a Dream speech on Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C. Francis Miller—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

The list includes FDR, MLK and JFK

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

The Hypocrisy of American Slavery

Who: Frederick Douglass

When: July 4, 1852

Why it matters: On the day marking American Independence, Frederick Douglass delivered a cutting speech denouncing American society. In the speech he demands to know how a people who pride themselves on liberty and equality can rightfully celebrate these ideals when millions are enslaved. Douglass chastises every American as a hypocrite, noting the irony in the 4th of July festivities taking place as he spoke.

Memorable quote: “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? 

I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

The Gettysburg Address

Who: President Abraham Lincoln

When: November 19, 1863

Why it matters: The famous speech was uttered by President Lincoln amidst America’s Civil War. The famous opening line, “Four score and seven years ago,” calls on the American people to remember the intentions of the founding fathers. In the speech Lincoln never mentions slavery, the Confederacy, or even the Union. Instead, he emphasizes healing, and a return to ideals of the Declaration of Independence. The speech defined the concept of American government as “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Memorable quote: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Women’s Right to Vote

Who: Susan B. Anthony

When: 1873

Why it matters: Susan B. Anthony was fined for voting in the 1872 election, and so she began to vigorously campaign for women’s suffrage. This speech was given in her defense of women’s suffrage. Her work paved the way for the nineteenth amendment, giving women the right to vote in 1920. She never did pay the fine.

Memorable quote: “It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people — women as well as men.”

Fourteen Points Speech

Who: President Woodrow Wilson

When: January 8, 1918

Why it matters: Wilson’s speech formed the foundation of what would become American foreign policy. The speech set forth American goals in the Great War. Perhaps most significant is Wilson’s proposal for an international governing body, which became the basis for the League of Nations. After World War II the League was replaced by the United Nations.

Memorable quote: “All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us.”

FDR’s First Inaugural Address

Who: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

When: March 4, 1933

Why it matters: Amidst one of the most crippling economic crises in history, FDR wanted to forcefully show the American people that he intended to end it. He succeeded by announcing his intention to use the vast powers of the federal government to address the problem. In the speech he acknowledges respect for the Constitution and separation of power, yet notes the necessity of the time and the need for vigorous action. In this speech, FDR effectively declares “war” against the Great Depression.

Memorable quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

We Shall Fight on the Beaches

Who: Winston Churchill

When: June 4, 1940

Why it matters: The speech was designed to inspire the British people and impress Americans with the resolve of the British government in the face of German aggression. The speech was delivered after British troops had successfully evacuated from Dunkirk in one of the most astonishing reversals of fortune in the history of warfare.

Memorable quote: “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, 
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
 we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
 we shall fight on the beaches, 
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
 we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
 we shall fight in the hills;
 we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

A Tryst with Destiny

Who: Jawaharlal Nehru

When: August 14, 1947

Why it matters: In the speech Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, defines what freedom means for the people of India after their long struggle for independence from the British Empire.

Memorable quote: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

The Moon Speech” (Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort)

Who: President John F. Kennedy

When: September 12, 1962

Why it matters: JFK’s moon speech made the compelling case to the American people of the importance of space exploration and funding the Apollo project. The speech and its aftermath and reception ultimately led to the successful moon landing in 1969. JFK established that the United States should be the world leader in Space exploration, and marked the first significant step taken by a President to ensure its possibility.

Memorable quote: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

I Have a Dream

Who: Martin Luther King, Jr.

When: August 28, 1963

Why it matters: King’s powerful and memorable speech is often quoted today. He challenged the American people to live up to their democratic ideals. He insisted on non-violent conflict resolution. His words echo on as a passionate call for freedom.

Memorable quote: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.'”

I am Prepared to Die

Who: Nelson Mandela

When: April 20, 1964

Why it matters: This is the speech that defined Nelson Mandela. It was given in the course of a trial of the leaders of the African National Congress, who had been accused of subversion. The trial ended with the imprisonment of eight ANC leaders including Mandela. In the speech Mandela tells his story and expresses his views on apartheid.

Memorable quote: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Tear Down this Wall

Who: President Ronald Reagan

When: June 12, 1987

Why it matters: In a speech delivered at the Berlin Wall President Ronald Reagan challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall separating East and West Berlin. Reagan’s injunction was delivered over the objections of his advisors, who thought it went too far. The speech is considered to have been a major turning point in the Cold War.

Memorable quote: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Rachel Rolnick, a student at Stern College for Women, is an HNN intern.

Read next: TIME Remembers: In Memoriam 2014

TIME language

This Is What ‘Cisgender’ Means

Two babies looking at each other curiously
Vladimir Godnik—Getty Images

This adjective had its biggest year yet in 2014

Cisgender is a word that applies to the vast majority of people, describing a person who is not transgender. If a doctor announces, “It’s a girl!” in the delivery room based on the child’s body and that baby grows up to identify as a woman, that person is cisgender. Similarly, a baby designated male in the delivery room who grows up to identify as a man is cisgender. This is the case for about 99% of the population, at least according to the best available statistics.

The word exists to serve as an equal to transgender. Author Julia Serano says the best parallel is to homosexual and heterosexual. “There was a time when there were homosexual people and everyone else was considered to be the ‘normal’ people,” she says. “Now people think of themselves as straight or heterosexual.” That adjective probably applies to about 95% of the population, though people perceive the heterosexual population as being much smaller.

The prefix cis- is Latin meaning “on this side of,” whereas trans- means “on the other side of.” While trans-atlantic means “on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean,” an American could describe New York or Virginia or the Rocky Mountains as cis-atlantic. In general, there aren’t too many places outside of a dictionary or chemistry lab where one would likely see the prefix being used, but cisgender is seeing an uptick in use.

(MORE: This Is What Intersex Means)

In 2013, Oxford Dictionaries—the branch of Oxford that deals with modern usage, words we’re using now and how we use them—added cisgender to their ranks. Stephen Colbert joked in June that he is “cis-white,” because “I’ve always been comfortable with my birth race.” And in February, Facebook added no less than 10 “cis” terms among their expanded options for gender, ranging from plain cis to cis male to cis woman. This graph from Google Trends shows how often people have searched for the term over time:

People who use the word to describe themselves are often sending two messages: A) I’m hip to gender politics and B) I believe people are all the same when it comes to being normal and legitimate, even if their experience of gender identity is different. But there is no consensus on who should use the term or when. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, believes that trying to introduce the word cisgender into more vocabularies when many people still don’t really understand transgender is counterproductive for their cause. “It does not help us as advocates,” she says, “changing the language.”

Other leaders in the trans community, like Serano, feel the word is useful in spreading the idea that even if the vast majority of people are not transgender, they too have a gender identity; it’s just not one that is challenged or questioned. No one should have to identify themselves as cisgender all the time, just as “people don’t go around all the time thinking of themselves as a straight woman or a heterosexual man,” she says. “But it becomes useful when you’re talking about the ways in which people are treated differently in society.”

TIME psychology

10 Rules You Need to Know to Communicate Effectively

Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Frank Luntz has “engineered some of the most potent political and corporate campaigns of the last decade.” His wordsmithing helped Republican Rudy Giuliani get elected twice in New York — a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5-to-1.

Luntz and his polling firm have learned a great deal about language by conducting nearly 1500 surveys and focus groups for a wide range of products and politicians.

The key takeaway from his book is actually part of the title:

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

In Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear Luntz breaks down the ten main lessons he’s learned from years of crafting political messages; lessons we can all learn from:

1) Simplicity: Use Small Words

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

“Avoid words that might force someone to reach for the dictionary… because most Americans won’t. They’ll just placidly let your real meaning sail over their heads or, even worse, misunderstand you. You can argue all you want about the dumbing down of America, but unless you speak the language of your intended audience, you won’t be heard by the people you want to reach.”

2) Brevity: Use Short Sentences

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

“Be as brief as possible… The most memorable political language is rarely longer than a sentence. “I Like Ike” was hardly a reason to vote for the man, but the simplicity of the slogan matched the candidate and the campaign.”

3) Credibility Is As Important As Philosophy

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

“People have to believe it to buy it. As Lincoln once said, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. If your words lack sincerity, if they contradict accepted facts, circumstances, or perceptions, they will lack impact… The words you use become you — and you become the words you use.”

4) Consistency Matters

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

“Too many politicians insist on new talking points on a daily basis, and companies are running too many different ad executions. By the time we begin to recognize and remember a particular message, it has already been changed… “The breakfast of champions” tagline for Wheaties was first launched back in 1935 and is still going today. Hallmark’s “When you care enough to send the very best” debuted in 1934, and “Say it with flowers” for FTD dates all the way back to 1917.”

5) Novelty: Offer Something New

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

“In plain English, words that work often involve a new definition of an old idea… What matters most is that the message brings a sense of discovery, a sort of “Wow, I never thought about it that way.”

6) Sound and Texture Matter

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

“The sounds and texture of the language should be just as memorable as the words themselves. A string of words that have the same first letter, the same sound, or the same syllabic cadence is more memorable than a random collection of sounds.”

7) Speak Aspirationally

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

“Messages need to say what people want to hear… The key to successful aspirational language for products or politics is to personalize and humanize the message to trigger an emotional remembrance.”

8) Visualize

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

“Paint a vivid picture. From M&M’s “Melts in your mouth not in your hand” to Morton Salt’s “When it rains, it pours,” to NBC’s “Must See TV,” the slogans we remember for a lifetime almost always have a strong visual component, something we can see and almost feel.”

9) Ask a Question

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

“Is it live, or is it Memorex?” “Where do you want to go today?” (Microsoft) “Can you hear me now?” (Verizon Wireless)… “Got Milk?” may be the most memorable print ad campaign of the past decade. The creator realized, whether intentionally or not, that it’s sometimes not what you say but what you ask that really matters.”

10) Provide Context and Explain Relevance

Via Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear:

“You have to give people the “why” of a message before you tell them the “therefore” and the “so that.”… if it doesn’t matter to the intended audience, it won’t be heard. With so many messages and so many communication vehicles competing for our attention, the target audience must see individual, personal meaning and value in your words.”

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Join over 145,000 readers and get a free weekly email update here.

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TIME Opinion

‘Offensive’ Is the New ‘Obscene’

Lenny Bruce, refused entry to Britain earlier in the day "in the public interest," makes a V-sign as he leaves U.S. customs office after returning to New York's Idlewild Airport on Apr. 8, 1963. John Lindsay—AP Photo

50 years after Lenny Bruce's sentencing, the world is still deciding what a comedian is allowed to say on stage

Reading about Lenny Bruce’s arrest for obscenity 50 years ago makes me think about a popular sketch Amy Schumer recently did on her Comedy Central show. On Dec. 21, 1964, Bruce was sentenced to four months in a workhouse for a set he did in a New York comedy club that included a bit about Eleanor Roosevelt’s “nice tits,” another about how men would like to “come in a chicken,” and other scatological and overly sexual humor.

How does this relate to Amy Schumer? In the sketch called “Acting Off Camera,” Schumer signs up to do the voice of what she thinks will be a sexy animated character, because Jessica Alba and Megan Fox are doing the voices of her friends. When she arrives to work she sees that her character is an idiotic meerkat who defecates continuously, eats worms and has her vagina exposed. She says to her agent, “My character has a pussy.” Schumer is the first woman to say that word on Comedy Central without being censored, a right she fought for. Her struggle was commended by the press for advancing feminism because the word had been banned even though four-letter words for male genitalia were given the O.K.

A word that could have landed Bruce in the slammer 50 years ago is now available for public consumption, and its inclusion into the cuss-word canon is applauded. These days each of George Carlin’s “seven words” seems quaint. There is nothing so raunchy, so profane or so over-the-top that it could land a comedian in jail.

However, they have other reasons to censor themselves — namely Twitter.

The most dangerous thing that a comedian has to face today is offending political correctness or saying something so racist or sexist that it kicks up an internet firestorm. In 2012, Daniel Tosh made a rape joke at a comedy club, which everyone on the internet seemed to have an opinion about. Many were offended and he later apologized for the joke. Just last month comedian Artie Lang tweeted a sexist slavery fantasy about an ESPN personality and was met with harsh criticism. Saturday Night Live writer and performer Leslie Jones, a black woman, also took heat for making jokes about slavery; her critics said they were offensive, but she defended her comments, claiming they were misunderstood. Most of this exchange took place on Twitter.

This is a common cycle these days and one that can derail a comedian’s career (just look at what happened to Seinfeld alum Michael Richards after his racist rant became public). It’s also something that comedians are hyper-aware of. “I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative,” Chris Rock said in a recent interview in New York magazine (referring to over-prudence, not political ideology). “Kids raised on a culture of ‘We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.’ Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say ‘the black kid over there.’ No, it’s ‘the guy with the red shoes.’ You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.” In a world where trigger warnings are becoming popular, how can a comedian really push the envelope?

In the interview, Rock says this policing of speech and ideas leads to self-censorship, especially when he’s trying out new material. He says that comedians used to know when they went too far based on the audience reaction within a room; now they know they’ve gone too far based on the reaction of everyone with an Internet connection. Now the slightest step over the line could land a comedian not in the slammer but in a position like Bill Maher’s, where students demanded he not be able to speak at Berkeley because of statements he made about Muslims.

That’s the difference between Lenny Bruce and someone like Leslie Jones. A panel of judges decided that Bruce should face censorship because of what he said. Now Leslie Jones gets called out, but the public is the judge. Everyone with a voice on the internet can start an indecency trial and let the public decide who is guilty and to what degree. (The funny truth is, depending on whom you follow on Twitter, the party is usually universally guilty or universally innocent.)

What hasn’t changed as we’ve shifted from “obscene” to “offensive” is just how unclear the scenario could be. The Supreme Court famously refused to define “obscene” but instead said they know it when they see it. The same is true of “offensive.” One comedian can make a joke about race or rape and have it be fine, another can make a joke on the same subject matter and be the victim of a million blog posts. There was even an academic study to determine which strategies were most effective for making jokes about race.

Whenever one of these edgy jokes makes the news, a rash of comedians come to defend not the joke, necessarily, but that the person has the right to tell it in the first place. The same thing happened at Bruce’s trial when Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer and James Baldwin all showed up to testify on Bruce’s behalf. Bruce never apologized for what he said. Though he passed away before his appeal could make its way through the courts, he received a posthumous pardon in 2003. Then-Governor of New York George Pataki noted that the pardon was a reminder of the importance of the First Amendment.

In 50 years a lot has changed, but comedy, like the First Amendment, really hasn’t. There are always going to be people pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, because that’s what we find funny. What has changed is who is policing that acceptability — and that makes a big difference. We no longer have too-conservative judges enforcing “community standards” about poop jokes, telling people like Lenny Bruce that they can’t say one thing or another. Instead, today’s comedians are policed by the actual community, using the democratic voices of the Internet and social media to communicate about standards around race, religion, sexuality, gender and identity. The community doesn’t say comedians can’t offend, but that they’ll face consequences if they do. Their First Amendment rights are preserved and, though it may get in the way of the creative processed once used by people like Chris Rock, online feedback can often lead to productive conversations.

In a world where nothing is obscene, it doesn’t mean that things can’t be offensive, as murky as both those ideas might be. At least we’ve taken the government out of comedy, which seems to be safer for everyone. Now they can stick to dealing with the important things, like Janet Jackson’s nipple.

Read TIME’s original coverage of Lenny Bruce’s conviction, here in the archives: Tropic of Illinois

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