My Favorite Words (and some phrases) from TED2018

Erin McKean
4 min readApr 22, 2018


I was lucky enough to attend TED2018 in Vancouver this year. In previous years I gave short presentations about the words from the conference I found most interesting, and really missed doing it this time. Some of these are new words; some were just new to me! So, here they are, in the order that I heard them:

Baratunde Thurston coining ‘kidneydactyl’ at TED2018 [image CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
  1. transcriptomics

From Dr. Faith Osier’s TED Fellows talk, ‘transcriptomics’ is the “The study of the transcriptome of a species or individual” (Wiktionary). Dr. Osier also used the term ‘-omics’ to describe the set of sciences that include genomics, proteomics, and so on.

2. zoognosis

From Dr. Claire Simeone’s TED Fellows talk, ‘zoognosis’ is a word she coined to mean ‘the knowledge shared between humans and animals’. (Thank you to Dr. Simeone for adopting this word at Wordnik!)

3. behavioral modification empires

Jaron Lanier’s term for social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter.

4. slaughterbot

A ‘slaughterbot’ (which was just offhandedly included in one of Max Tegmark’s slides!) is an AI-powered military drone. (Good luck sleeping now that you know about this.)

5. biorobotics

Giada Gerboni mentioned ‘biorobotics’, a subfield of robotics which studies how to make robots ‘that emulate or simulate living biological organisms mechanically or even chemically’ (Wikipedia).

6. nutriceutical

Heidi Sosik, one of the Audacious Project grantees, talked about nutriceuticals (substances that are both nutritious and have a pharmacological effect) in her talk about her fascinating work researching salps.

7. dose pole

A ‘dose pole’ (as explained by Caroline Harper, an Audacious project grantee who works to eradicate trachoma, a terrible blinding disease) is a pole that lets community health workers determine the correct dose of medicine based a on a person’s height. Each segment of the pole has a number of dots on it that correspond to the number of tablets in the correct dose.

8. bioterror

Stephen Webb talked about all the ways that alien civilizations might have killed themselves off before we could meet them, including via ‘bioterror’ (terrorist attacks using biological weapons, e.g. weaponized diseases, etc.).

9. biorisk

Will MacAskell spoke of ‘biorisk’ — ‘the risk associated with biological materials and/or infectious agents’ (Wikipedia).

10. yakhchal & nanophotonics

Aaswath Raman mentioned an ancient and fascinating type of evaporative cooler called a ‘yakhchal’—the pictures are well worth a trip to Wikipedia. Studying yakhchals led to advances in his field of nanophotonics (‘the science that studies the behavior of light, and of optical devices, on a nanometer scale.’ [Wiktionary])

11. vertiport

A ‘vertiport’ (according to Rodin Lyasoff) is where you’ll go to catch your self-piloted vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. (Yep, flying cars.)

12. honnolding

Freeclimber Alex Honnold is the inspiration for the eponymous ‘honnolding’ — ‘ to stand in some high, precarious place with your back to the wall, looking straight into the abyss’ (Nautilus).

13. arousal nonconcordance

The phenomenon, brilliantly explained by Emily Nagoski, where there is a lack of correlation between physical sexual response (as measured by genital bloodflow) and subjective arousal (willingness to participate in sexual activity).

14. neuroembodiment

As coined by Hugh Herr, the process of extending the human nervous system into prosthetic or synthetic body parts.

15 two-ness

Walter Hood referenced ‘two-ness’, a term used by W. E. B. Du Bois in writing about ‘double consciousness’: the splitting of an individual’s identity into several facets (e.g. being both American and black).

16. kidneydactyl

According to Baratunde Thurston, a ‘kidneydactyl’ is an animal ugly enough that we don’t care about killing it and using its organs for xenotransplantation (in reference to the adorable piglets shown by Luhan Yang earlier in the week).

Some quotes that I wrote down from the week that you might also find inspiring, amusing, or thought-provoking:

“Slaves were the capital in capitalism.” — Paul Rucker

“Sometimes, when you pay for things, stuff gets better!”—Jaron Lanier

“Pessimists have a problem for every solution.”—César Hidalgo

“Beauty is where the invisible joins the visible.” — Renzo Piano

“Fantasies are exactly like goals, only without the hard work.” — Emily Levine

“All technical problems of sufficient scope or impact are actually political problems first.” — Eleanor Saitta (quoted by James Bridle)

“Never provide poor solutions to poor people.”—Chetna Gala Sinha

Obviously, a lot of excellent talks could not be reduced to a word (or even a quote) so I recommend you watch all the talks from TED2018 as they become available!

If you would like to see all the phrases from TED2018 that I thought would make excellent band names, it’s here. (And if you’ve never seen my TED talks, you can find them — and previous year’s word recaps — here.)



Erin McKean

Founder, Recovering lexicographer. Full Stack-Overflow Developer. Developer Advocate, IBM.