News & Politics

Washington from A to Z

For newcomers to Washington, here’s a course in DC’s unique vocabulary.

The Mixing Bowl is always an adventure. Illustration by Robert Barkin

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs): Committees in the District of locally elected neighborhood leaders, who review matters often pertaining to construction, crime, housing, and economic development in their area.

B-Roll: Extra camera footage that provides color, detail, and visual diversity, which is interspersed with the main footage taken for a story or interview.

CR: A continuing resolution, legislation that allows the federal government to operate until a new budget is passed.

Delta: Short for Delta Force, the elite military special-operations team, whose members are known as “operators.”

East of the river: A term that refers to the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, which are known for being the most economically disadvantaged areas in DC.

Foggy Bottom: DC neighborhood around George Washington University that houses the State Department; used as shorthand for State.

Gaggle: An impromptu press conference, usually off-camera.

Half-smoke: DC’s most famous native food, a half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage.

Intel: The real currency of Washington, traded by IM, e-mail, or phone, though the preferred method involves cocktails. Extra points if the intelligence is actually true.

Jump: The place where a newspaper article breaks and continues on a different page.

K Street: Still used as shorthand for lobbyists and special interests even though many big-name lobbying firms no longer are on K Street.

Lede: The first paragraph or paragraphs introducing an article’s main point or thesis, spelled differently from “lead” to distinguish it from the metal used to set type in newspapers of yesteryear.

Mixing Bowl: The notorious traffic clog of the Springfield interchange, where I-395, I-495, and I-95 converge in Northern Virginia.

National Intelligence Estimate (NIE): An intelligence report, compiled with information from 16 agencies, that estimates threats to national security. These are distributed to members of Congress and the executive branch.

OTR: Off the record. Sometimes it signifies random appearances that candidates or politicos make that aren’t on the schedule—as in “Rahm Emanuel is going to do an OTR in his office.”

Pool report: A description of a certain event—covered by selected reporters—that is then distributed to other members of the press pool.

Quid pro quo—Latin for “this for that.” Even with all the dealmaking in Washington, try to ensure that no grand jury or prosecutor can prove a “quid pro quo.”

RSC: The strong conservative caucus on Capitol Hill known as the Republican Study Committee.

Slugging: The practice by which suburban residents, mostly in Northern Virginia, pick up random commuters to carpool with during the workweek. The purpose of this is to gather enough people to meet the requirements to use high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes on busy highways.

Troika: The heads of the Treasury Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Economic Council, who meet regularly to discuss economic policy. Now often any trio of powerful people in one policy area.

Up-or-down vote: A direct yes-or-no vote on an amendment or bill with no opportunity for other motions. “Members often seek ‘up or down’ votes because they are less cumbersome and therefore easier to explain” to constituents, says C-Span’s Web page.

Veto: Presidential power to block any legislation passed by Congress without a two-thirds majority. More threatened than used.

West of the park: The DC neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park, which are known for being the wealthiest, safest areas in DC.

X-ray machines: What you’ll have to put your bags through to enter any federal building. Insiders call x-ray machines’ ever-present companions, metal detectors, “mags,” short for magnetometers.

Yeas and nays: A roll-call vote in Congress whereby members state their position on a bill when their name is called. Also the name of the Washington Examiner’s gossip column.

Zulu time: Used in the military and aviation to refer to Greenwich Mean Time to avoid confusion over time zones or daylight-saving time.

What other Washington-only lingo do you know? Tell us in the comments! 

This article first appeared in the February 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here

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