Time travel for word lovers, or fun with Merriam-Webster

tamrawilson Uncategorized

You word lovers out there: here’s a website you won’t want to miss. The folks at Merriam-Webster, the dictionary people, have added an historical component to their website. You can find it here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/time-traveler/2016

Scroll back on the years and see when certain words were first printed in the English language. Words may be used in spoken English for years or decades before they finally make it into the written word.

Being a history and word buff that I am, I couldn’t resist. Many of the words are driven by technology. No surprise there.

Words we use all the time now, such as “unfriend,” came into use 15 years ago, in 2003, a result of Facebook, of course. It was the same year that brought us baby bump, binge-watch and electronic cigarette.

Crowdsourcing, another function of the internet, arrived in 2006, the same year that brought us “bucket list,” the year before the movie of the same name was released.

Photo bomb? 2008. Ransomware”? 2005. Social media is a relative newcomer, birthed in 2004, the same year as waterboarding.

Words, the building blocks of language, change over time as do meanings.

Pick your birth year, your graduation year, or the year you got married.

I picked 1979. The results were surprising. Thirty-nine years ago, the year of the Iranian hostages and hyper inflated interest rates, we first read adjustable rate mortgage, backslash, California roll, frizzies, homeschooler, identity politics, la-la land, log off, laser printer and Lyme disease, outsource and self-publish.

The Miriam-Webster time machine goes as far back as “before 12th century.to list basic Anglo-Saxon words still taught in easy readers: apple, cheese, goat, foot, look, man, owl, see, wood.

Fast forwarding to, the Shakespearean era, the year of 1598:  attorney general, cusp, cockpit, stigmatize, retired.

Or consider 1620, when Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock:  cryptic, curling stone, gusto, hyphenate, lambaste, merchant bank, sundown, trashy—an eclectic list.

On further, to 1776 and the Declaration of Independence brings some predictable newcomers: bluejacket, first sergeant, Franklin stove, jungle, killjoy, regime, slaveholder,  tolerant, unelected—but also some words that seem out of sync: keyboard, sour cream, totem, volcanic.

1861, the outbreak of the American Civil War, brought some terms that were half predictable: born-again, dialysis, fire drill, jamboree, kepi, Medal of Honor, piranha, raider, riflery, slaw, submariner, states’ righter, untrusting.

Fast forward to 1912, the year the Titanic sank:  air pocket, Bull Moose, Camp Fire girl, chemical warfare, family values, moviemaker, nosedive, pizzeria, pedophile, quantum theory, strip poker, TB, Thousand Island dressing.

How about the end of World War II? Predictably 1945 has some appropriate terms: A-bomb, bird colonel, cold war, Dear John,  firestorm, hassle, ID card, press secretary, sonic barrier, target date, TV.

Or 1967, known for the Summer of Love? New words included anti-pot, automatic teller machine, doobie, dork, flower child, ego trip, flower power, jihadist, land yacht, love-in, minicomputer, networking, psychedelia, rip-off, speed freak, whacked-out.

If words are indicators of the times, Miriam-Webster’s most recent entries show the unseemly state of affairs. Trending the day I wrote this column were: acrimony, charlatans, excoriate, kakistrocracy, lowlifes, oligarchy, salacious, slime ball, spurious, redaction, white lies.

Look them up and take a shower.