Monday, October 1, 2012

Some words don't show their age

I was surprised to learn, while leafing through a book called English Through the Ages by William Brohaugh, that the word mom dates back only to about 1895. I would have guessed the word would have originated earlier than that. Not much older are the words momma (1885) and mommy (1890). The word mum was in use by 1825. Mother goes back to 1670.

Here are some other surprises I found in this interesting reference book that was published in 1998:

- The word bisexual, which seems so modern, goes back at least as far as 1825.

- The word mechanic was in use prior to the 18th century.

- The practice of calling female workers girls, now almost but not quite eliminated, dates to 1670.

- Men and boys carried pocketknives as early as 1730.

- The term cover girl dates to 1915, about the same time that short ribs, nutmeat, crossword puzzle and white sale came into the language.

- The word grandfather (1425), granddaddy (1760), grandpappa (1770) and granddad (1785) are all much older than the word grandpa (1890).

- The word helicopter was in use before 1890.

- Refrigerator goes back to at least 1805.

- The sciences of zoology, ornithology, cosmology and mineralogy all go back to the 17th century.

- The phrases table talk, blind alley, gentler sex, king's ransom, stumbling block, wild-goose chase, subject matter, high-water mark and laughing matter all date from the 16th century.

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