Monday, November 28, 2016

Celebrate some words

Let's celebrate some centennials today, not of individuals, places or events but of words.

It can be difficult to be certain exactly when words were coined. Often they are used in conversation long before somebody writes them down, but not until they are written down in books or other publications can later scholars assign dates to them. Sol Steinmetz, in his book There's a Word for It (2010), provides lists of words coined, or at least put into print for the first time, every year from 1900 to 2009. So let's look at the words that appeared first in 1916, 100 years ago.

When I see lists of words arranged by their date of origin, I find myself dividing them into three groups in my mind: those I would have thought to be older, those I would have thought to be newer and those that sound about right. So allow me to do that now.

1916 words that seem older
Ambivalent, counterattack (used as a verb), dagnab it, dealership, goof, Midwesterner, multimillion and pastrami.
1916 words that seem newer

Carcinogenic, cryptobiotic, dysfunction, ecotype, environmentalist, homo-erotic, hush-hush, penny-pincher, princessy, punchline, Realtor and sex drive.

1916 words that seem about right

World War I was well under way in 1916, and certain words and phrases from that year appear to have grown out of that war. These include blimp, jarhead, munitioneer, national service, over the top, R.O.T.C., steel helmet and trip-wire.

Actually there are several other words on Steinmetz's list that I don't know where to place on one of my own. These include cuckoo-land, economy size, excludable, low-maintenance, photofinishing, profiteer and well-scrubbed.

Some of the words from 1916 we might have done very well without, but others, especially such handy gems as ambivalent and punchline, are certainly worth celebrating.

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