How Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials Got Their Names

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In March, the Pew Research Center revamped their definitions for who gets counted under what generation. But who decides what those generations are named, if they get a name at all? Surprisingly, there isn’t one single clearinghouse where these names are chosen. Instead, generations frequently receive multiple names that then battle it out until only one remains—a process that is currently being fought between the likes of iGen, Generation Z, and Post-Millennials.

Although it’s not clear which name will come out on top for the current generation, older group names generally involve one writer picking a term and then a bunch of other writers all coming to some crude form of consensus—with a couple of failures along the way.

BABY BOOMERS (1946-1964)

Calling a dramatic increase in the number of children born a “baby boom” dates to the 19th century. In 1941, an issue of LIFE Magazine—discussing the increasing birthrate due to older couples having children after the Great Depression and the many marriages that came about because of the peacetime draft of 1940—proclaimed that “the U.S. baby boom is bad news for Hitler.”

The children who would come to be known as Baby Boomers, however, wouldn’t be born for a few more years as soldiers returned home from the war and the economy “boomed.”

Although the children born from 1946 to 1964 get the name Baby Boomers, that phrase wouldn’t appear until near the end of the generation. In January 1963 the Newport News Daily Press warned of a tidal wave of college enrollment coming as the “Baby Boomers” were growing up. That same year, the Oxford English Dictionary quoted the Salt Lake Tribune as saying “Statistics show that ... long hours of television viewing put an extra strain on chairs, causing upholstered seating pieces to wear out three to four times faster than in the days before television and the baby-boomers.”

Oddly, an alternate name for people born during this time was Generation X; as London's The Observer noted in 1964, “Like most generations, ‘Generation X’—as the editors tag today’s under 25s—show a notable lack of faith in the Old Ones.”

GENERATION X (1965-1980)

That comment in The Observer was in reference to a then-recently published book called Generation X by Jane Deverson and Charles Hamblett. A few years later, Joan Broad bought a copy at a garage sale, her son found it, and he fell in love with the name.

That son was Billy Idol, and according to his memoir, Dancing with Myself, “We immediately thought it could be a great name for this new band, since we both felt part of a youth movement bereft of a future, that we were completely misunderstood by and detached from the present social and cultural spectrum. We also felt the name projected the many possibilities that came with presenting our generation’s feelings and thoughts.” The band Generation X would begin Billy Idol’s career.

But the name Generation X wouldn’t become associated with a wide group of people until 1991. That's the year Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was released. The book became a sensation for its ability to capture early '90s culture and, although it didn’t coin the words, helped popularize a range of terms as diverse as McJob and pamphleting—and a name for an entire generation.

MILLENNIALS (1981-1996)

What comes after Generation X? Generation Y, obviously. That was the logic behind several newspaper columns that proclaimed the coming of Generation Y in the early '90s. (While the magazine Advertising Age traditionally gets the credit for coining the term in 1993, it was actually in use in 1992.) But as psychologist Jean Twenge explained to NPR regarding the failure of “baby busters” as a term to describe Generation X, “Labels that derive from the previous generation don't tend to stick.”

Instead, in 1991 authors Neil Howe and William Strauss wrote Generations, which included a discussion about the Millennials. According to Forbes, they felt that as the oldest members of this generation were graduating high school in 2000—and everyone was focusing on the coming date—Millennials seemed a natural fit.

15 Ripsniptious Faux-Educated Words of the 19th Century

London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images
London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

In his 1859 Dictionary of Modern Slang, John Camden Hotten discussed a recent craze for long, fancy-sounding made-up words. These drew, loosely and creatively, on the prefixes and suffixes of educated big words to get their point across. “Nothing pleases an ignorant person,” he writes, “more than a high-sounding term ‘full of fury.’ How melodious and drum-like are those vulgar coruscations … what a ‘pull’ the sharp-nosed lodging-house keeper thinks she has over her victims if she can but hurl such testimonies of a liberal education at them when they are disputing her charges, and threatening to ABSQUATULATE!”

Though an educated person could sneer at the "vulgar" corruption of Latin-inspired word formation rules, few could deny their delicious mouth-feel, the genius rhythm with which they rolled off the tongue. Most of the terms came and went in the way that slang does, but a few were so melodious and apt that they became a part of our permanent vocabulary. Here are 15 of the most ripsniptious faux-educated words of the period.

1. Absquatulate

This word, popular in the 1830s, meant to make off with something. It vaguely calls up abscond, but in a longer and more complicated way. There was also an alternate term absquatualize and the noun abscotchalater, meaning thief.

2. Rambunctious

This familiar term also emerged in the U.S. around 1830 and was probably formed off the earlier rumbustious.

3. Bloviate

Bloviate, a combination of blow and orate, goes back to the 1850s. It was widely popularized in the early 1900s by President Warren G. Harding, who was known for his long, windy speeches.

4. Discombobulated

This word for a feeling of uncomfortable confusion started in the 1820s as discombobberate. There was also a noun conbobberation, used to refer to some kind of disturbance.

5. Explaterate

The –ate suffix was a particular favorite in these words. Explaterate, a bit like explain and a bit like prattle, meant talk on and on in the 1830s.

6. Teetotaciously

A much more forceful and enjoyable way to say "totally."

7. Exflunctify

"To drain" or "wear out." An activity could exfluncticate you and leave you worn out or exflunctified—or even worse, teetotaciously exflunctified.

8. Obflisticate

Obliterate is a perfectly fine word of proper standing, but its substitute obflisticate somehow makes the obliteration seem more complete.

9. Ripsniptious

Snappy, smart, heart-filling and grand. “Why, don’t you look right ripsniptious today!”

10. Bodaciously

Our modern sense of bodacious as "excellent" didn’t come about until the 1970s, but in the 1830s, bodaciously was used as an exaggerated way to say bodily. If you weren’t careful out there in the wilderness, you could get “bodaciously chewed up by a grizzly bear.”

11. Discumgalligumfricated

Louise Pound, founder of the journal American Speech, recorded this glorious creation, meaning “greatly astonished but pleased,” in her notes on the terms used by her students at the University of Nebraska in the early 1900s.

12. Ramsasspatorious

This word for "excited, anxious, impatient" makes you feel all three at the same time.

13. Slantingdicular

If something can be perpendicular, why not slantingdicular (also written as slantindicular)? This one, first seen in the 1840s, deserves a comeback.

14. Dedodgement

Old dialect descriptions note this as a Kentucky term for "exit."

15. Explicitrize

H.L. Menken’s The American Language records explicitrize as a word for "censure."

This list was first published in 2015.

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