10 Words and Phrases You Won’t Believe Are More Than 100 Years Old

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They may have been on people’s tongues even earlier, but 1914 marks the earliest year the lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary could document these words and phrases in print.

1. DOOHICKEY

The Oxford English Dictionary cleverly tells us that this word is a blend of doodad and hickey, defining the latter as “any small gadget or device; something of little consequence.” (The meanings “pimple” and “love bite” came later.) An unnamed writer in the U.S. publication Our Navy, November 12, 1914, says, “We were compelled to christen articles beyond our ken with such names as ‘do-hickeys’, ‘gadgets’ and ‘gilguys.'”

2. POSTMODERNISM

You might think that in 1914 folks were barely modern; how could they be contemplating postmodernism? Modern means current day, so people have always thought themselves modern—well, at least since 1456. To be fair, though, the postmodernism of 1914 is not the same as the movement in architecture, arts and literature that arose in the late 20th century—the one that preached “freedom from the tyranny of the new,” allowing creative people to mix old styles in with new ones. In 1914, Postmodernism was a reaction to Modernism, a movement in the Roman Catholic Church toward modifying traditional beliefs and doctrines in accordance with modern ideas and scholarship.

3. TIME TRAVEL

It’s a bit of a quirk that the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary didn’t find printed evidence of the phrase time travel earlier than 1914; they trace time traveler to 1894. H.G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895 and he was quoted in the National Observer a year prior: “‘There,’ said the Time Traveller, ‘I am unable to give you an explanation. All I know is that the climate was very much warmer than it is now.’” (There’s no evidence that Wells coined the term global warming.)

4. ANTIVIRUS

In 1914, scientists knew only that viruses were infectious agents that could pass through filters that trapped bacteria, not that they typically consist of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat. Nonetheless, they were working on ways to combat virus infections in organisms, and a Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club for 1914 reported, “It was his opinion that an antivirus … was thus formed in the lower, healthy leaves which destroyed or rendered inert the virus ... ”

5. ADVERTORIAL

Advertorial, a blend of advertisement and editorial, is an ad or promotional material disguised as an editorial or objective report. So, you’d think the term would be bandied about the offices of a publication, but not blatantly emblazoned in print. There it is, though, as a headline in Rotarian, May 14, 1914: “A word to the women folk. An advertorial.”

6. ATOMIC BOMB

In a 1914 issue of English Review, guess who was apparently the first person to write about the possibility of an atomic bomb? Yes, H.G. Wells again: “Never before ... had there been a continuing explosive ...; and these atomic bombs which science burst upon the world that night were strange even to the men who used them.”

7. CHUNNEL

Although the Channel Tunnel linking England and France across the English Channel was not started until 1988 and was completed in 1994, the concept was conceived as early as 1802. In the February 4, 1914 issue of The Sketch, K. Howard declared, “Another word that will be stolen from me ... is ‘Chunnel.' This, naturally, will be the pet name for the Channel Tunnel when we get it.” He was right: In 1957, a writer for The New York Times Magazine claimed his newspaper coined the term.

8. BIG SCREEN

More than 100 years ago, before there was television with its small screen to provide contrast, the big screen already meant the movies. California's Fresno Morning Republican on October 24, 1914 reported, “The stage hands will devise noise effects to help carry out the illusion on the big screen.”

9. LIGHT SPEED

Even the popular press was talking about light speed a hundred years ago. Maryland's Frederick Post, February 25, 1914 wrote, “Measuring light speed. Even in this speed mad age we can never hope to equal the speed of light.”

10. OY VEY

You might think this Yiddish expression (literally, “Oh, woe") didn’t enter English until the 1950s, but in the New York Evening Journal, February 17, 1914, H Hershfield wrote, “I can't see a thing ... Worse then [sic] a fog. Oh Vay!”

This article originally appeared in 2014.

Supper vs. Dinner: Is There a Difference?

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A linguist might be able to guess the general region you’re from based solely on what you call your evening meal. But as an article from Wide Open Eats explains, it isn’t just a matter of dialect. Dinner and supper really do mean different things—or at least they used to.

Historically, the word dinner was associated with the largest meal of the day, regardless of whether it was served in the morning, afternoon, or evening. The term comes from the non-Classical Latin word disjējūnāre, which is defined as breaking a fast.

Supper, on the other hand, is more time-specific. It stems from the Old French word souper, meaning an evening meal, and it's generally lighter than other meals served throughout the day. In other words, supper and dinner have more to do with the quantity of food that’s served than the time of day that you feast on them.

In the 1800s and perhaps even earlier, Americans in some rural regions started calling their midday meal dinner, while supper was reserved for the evening meal. This had more to do with occupation than location, though. In parts of the South and Midwest where farmers needed ample fuel to get them through the day, the midday meal was larger (hence the use of the term dinner). In the evening, supper typically involved a light soup, and the act of eating it was referred to as supping. Indeed, the word supper is related to suppe, the German word for soup.

This is still the norm in some parts of the U.S. As Wide Open Eats discovered through Google Trends, a search for “supper” is most common in Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.

This is also the case in some parts of the South. “If you grew up in the South post-colonial era, however, chances are your association with the words have more to do with colloquial etymology, rather than the time of day you sat down to eat,” Southern Living notes. “For example, you probably heard, 'supper’s ready,' just before Mama or Grandma placed a table-full of delicious dishes before you.”

However, supper is seldom used anymore—especially among younger generations—and dinner is by far the more popular term nationwide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

How Do Linguists Pronounce GIF?

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Oscar Tay:

Oh dear, this is going to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. I wish we could just accept our tomopotatine differences and be understanding of other ways of doing things and learn to live in harmony but sadly, it’s pronounced with a soft “g” you mindless misacronymers.

Let’s hear it from the other side first—that is, the people who like Sven Williams in his answer to this question believe it should start with the hard “g” of misguided. The most common argument in favor of the hard-g-GIF is that GIF is an abbreviation for “graphics interchange format,” and should therefore be pronounced with the hard “g” of graphics.

The problem with this is that this isn’t how acronyms work: They’re pronounced according to typical word-pronunciation rules, which I went over recently here. The most famous counterexample is JPEG, short for “Joint Photographic Experts Group”; by the logic of the hard-g-graphics argument, you should pronounce “JPEG” as jay-pheg instead of the mainstream jay-peg because of the “ph” at the beginning of photographic.

Howtoreallypronouncegif.com, in favor of the hard-gif, adds that most single-syllable English words spelled with a “g” use it to make the hard g sound:

Gab. Gad. Gag. Gal. Gam. Gap. Gas. Gay. Get. Gig. Gill. Gimp. Gird. Girl. Git!
Give. Go. Goal. Gob. God. Gone. Gore. Got. Guide. Guild. Guilt. Gull.
Gulp. Gum. Gun. Gust. Gut. Guy. The word “gift” is the closest word to
GIF, and it has a hard G. To pronounce GIF, just say gift without the "t."

The website then unconvincingly disregards gin, gem, gym, geo, and gel, saying that gin comes from Dutch, which makes it ineligible for some reason, that gem comes from Latin gemma, which also mysteriously renders it negligible, and that the latter three don’t count because they’re short for longer words.

These arguments shall not stand for those who know it is rightly pronounced with the soft “g” of legitimate. The soft-gif camp is well-known for having the original creator of the GOF, Steve Wilhite, on our side. In his 2013 acceptance speech at the Webby awards, he offered these five words of wisdom:

I’ll let that stand for itself. Not convinced?

In CompuServe’s FAQs, they clearly state that “The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced "JIF," was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.”

Besides this staggering monument of truth on the screen before ye, there are plenty of solid arguments for the softer pronunciation. Howtoreallypronouncegif.com argues that the soft-gif is unintuitive, and everyone says hard-gif on their first acquaintance with the acronym, so “jif” is wrong.

Not so, we say; there are plenty of immediately difficult words that we have to learn to say properly as we get older: yacht, chthonic, colonel, epitome, syncope, Worcestershire, and so on. There is no good reason that gif cannot be one of these—and, even there, it is ever as understandable as gin, which the scheming Howtoreallypronouncegif.com tosses aside without reason.

We’ve every prescriptive reason to believe that soft-gif—the jif, the beacon of truth in the wars of the internet—is the one true pronunciation. It is with this that I close my case; do with it what you will.

Now, objectively, neither is especially correct. Both hard- and soft-gifs are in common use. Linguists are, as Daniel Ross goes over in more detail here, supposed to describe how language is used, not how it should be used, so the question as it stands won’t help you any more than the discussion at How do you pronounce "GIF"?.

This answer is largely tongue-in-cheek, as you might have guessed. I do use the soft-gif, but there’s no real problem with the other pronunciation. There are arguments for and against each, and I’ve lain out some above, but ultimately it comes down to what you and your friends want to say. According to The New York Times:

"Cultures typically associate a “standard” pronunciation as a marker of status. Mispronouncing a word—even a technical term—can cause feelings of shame and inadequacy. If people believe there is a logical basis for their pronunciation, they are not apt to give it up."

However, I still stick to my arguments in favour of soft-gif. To answer your question, both are objectively fine ways of saying GIF, but if you pronounce it with a hard “g” I do think you’re very wrong indeed.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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