20 Words Turning 100 in 2019

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iStock.com/bortonia

In the year 1919, some of the world’s preeminent thinkers were busy inventing the rotary dial telephone and pop-up toaster, signing the Treaty of Versailles, and forming the League of Nations, which preceded the United Nations. They were also dabbling in clever wordplay and coining some snazzy new terms.

Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler tool shows you the words that were first recorded in any given year—from 1472 to 2016—and some of the ones from 1919 might surprise you. Here are a few of our favorite newfangled terms from 100 years ago.

1. Anti-stress

The adjective anti-stress came along decades before de-stress, which was introduced to the English language in 1979. It refers to anything that prevents or alleviates stress.

2. Apple-knocker

You may have attended an apple-knocker wedding in the past. The 1919 sense of the word meant “rustic,” but Dictionary.com states it could also mean “uncouth” or “rude.” A newspaper article from 1927 described an apple-knocker as “a peculiar type of human being who insists upon doing and saying things that, while offering satisfaction to himself, causes mental and physical inconvenience to others.”

3. Balletomane

Ballet dancers in white tutus
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Swan Lake lovers, this one's for you: A balletomane is a devotee of ballet. It stems from the Russian baletoman, which unites the words ballet (balet) and mania (maniya). Balletomania is the noun.

4. Bats

Unlike the animal, which Merriam-Webster defines in the singular form, bat with an s is a synonym of batty—as in mentally unstable or unhinged.

5. Beavertail

This curiously named plant is a prickly pear cactus that grows in the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. British pastries known as arlettes are also sometimes called beavertails, but that reference came later.

6. Complimentary close

You might not realize there’s a term for the words you use to close an email (or, in the case of our 1919 predecessors, a letter). The phrase that comes before your signature and expresses your "regard for the receiver”—such as “sincerely yours”—is considered a complimentary close.

7. Danish pastry

Cherry Danish pastry with vanilla icing
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This delicious and often fruit-filled pastry isn’t actually Danish at all. The treats are called “Viennese bread” in Denmark because they were brought to the country by Austrians. Nowadays, we just call them Danishes—even if it is a misnomer.

8. Didgeridoo

This fun-to-say instrument invented by Australian aborigines first wormed its way into the English language in 1919. It’s essentially a bamboo or wooden trumpet.

9. Dunker

This early sports term is straightforward enough: It refers to a basketball player who makes dunk shots. The sport itself was invented 28 years earlier at Springfield College in Massachusetts.

10. Fanboy

This term for “a boy or man who is an extremely or overly enthusiastic fan of someone or something” predates our internet-fueled obsession with celebrities. The female equivalent, fangirl, didn’t roll around until 1934.

11. Golden retriever

These very good golden boys were first bred in Scotland in 1865. A breeder mated a yellow retriever with a Tweed water spaniel, and their offspring became a new breed of dog that would later be called golden retrievers.

12. Jigsaw puzzle

White jigsaw puzzle on a red table with one piece missing
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According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle were cut with a vertical reciprocating saw called a jigsaw in the early 1900s—hence the name jigsaw puzzle. (Before that, they were known as dissected maps or dissected pictures).

13. Outgas

No, this doesn’t refer to a farting contest, but rather the removal of gases from a material or space (usually by heating).

14. Phooey

What in tarnation? This interjection, used to “express repudiation or disgust,” has probably been in use before your grandpa was born. Some other fun synonyms include faugh, phew, yech, and rats.

15. Putsch

We can thank the Swiss German language for this word. Also known as a coup d'état, it refers to “a secretly plotted and suddenly executed attempt to overthrow a government.”

16. Polyphiloprogenitive

Philoprogenitive refers to a fondness for children or the tendency to make a lot of babies. Phil means loving, and the Latin progenitus means begot. Add a poly to it and you get someone or something that’s “extremely prolific” when it comes to creating new life. T.S. Eliot likely coined the term in his religious poem "Mr. Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service."

17. Skivvies

Blue boxer shorts hanging on a line drying
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If you’re looking to spice up your vocabulary, swap out underpants for skivvies. According to one newspaper article from 1927, this word started out as U.S. Navy slang.

18. Snooty

Snobby is a slightly older term, having first been documented in 1846, but snooty also gets the point across. If you don’t like either of those words, try snotty, potty, or the chiefly British term toffee-nosed.

19. Superpimp

This word is exactly what you’d expect: a very successful pimp. How one defines success of this nature is another question entirely.

20. Xanadu

Long before Xanadu was an awesomely terrible movie starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly, it meant “an idyllic, exotic, or luxurious place.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1816 poem "Kubla Khan" refers to a place called Xanadu, and his rich imagery “fired public imagination and ultimately contributed to the transition of Xanadu from a name to a generalized term for an idyllic place,” Merriam-Webster notes. It also happened to be the name of Charles Foster Kane's fictional estate in Citizen Kane (1941).

10 Vacation Destinations That Ended Up in the Dictionary

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iStock/Jasmina007

Thinking of getting away from it all this summer? How about France? Italy? The Mediterranean? Or what about somewhere more exotic, like north Africa or southeast Asia? Well, no need to pop down to your local travel agent to find out more, because all of these can be found much closer to home in the pages of a dictionary …

1. Genoa, Italy

In the early Middle Ages, the city of Genoa in northwest Italy became known for its production of a type of fustian, a thick, hard-wearing cotton fabric typically used to make workmen’s clothes. In English, this cloth became known as gene fustian in honor of the city in which it was made, but over time gene altered to jean, and the hard-wearing workmen’s clothes made from it became known as jeans. The fabric that jeans are made of today, however, is denim—which was originally manufactured in and named for the city of Nîmes in southern France.

2. Paris, France

Speaking of France: The Romans knew Paris as Lutetia Parisorum, meaning “the swamps of the Parisii,” after the name of a local Gaulish tribe. It’s this Latin name, Lutetia, that is the origin of the chemical element lutetium, which was discovered by a team of scientists working in Paris’s Sorbonne University in 1907. Not that Paris is the only city with an element named after it, of course: hafnium derives from the Latin name for Copenhagen, Denmark; darmstadtium takes its name from Darmstadt in Germany; and holmium is named for Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. Speaking of which …

3. Sweden

A light napped leather made from the softer underside of animal hides, suede has been manufactured in northern Europe for centuries. But it wasn’t until the early 1800s that soft, high-quality suede gloves first began to be imported into Britain from France, when they were sold under their chic French name of gants du suèdes—or, the “gloves of Sweden.” The name soon stuck, and eventually came to be used of the fabric suede itself.

4. Milan, Italy

If you’re looking to buy a chic hat to match your chic Swedish gloves, then you’re best off heading to your local milliner’s. Millinery takes its name from the Italian city of Milan, from where all manner of high-end fashion accessories, including laces, gloves, handbags, and hats, were imported into England in the early 17th century. The name milliner—which was originally just another word for a Milanese person—eventually came to refer to anyone involved in the sale of such products (Shakespeare used it to mean a glove salesman in The Winter’s Tale), but over time its use came to refer only to someone involved in the hat trade.

5. Dubrovnik, Croatia

From Italy, it’s a short ferry trip to the stunning Croatian city—and UNESCO World Heritage site—of Dubrovnik. Like Paris, it’s Dubrovnik’s Latin name, Ragusa, that has found a permanent place in the language. In the late Middle Ages, the city became known for its large fleets of merchant ships that were known across Mediterranean Europe as ragusea, but in English this name eventually simplified (and metathesized) to argosy.

6. Cyprus

In Latin, copper was known as cuprum (which is why its chemical symbol is Cu, not Co). In turn, cuprum is a contraction of the Latin phrase Cyprium aes, meaning the “Cyprian metal,” because historically the Mediterranean island of Cyprus was a principal copper mine of the Roman Empire.

7. Mahón, Spain

Another Mediterranean island to have (apparently) found its way into the dictionary is Minorca, the second-largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands. When the island and its capital, Mahón, was captured by France during the Seven Years’ War in 1756, a local speciality was supposedly taken home by the victorious French troops: sauce mahonnaise, as it was known, made from a mix of oil, vinegar, and egg yolk, eventually became a popular condiment and garnish and was first introduced to the English-speaking world as mayonnaise in the early 1800s.

8. The Canary Islands

Another Spanish island group, the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa, gave their name to the small finches that were found there by European settlers in the 16th century. The wild birds were originally a dull greenish color, but have since been domesticated and selectively bred to come in almost any color possible, although traditional yellow canaries are by far the most familiar. Despite their contribution to the language, incidentally, the Canary Islands themselves are actually named after dogs.

9. Tangier, Morocco

Head northeast from the Canary Islands and you’ll reach the Moroccan port of Tangier on the Straits of Gibraltar, which in the 18th century gave its name to a small, slightly darker-colored variety of mandarin orange that was grown in the area—the tangerine.

10. Sri Lanka

The word serendipity was coined by the English author and historian Horace Walpole, who wrote in a letter to his friend (and distant cousin) Horace Mann in 1754 of a discovery that was “almost of that kind which I call Serendipity.” Walpole explained that he had taken the word from “a silly fairy tale” called The Three Princes of Serendip, whose title characters “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” It might come from a “silly fairy tale,” but the magical land of Serendip is actually a real place—it’s an old name for the island of Sri Lanka.

This list first ran in 2015 and was republished in 2019.

Why 'Run' Is The Most Complex Word in the English Language

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iStock.com/VectorStory

English can be hard for other language speakers to learn. To use just one example, there are at least eight different ways of expressing events in the future, and conditional tenses are another matter entirely. For evidence of the many nuances and inconsistencies of the English tongue, look no further than this tricky poem penned in 1920. (For a sample: “Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to give up!”)

As author Simon Winchester wrote for The New York Times, there’s one English word in particular that’s deceptively simple: run. As a verb, it boasts a record-setting 645 definitions. Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, spent nine months sussing out its many shades of meaning.

“You might think this word simply means ‘to go with quick steps on alternate feet, never having both or (in the case of many animals) all feet on the ground at the same time,’” Winchester writes. “But no such luck: that is merely sense I.1a, and there are miles to go before the reader of this particular entry may sleep.”

This wasn’t always the case, though. When the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928, the word with the most definitions was set. However, the word put later outpaced it, and run eventually overtook them both as the English language's most complex word. Winchester thinks this evolution is partly due to advancements in technology (for instance, “a train runs on tracks” and “an iPad runs apps”).

He believes the widespread use of run—and its intricate web of meanings—is also a reflection of our times. “It is a feature of our more sort of energetic and frantic times that set and put seem, in a peculiar way, sort of rather stodgy, rather conservative,” Gilliver told NPR in an interview.

So the next time you tell your boss you "want to run an idea" by them, know that you’re unconsciously expressing your enthusiasm—as well as all the other subtleties wrapped up in run that previous words like set failed to capture.

[h/t The New York Times]

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