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25 Words Turning 25 in 2016

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istock collage

If you were born in 1991, not only do you have something in common with the World Wide Web, the Honeycrisp apple, and the Jerry Springer show, you got to grow up with these words that have their first Oxford English Dictionary citations in 1991.


This cute word for a best friend started as a Britishism. The first citation from the OED, an Observer article, qualifies besties with the explanation “reliable pals from school.”


The verb to crowd-surf first shows up in print in Canada, in a 1991 Globe & Mail article. 


People were not just surfing crowds in 1991, but also couches, though then it referred to “a person who (habitually) engages in sedentary activities, esp. television watching; a ‘couch potato.’” The first citation for the meaning of crashing at friends’ places is from 1993. 


This word for a person who eats fish but not meat was formed on analogy with vegetarian.


This name for “a member or follower of any of several loosely affiliated, mainly American, feminist rock or punk groups of the early 1990s” was taken from the title of a zine (1965) that started in 1991. The OED lists additional forms riot grrl and riot grrrl.


This word for “constructed language” arose in Usenet newsgroups where people discussed the then-newly burgeoning hobby of making up languages.


The new thing in '90s workplaces was having everyone share or rotate among desks instead of having the desks assigned to individuals. Technology and work-from-home arrangements have made the practice more common.


Though the noun bitch slap, slang for “a stinging slap or blow … delivered to humiliate a person regarded as inferior” showed up in the 1987 liner notes for the Guns N’ Roses album Appetite for Destruction, it was first recorded as a verb in 1991.


The nickname for “men’s sung-fitting white cotton underpants” was included in a 1991 campus slang guide.


In a 1991 Usenet newsgroup discussion, Mike Godwin laid out his formulation of what came to be known as Godwin’s Law: “as a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” It now applies for all kinds of online debate. 


As an English term for “the purging, by mass expulsion or killing, or one ethnic or religious group by another,” it was first applied during the wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia. It was modeled on an existing Serbo-Croatian term.


A play on the idea of “pharmaceutical farming” it refers to “the process of genetically modifying plants and animals so that they produce substances which may be used as pharmaceuticals.”


Remember the cyber days? This word for an internet broadcast had its time in the '90s, but eventually faded away.


Other cyber- compounds came of age in the '90s, including this one, which hasn’t faded away quite so fast. 


The verb to skeeve or skeeve out had been around since the late '80s, but in 1991, it also became an adjective meaning "disgusted, repelled, discomforted."


This shortening of girlfriend gets its first use in early '90s Usenet groups.


This version of new school, formed as a counterpoint to old school, designates “any of several styles of popular music which incorporate contemporary elements into an established genre (esp. hip-hop or house music).”


Both heteronormative and heternormativity showed up in 1991 to sum up “a world view which regards gender roles as fixed to biological sex and heterosexuality as the normal and preferred sexual orientation.”


It was 1991 when role-playing games became a topic of enough discussion to make live-action role-player just too cumbersome and LARPer took its place.


In 1991, this British term emerged for “a (type of) young man who embraces sexist attitudes and the traditional male role as a reaction against the perceived effeminacy of the ‘new man’; esp, one who does so (or who claims to do so ) knowingly and with a sense of ironic detachment.”


The same year we invented the World Wide Web, we also got this term for something that eats up a lot of time.

22. TASE

The Taser was invented in 1972, but we got the verb to tase much later.


The name for this type of intense snowboard race was formed on analogy with motorcross


The God Particle, the book that introduced the Higgs boson with this nickname, wasn’t published until 1993, but in 1991 a New York Times book review mentioned the “forthcoming history of particle physics” by title. 


It’s been 25 years since the Saturday Night Live sketch "Wayne’s World" introduced us to babelicious. Party time! Excellent!

How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters

According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]


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