In honor of Dictionary Day, here are notable new words coined the year you were born
The English language is a living, breathing, expanding phenomenon. The poet Derek Walcott once remarked, "The English language is nobody's special property. It is the property of the imagination: It is the property of the language itself."
Oct. 16 is Dictionary Day, a day to reflect on the importance the institution of the dictionary plays in recording how we use the English language. To celebrate, Stacker grabbed a handful of newly minted words from the years they were coined, from 1920 to 2020. Their definitions come from Merriam-Webster Time Traveler site, except for the years 2012-13 and 2017-18.
Year after year, new words are coined as time, technology, world events, and fashions dictate—but fads are fickle. If the public interest wanes for a particular trend, or world events are relegated to a foggy past, many associated words will be lost and forgotten. Still, others remain as mainstays to our evolving language and how we use or misuse it. Every three months, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) evaluates the vernacular, adding new words, tenses, and subentries to the language that the dictionary's lexicographers deem essential.
Words hold a fascination for all, from what they convey to the feelings and thoughts they evoke. Some may jog memories of incidents or events long past, while others forgotten throughout the years may be wholly new to some. When used correctly, a single word can slice through emotionally fraught situations. Or, when used incorrectly or at the wrong moment, that same word can supercharge an interaction, turning a mundane conversation into a conflagration of sentiment.
Read on for the words—and the events that may have triggered them—that reached popularity the year you were born.
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1920: Chemical weapon, fascista
Other notable words: loudspeaker, oxygen mask, smoke-filled room, submachine gun, technical sergeant, undercover
Between World Wars I and II, Britain, Spain, and Italy launched attacks using chemical weapons against Afghanistan, Iraq, and North Africa. Such weaponry was introduced during World War I. Fascista, a member of an Italian political organization following the principles of fascism under former Italian prime minister Benito Mussolini, first came into use this year. Its use faded after 1943 when Italy surrendered to allies.
1921: Capital gain, sales tax
Other notable words: grade point average, last-gasp, match point, over-the-counter, superiority complex, teenage
West Virginia was the first state to initiate a sales tax in 1921. Today, the state's sales tax is 6%. Investment income, such as capital gains and stock dividends, are usually subject to state income taxes.
1922: Café society, gestalt
Other notable words: anesthesiologist, baloney, mad money, mountain gorilla, saber rattling, xenophobe
Rudolph Valentino financed the first nightspot in Hollywood in 1922 welcoming fashionable, high-class café society patrons. German-born Kurt Koffka introduced psychologists to the gestalt movement in his work “Perception: An Introduction to the Gestalt Theory,” published in 1922.
1923: Bathtub gin, demand deposit
Other notable words: dial tone, endangered species, gross national product, photointerpretation, southern oscillation, ultrasound
Home distilling of illegal alcohol, known as bathtub gin during the Prohibition era, met only a small part of the demand for alcohol in 1923, but became a mainstream component of alcohol lore. Demand deposits, a phrase first coined in 1923, speak to the practice of allowing bank depositors to withdraw funds without warning or with minimal notice.
1924: Malarkey, scofflaw
Other notable words: answering machine, Bible Belt, freelancer, M-day, placement test, tossed salad
Politicians often accuse each other of speaking nonsense or ‘malarkey,’ a term believed first used by Irish cartoonist Thomas Aloysius Dorgan several years earlier. A Boston banker sponsored a contest to coin a derogatory term for law-breaking drinkers in 1924, and two contestants who came up with ‘scofflaw’ split a prize of $200 in gold.
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1925: Cosmic ray, Paul Bunyan
Other notable words: big government, desktop, gas station, honor guard, situation comedy, travel agent
Robert Millikan announced the discovery of cosmic rays, which are particles that bombard Earth from outside its solar system, in November 1925. James Stevens published the story of Paul Bunyan, a classic character of American folklore, in 1925.
1926: Nervous Nellie, Protestant ethic
Other notable words: Cotton candy, down payment, driver's license, meals-on-wheels, pig in a blanket, sugar daddy
In his 1926 book, "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," Max Weber examined the rise of modern economies and the institutions that influenced them. Frank Kellogg, secretary of state at the time, was chided for being a nervous Nellie in 1926 for his non-aggression foreign policies.
1927: Anti-Red, boondoggle
Other notable words: credit hour, Dixieland, interior design, mouthbreeder, ozone layer, zone defense
The 1927 execution of Niccola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, accused of murder on doubtful evidence, marked the high tide of the irrational anti-red hysteria in America. On a lighter note, Boy Scouts of America scoutmaster Robert Link, reportedly coined ‘boondoggle’ as the name of boy scouts’ traditional handcrafted braided leather cords.
1928: Astronautics, drill team
Other notable words: Councilwoman, inkblot test, indie, jalopy, Mediterranean diet, soundtrack
Space pioneer Robert Esnault-Pelterie first discussed the concept of astronautics with the French Astronomical Society in 1928, which is also the year the concept was named by J.H. Rosny. Gussie Nell Davis is credited with fielding the world's first dance/drill team in 1928.
1929: Antilife, in-line engine
Other notable words: blue-collar, hootenanny, hot spot, in-line engine, macadamia nut, penicillin, Sasquatch
Author and anti-Semite D.H. Lawrence spoke of his hatred for homosexuality in a letter to Else Jaffe, referring to it as ‘antilife.’ Squadron leader A.H. Orlebar of Great Britain set a world record and won the Schneider Trophy air race in 1929 in a seaplane using an in-line engine.
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