20 Words Turning 100 in 2019

iStock.com/bortonia
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
iStock.com/abezikus

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
iStock.com/Lauri Patterson

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
iStock.com/yejin kang

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
iStock.com/mydoc3737

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).

What Are The Most Popular Baby Names In Your State? An Interactive Tool Will Tell You

iStock/PeopleImages
iStock/PeopleImages

Baby names can be just as in vogue, as unpopular, and occasionally as controversial as any fashion trend. If you were ever curious to see which names were the most popular in your home state, now you can.

The Social Security Administration has an interactive tool on its website that allows users to see the top 100 names that made it onto birth certificates by both birth year and state. There’s also an option for seeing what the top five names were by year, plus links to the most popular baby names by territory and decade as well as background info that explains the data itself.

Maine, for example, saw a high number of Olivers and Charlottes born in 2018 while Brysons and Viviennes rolled in last. If one were to turn the Census clock back to 1960 (the earliest year the tool can take you to), they would find that Pine Tree State folks were most partial to the names David and Susan. The names at the bottom for that year? Darryl and Lynne.

Baby names can offer telling insight into an era—they often reflect significant cultural happenings of the time. In 2009, for example, it was reported that there was a significant increase in Twilight-related names like Bella, Cullen, Jasper, Alice, and Emmett, whereas 2019 saw a spike in children’s names more appropriately found in Westeros, with Arya and Khaleesi topping the list (though one mom came to regret naming her daughter the latter).

Each of the names on the website were taken from Social Security applications. There are certain credentials by which names are listed, including the name being at least two characters long. Although it is not provided by the tool, records kept by the administration list the most popular names as far back as the 1880s.

10 Words & Phrases Coined in Comic Strips

iStock/crisserbug
iStock/crisserbug

Cartoons, comics, and newspaper comic strips might seem like an unusual source of new words and phrases, but English is such an eclectic language—and comic strips have always had daily access to such a vast number of people—that a few of their coinages have slipped into everyday use. Here are the etymological stories behind 10 examples of precisely that.

1. Brainiac

The most famous brainiac is a cold-hearted, hyper-intelligent adversary of Superman who first appeared as an alien in DC Comics’ Action Comic #242, “The Super-Duel In Space,” in 1958. But after releasing his first adventure, DC Comics discovered that the name was already in use for a do-it-yourself computer kit. In deference to the kit, Brainiac was turned into a “computer personality” and became the great villain. As a nickname for an expert or intellectual, his (and the kit’s) name slipped into more general use in English by the early 1970s.

2. Curate’s Egg

Like the curate’s egg is a 19th century English expression that has come to mean something comprised of both good and bad parts. It comes from a one-off cartoon entitled “True Humility” that appeared in the British satirical magazine Punch in November 1895. Drawn by the artist George du Maurier (grandfather of the novelist Daphne du Maurier), the cartoon depicted a stern-looking bishop sharing breakfast with a young curate, who has unluckily been served a bad egg. Not wanting to make a scene in front of the bishop, the curate is shown eating the egg anyway, alongside the caption “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you, parts of it are excellent.”

3. Goon

Goon is thought to originally derive from gony, an old English dialect word once used by sailors to describe cumbersome-looking seabirds like albatrosses and pelicans. Based on this initial meaning, in the early 1900s, goon came to be used as another word for an equally dull-looking or slow-witted person, and it was this that presumably inspired Popeye cartoonist EC Segar to create the character of Alice the Goon for his Thimble Theater series of comics in 1933. But it’s Segar’s portrayal of Alice—as a dutiful but impossibly strong 8-foot giantess—that went on to inspire the use of goon as a nickname for a hired heavy or thug, paid to intimidate or terrorize someone without asking questions, in 1930s slang.

4. Jeep

Jeep is popularly said to derive from an approximate pronunciation of the letters “GP,” which are in turn taken as an abbreviation of “general purpose” vehicle. If so, then jeep belongs alongside only a handful other examples (like deejay, okay, veep and emcee) in an unusual class of words that begin their life as a phrase, then become an abbreviation, and then a whole new word based on the abbreviation—but in the case of jeep, that’s probably not the entire story. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the spelling jeep was likely influenced by the character Eugene the Jeep, a yellow cat-like animal (that only ever made a jeep! jeep! noise) that also first appeared alongside Popeye in EC Segar’s Thimble Theater in 1936. Jeep was then adopted into military slang during the Second World War as a nickname for an inexperienced or enthusiastic new recruit, but eventually somehow came to establish itself as another name for a specialized military vehicle in the early 1940s and it’s this meaning that remains in place today.

5. Keeping Up With The Joneses

A Keeping Up With the Joneses strip from 1921
A "Keeping up with the Joneses" comic strip from 1921
Pop Momand, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Synonymous with the quiet rivalries between neighbors and friends, the idiom keeping up with the Joneses comes from the title of a comic strip created by the cartoonist Arthur “Pop” Momand in 1913. Based partly on Momand’s own experiences in one of the wealthiest parts of New York, the strip ran for almost 30 years in the American press and even inspired a cartoon series during the height of its popularity in the 1920s. The eponymous Joneses—whom Momand wanted originally to call “The Smiths,” before deciding that “Joneses” sounded better—were the next-door neighbors of the cartoon’s central characters, but were never actually depicted in the series.

6. Malarkey

Etymologically, malarkey is said to somehow derive from the old Irish surname Mullarkey, but precisely how or why is unclear. As a nickname for rubbish or nonsense talk, however, its use in English is often credited to the American cartoonist Thomas Aloysius Dorgan—better known as “TAD”—who first used it in this context in several of his Indoor Sports cartoon series in the early 1920s. But the spelling hadn’t been standardized yet. Once he spelled it Milarkey referring to a place, and in one famous example, depicting a courtroom scene, one of Dorgan’s characters exclaims, “Malachy! You said it: I wouldn’t trust a lawyer no further than I could throw a case of Scotch!” (Dorgan, incidentally, is also credited with giving the English language the phrases cat’s pajamas and drugstore cowboy.)

7. Milquetoast

Taking his name from the similarly bland breakfast snack “milk toast,” the character Caspar Milquetoast was created by the American cartoonist Harold T. Webster in 1924. The star of Webster’s Timid Soul comic strip, Caspar was portrayed as a quiet, submissive, bespectacled old man, whom Webster himself once described as the kind of man who “speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick.” His name has been used as a byword for any equally submissive or ineffectual person since the mid-1930s.

8. Poindexter

When Otto Messmer’s Felix the Cat comic strip was adapted for television in the late 1950s, a whole host of new supporting characters was added to the cast, including a super-intelligent, labcoat-wearing schoolboy named Poindexter, who was the nephew of Felix’s nemesis, The Professor. Created by the cartoonist Joe Oriolo, Poindexter’s name—which was apparently taken from that of Oriolo’s attorney—had become a byword for a nerdish or intellectual person in English slang by the early 1980s.

9. Shazam

Shazam was coined in Whiz Comics #2 in February 1940, as the name of an old wizard who grants 12-year-old Billy Batson the ability to transform into Captain Marvel. The wizard’s name, Shazam, was henceforth also Captain Marvel’s magic word, with which he was able to call on the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury.

10. Zilch

As another word for “zero,” zilch has been used in English since the early '60s. But before then, from the 1930s onward, it was predominantly used as a nickname for any useless and hopeless character or non-entity or someone who didn't exist. In this context it was probably coined in and popularized by a series of cartoons that first appeared in Ballyhoo humor magazine in 1931, and which featured a hapless unseen businessman character named “President Henry P. Zilch.” Although it’s possible the writers of Ballyhoo created the name from scratch, it’s likely that they were at least partly inspired by an old student slang expression, Joe Zilsch, which was used in the 1920s in the same way as John Doe or Joe Sixpack would be today.

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

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