How Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials Got Their Names

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In March, the Pew Research Center revamped their definitions for who gets counted under what generation. But who decides what those generations are named, if they get a name at all? Surprisingly, there isn’t one single clearinghouse where these names are chosen. Instead, generations frequently receive multiple names that then battle it out until only one remains—a process that is currently being fought between the likes of iGen, Generation Z, and Post-Millennials.

Although it’s not clear which name will come out on top for the current generation, older group names generally involve one writer picking a term and then a bunch of other writers all coming to some crude form of consensus—with a couple of failures along the way.

BABY BOOMERS (1946-1964)

Calling a dramatic increase in the number of children born a “baby boom” dates to the 19th century. In 1941, an issue of LIFE Magazine—discussing the increasing birthrate due to older couples having children after the Great Depression and the many marriages that came about because of the peacetime draft of 1940—proclaimed that “the U.S. baby boom is bad news for Hitler.”

The children who would come to be known as Baby Boomers, however, wouldn’t be born for a few more years as soldiers returned home from the war and the economy “boomed.”

Although the children born from 1946 to 1964 get the name Baby Boomers, that phrase wouldn’t appear until near the end of the generation. In January 1963 the Newport News Daily Press warned of a tidal wave of college enrollment coming as the “Baby Boomers” were growing up. That same year, the Oxford English Dictionary quoted the Salt Lake Tribune as saying “Statistics show that ... long hours of television viewing put an extra strain on chairs, causing upholstered seating pieces to wear out three to four times faster than in the days before television and the baby-boomers.”

Oddly, an alternate name for people born during this time was Generation X; as London's The Observer noted in 1964, “Like most generations, ‘Generation X’—as the editors tag today’s under 25s—show a notable lack of faith in the Old Ones.”

GENERATION X (1965-1980)

That comment in The Observer was in reference to a then-recently published book called Generation X by Jane Deverson and Charles Hamblett. A few years later, Joan Broad bought a copy at a garage sale, her son found it, and he fell in love with the name.

That son was Billy Idol, and according to his memoir, Dancing with Myself, “We immediately thought it could be a great name for this new band, since we both felt part of a youth movement bereft of a future, that we were completely misunderstood by and detached from the present social and cultural spectrum. We also felt the name projected the many possibilities that came with presenting our generation’s feelings and thoughts.” The band Generation X would begin Billy Idol’s career.

But the name Generation X wouldn’t become associated with a wide group of people until 1991. That's the year Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was released. The book became a sensation for its ability to capture early '90s culture and, although it didn’t coin the words, helped popularize a range of terms as diverse as McJob and pamphleting—and a name for an entire generation.

MILLENNIALS (1981-1996)

What comes after Generation X? Generation Y, obviously. That was the logic behind several newspaper columns that proclaimed the coming of Generation Y in the early '90s. (While the magazine Advertising Age traditionally gets the credit for coining the term in 1993, it was actually in use in 1992.) But as psychologist Jean Twenge explained to NPR regarding the failure of “baby busters” as a term to describe Generation X, “Labels that derive from the previous generation don't tend to stick.”

Instead, in 1991 authors Neil Howe and William Strauss wrote Generations, which included a discussion about the Millennials. According to Forbes, they felt that as the oldest members of this generation were graduating high school in 2000—and everyone was focusing on the coming date—Millennials seemed a natural fit.

'Turdsworth': Lord Byron’s Not-So-Affectionate Nickname for William Wordsworth

GeorgiosArt/iStock via Getty Images
GeorgiosArt/iStock via Getty Images

For those of you who thought William Wordsworth was a not-so-subtle pseudonym meant to further the literary brand of a certain 19th-century poet, think again: William Wordsworth’s real name was actually William Wordsworth.

The fitting, alliterative moniker makes it hard to forget that Wordsworth was a wordsmith, but it also made him an easy target for mockery at the hands of other Romantic era writers.

Some of it was the type of clever wordplay you might expect from England’s elite poets. In an essay for the London Review of Books, Michael Wood highlights the time that Samuel Taylor Coleridge sent his poem “The Nightingale” to Wordsworth, writing, “And like an honest bard, dear Wordsworth/You’ll tell me what you think, my Bird’s worth.”

While Coleridge’s witty rhyme poked fun at Wordsworth in a playful way, not all of his contemporaries were quite so kind. As Literary Hub points out, Lord Byron referred to Wordsworth as “Turdsworth.”

Byron’s jab sounds like something you’d hear at an elementary-school kickball game, but, then again, the eccentric poet was never one to adhere to anybody’s expectations—during college, for example, he often walked his pet bear around the grounds.

As for the word turd itself, it’s been around much longer than you might have realized. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it derives from the Old English word tord, meaning “piece of excrement,” and it’s been used as a personal insult ever since the 15th century.

If fecal-themed nicknames aren’t really your thing, here are 42 other Old English insults that you can fling with abandon.

[h/t Literary Hub]

14 Colonial-Era Slang Terms to Work Into Modern Conversation

The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

When you think of Colonial America, soldiers marching to fife and drum and Benjamin Franklin flying a kite are probably what come to mind. But the Colonial Period—which stretched from roughly 1607 to 1776, starting when America was just a group of colonies on the east side of the continent and ending with the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence—was a fascinating but complicated time in which settlers from England forged a proud new identity. These new settlers brought the English language with them when they came, and whenever English finds a new home, it often takes on a new life. America was no exception. Here are 15 slang words that were recorded in and around this period of American history.

1. Kedge

What It Meant: Doing well

In you lived in a country town in Colonial-era New England and someone asked how you were doing, you might have replied, “I’m pretty kedge.” It’s a bizarre but wonderful term that essentially means in being in good health—but it also kind of sounds like something a teen in an ‘80s movie would say.

2. Cat's-paw, or to be made a cat's-paw out of

What It Meant: To be a dupe, to be used as a tool.

This colorful expression came from a fable, The Monkey and the Cat, where a monkey persuades a cat to pull chestnuts out of a fire, promising the cat its share. Spoiler alert: The cat doesn't get any. So to be used for someone else's gain is to be made a "cat's paw out of."

3. Chuffy

What It Meant: Surly or impolite

If someone is short with you, tell them they don’t have to be so chuffy. It’s a strange, old word with obscure origins, and one that sounds a bit softer than “jerk.”

4. Scranch

What It Meant: To crack something between your teeth

Though this apparently “vulgar” term sounds like it was named after what it sounds like to crack something with your teeth, it supposedly comes from the Dutch word, schransen.

5. Gut-foundered

What It Meant: Very Hungry

This word, which dates to 1647, is believed to be regional Newfoundland slang. Gut-foundered could easily become a new hyperbole for us pampered moderns to employ, like “starving.”

6. Fishy

What It Meant: Drunk

Possibly no one invented more ways to say “drunk” than colonial Americans. Benjamin Franklin alone compiled 200 ways to say it. Fishy was meant to also imply the way the drinker looked: “Bleary eyes and turned-down mouth corners make a drunk resemble a fish,” writes Richard M. Lederer, Jr. at American Heritage.

7. Macaroni

What It Meant: Fancy

When Yankee Doodle called that feather hat “macaroni,” he wasn’t being a weirdo. Macaroni was a term used at the time to refer to a particular men’s fashion from England that was intentionally flashy, over-the-top, and androgynous.

8. Twistical

What It Meant: Unfair or immoral

This word—which according to 1848’s Dictionary of Americanisms was primarily used in New England—feels like it could just as easily have been invented today. Slip it into conversation in the next time you experience something unjust.

9. Savvy, Savey, or Sabby

What It Meant: To know or understand

While we still use this word to mean something like “literate” (computer-savvy), in Colonial times, it was actually used more like the way Jack Sparrow uses it. So you might say, “I don’t want to come to work anymore, savvy that?” According to Merriam-Webster, it’s derived from sabe, which means “he knows” in Portuguese. This became sabi in Creole, and later, “savvy.”

10. Adam’s Ale

What It Meant: Water

If you’re feeling thirsty for water, try using this slang term that was popular on both sides of the pond in the Colonial era. To quote a 1792 American poem by Philip Freneau, “In reason’s scale his actions weigh’d / His spirits want no foreign aid / Long life is his, in vigour passes / A spring that never grew stale / Such virtue lies in Adam’s Ale.”

11. Shaver

What It Meant: A young or adolescent boy

To call a boy a shaver was to imply that they were young enough that they just started shaving. Which is fitting, if a little condescending—like they’re not embarrassed enough already!

12. Jollification

What It Meant: Celebration or merrymaking

It's hard to even say jollification without sounding like a reenactor at Colonial Williamsburg. And though jollification sounds like it would be a good thing, it seems like there was also such a thing as too much jollification: The August 10, 1772 edition of The Pennsylvania Packet used the word in a morality tale about a man named Hilario: "What jolification [sic] could be complete without Hilario? Cards succeeded cards every morning to invite him to dinner, to routs, to dances; his only excuse was prior engagement, and he had not resolution to withstand the temptations.” By the end of the tale, according to Children In Colonial America, "a life of cards, women, and wanton spending slowly whittled away his wealth ... no woman would marry him, and even his good looks had failed him."

13. Simon Pure

What It Meant: The real deal, authentic, untainted

A delightful phrase that rolls off the tongue and could be dropped into many modern sentences. And when someone asks you, “who the heck is Simon?” you tell them that Simon Pure was a Quaker character who has to prove he’s the real Simon Pure in a 1718 play by Susanna Centlivre called A Bold Stroke for a Wife.

14. Circumbendibus

What It Meant: Roundabout

Of all the ways to describe something unnecessarily roundabout— like someone telling a rambling story or taking a weird road when driving somewhere—this word, which dates to 1681, might be the most delightful. It also shows how much we fun we had and still have with language, combining prefixes and suffixes to make new words.

Joe Gillard is the author of The Little Book of Lost Words, and the founder of History Hustle.

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