20 Words Turning 100 in 2019
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
No, this doesn’t refer to a farting contest, but rather the removal of gases from a material or space (usually by heating).
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.
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.”
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."
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.
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.
This word is exactly what you’d expect: a very successful pimp. How one defines success of this nature is another question entirely.
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).