This business buzzword of the 1990s is actually about 30 years older. It appears in adjectival form in The Economist of 4 April 1959:
Italy’s “globalised quota” for imports of cars has been increased.
The word globalization itself appears in Merriam Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of 1961.
It’s even older in a more general, non-economic sense. It was used in reference to the spread of American racism by U.S. troops during the Second World War. From The Chicago Defender, 15 January 1944:
The American Negro and his problems are taking on a global significance. The world has begun to measure American by what she does to us. But—and this is the point—we stand in danger [...] of losing the otherwise beneficial aspects of the globalization of our problems by allowing the “Bilbos in uniform” with and without brass hats to spread their version of us everywhere.
And from the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (1951):
Replacing the central mythos of the medieval Church, this new culture pattern is in process of “globalization,” after a period of formation and formulation covering some three or four hundred years of westernization.
And in an entirely different sense, globalization was used in the 1920s by Belgian psychologist Jean-Ovide Decroly as jargon for a stage in a child’s development. He published La Fonction de Globalisation et l’Enseignement in 1929.
Glitch is from the German glitschen, via the Yiddish gletshn, meaning to slip. The term is technical jargon in the electronics world to describe what happens when the inputs of a circuit change. When this occurs, the outputs briefly spike to some random value before settling to the correct value. If the circuit is queried during a glitch, a wildly inaccurate response may result. From this it acquired a more general sense meaning any malfunction.1
The term gained popular currency through the U.S. space program. From John Glenn’s 1962 Into Orbit:
Another term we adopted to describe some of our problems was “glitch.” Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical circuit which takes place when the circuit suddenly has a new load put on it...A glitch...is such a minute change in voltage that no fuse could protect against it.2
1Historical Dictionary of American Slang, v. 1, A-G, edited by Jonathan Lighter (New York: Random House, 1994), 903.
Gig is an interesting word with a variety of senses, not all etymologically related.
The oldest sense is that of a top or other whirling object. Originally whirligig, the origin is unknown but is probably echoic. From Promptorium Parvulorum Sive Clericorum, Lexicon Anglo-Latinum Princeps, c.1440:
Whyrlegyge, chyldys game, giraculum.
(Whirligig, child’s game, giraculum.)1
This sense of top is the source of some other senses, such as a giddy or flighty person, fun, merriment, and a whim.
The term Generation X is much older than those that are usually assumed to belong to it. Generation X is a lost or disaffected cohort of youths; the X is a reference to the algebraic term for an unknown quantity. In recent years it has been applied to those coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s, the children of the Baby Boomers, although the term is much older than this generation.
It dates to 1952 and originally applied to the youth of that period. From Holiday magazine of December of that year:
What, you may well ask, is Generation X?...These are the youngsters who have seen and felt the agonies of the past two decades..., who are trying to keep their balance in the swirling pressures of today, and who will have the biggest say in the course of history for the next 50 years.
Use in reference to the post-Baby Boom generation dates to at least 1989, when the Toronto Star of 24 February had this to say:
What if this Generation X turns around collectively and comes to the conclusion they can’t sit around waiting, and instead...start their own businesses.
That same article coined the term Generation Xer for a member of Generation X:
The other possibility...is that the Generation X-ers will cope by changing their goals or changing their behavior.
Credit for the coinage of Generation X is often mistakenly given to Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel of that title, but while Coupland did much to popularize the term, he did not coin it.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition)
A gargoyle is a stone figure that forms part of the gutter system of medieval cathedrals. It is a spout, in the shape of some grotesque creature, that carries rainwater away from the walls of the building. The word is from the Old French gargouille, or throat, and is a reference to the water passing through the throat of the stone figure. The same root gives us the modern noun and verb gargle.
From the c.1386 century poem, Saint Erkenwald (the extant manuscript, BL Harley 2250, dates to sometime before 1500):
Hit was a throghe of thykke stone...With gargeles garnysht aboute, all of gray marbre.
(it was a tomb of thick stone…with gargoyles garnished about, all of gray marble.)
According to myth, in the 7th century a dragon, named Gargouille rose from the waters of the Seine River in France. Unlike the typical dragons of mythology, this one did not breathe fire, but rather was a water dragon. The monster proceeded to lay waste to the countryside around Paris by drowning it. St. Romain, the Archbishop of Rouen, accompanied only by a condemned prisoner, set out to stop the beast. Upon confronting the monster, the saint formed a cross with his two index fingers, taming Gargouille. The dragon was led back to Paris, where it was slain and burned. The head, however, was saved and mounted on a building. This legend supposedly gave rise to the architectural practice of designing waterspouts to look like monsters.
Nowadays, to frog march someone is to pin their arms behind their back and hustle them along with a person at either side. The term is usually used in reference to prisoners in police custody. From J. Ferguson’s 1931 Death Comes To Perigord:
Cæsar slewed him round, and forcing both arms behind his back, got ready to frog-march him to the door.
But why frogs? The answer is that the modern concept of frog-marching is not the original. Originally, frog-marching was carrying a person face downwards, with a man holding each limb. The metaphor comes from the idea that a frog crawls on its belly. From the Evening Standard, 18 April 1871:
They did not give the defendant the "Frog’s March".
This citation from the Birmingham Weekly Post of 15 November 1884 makes the concept clearer:
Deceased was ‘frog’s-marched’that is, with face downwardsfrom Deal to Walmer.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
A French kiss is an open-mouthed kiss with tongue and the term dates to the beginning of the 20th century. From a 1918 letter appearing in Private Lindner’s Letters: Censored and Uncensored:
So I have decided to become a linguist. Being able to read French fluently and speak it wretchedly, and to speak German connectively but not to read it at all, I am taking up Luxembourg, which is a wonderful blend of the two, a sort of laison [sic] between tongues. (Not to be confused with French kissing.)1
But why French? The French have been associated with sexual practices dating back to the 18th century. From Henry Fielding’s 1749 Tom Jones:
But I am so far from desiring to exhibit such Pictures to the Public, that I would wish to draw a Curtain over those that have lately been set forth in certain French novels.2
In this case, Fielding was writing about risqué novels that were literally French. By the mid-19th century, the figurative sense was well established. From Robert Browning’s 1842 Bells and Pomegranates:
Or, my scrofulous French novel,
On grey paper with blunt type!3
1Clarence R. Lindner, Private Lindner’s Letters, edited by Gladys Dudley Lindner (San Francisco, 1939), 119.
2Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, In Four Volumes, vol. 3 (Basil: J.L. Legrand, 1791), 306.
3Robert Browning, Bells and Pomegranates, edited by Thomas J. Wise (London: Ward, Lock & Company, 1896), 144.
Freelancing is a form of self-employment, where one hires out one’s services instead of being employed on a permanent basis. Many believe this term dates to the Middle Ages, referring to a knight who served as a mercenary, as opposed to pledging fealty to a single lord. While this is indeed the metaphor underlying the term, freelance only dates to the early 19th century and is applied anachronistically to medieval times. From Sir Walter Scott’s 1820 Ivanhoe:
I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances.
Figurative use, referring to something other than knights, dates to 1864. From The Standard of 16 April of that year:
They may be Free Lances in Parliament so long as the guerilla career suits them.
The verb and gerund are from the early 20th century. From Enoch Arnold Bennett’s 1903 The Truth About The Author:
What in Fleet Street is called “free-lancing.”
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
The modern phenomenon of UFO sightings dates to 1947. While occasional reportings of unusual objects in the sky date to the early 20th century, both the modern UFO craze and the term flying saucer date to this year.
On 24 June 1947, pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing several high-speed, unidentified flying objects near Mount Rainier in Washington state. This produced a spate of such “sightings” in the following days. Initial reports described these objects as “shaped like a pie plate” and within a few days this description morphed into flying saucer. From the Los Angeles Times, 28 June 1947:
Read the rest of the article...
The area over which the “flying saucers” were reported seen widened to Southwestern New Mexico today.
To come off with flying colors is to achieve great success. It is a military metaphor for leaving the battlefield still in possession of one’s flag. The phrase dates to the 17th century. From John Locke’s 1692 A Letter Concerning Toleration:
It may...bring a Man off with flying Colours.
And from George Farquhar’s 1706-07 A Beaux Stratagem:
We came off with flying colours.
Some claim a nautical origin for this phrase, but it appears to have got its start among armies, not navies.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2016, by David Wilton