Words of 1912

This is the second installment of words for a given year. 1912 yielded 354 words with first appearances in the Oxford English Dictionary from that year. Music and psychology appear to be trending in this year. Here are the words I’ve selected:

ambivalence, n. I’m of two minds on this one. On one hand it’s not a very exciting word, but its twentieth century appearance is quite surprising. I would have thought it was much older. It’s from the German ambivalenz, which only appears in that language a year or two earlier. The German word is apparently modeled on equivalence. Early appearances of the English and German words are in psychological literature. The adjective ambivalent is taken from the noun and appears in 1916.

autism, n. This noun, and the adjective autistic, were both coined in 1912, when psychiatrists first defined the disorder.

blues, n. 1912 saw the appearance of two marquee music terms. The name for the musical style is first cited in the OED from this year, although it was likely used by musicians prior to this year. The use of blues to denote depression and low spirits dates to the eighteenth century.

Canfield, n. You may not know the name of the game, but odds are that you’ve played it. Canfield, also known as Klondike, is the standard game of solitaire. While the OED records it from 1912, the name is certainly older. It is named after Richard Canfield who introduced the game into his Saratoga Springs, New York casino in the 1890s.

dupe, v.2 This verb from the film industry means to make a copy of a film, or later a copy of anything. Originally it referred especially to making pirated copies of a film. I have to quibble with the OED on the etymology, or at least wonder about the dictionary’s evidence for their choice. The dictionary says it is from the noun, dupe, which is a clipping of the noun duplicate. But the noun dupe isn’t recorded until 1916. It appears equally likely to me that this verb is a clipping of the verb to duplicate, and the noun comes from it.

electronically, adv. The original sense of this adverb refers to actions and things regarding electrons, which had been discovered in the 1890s. The sense meaning “by use of electronic equipment” dates to the 1940s.

frumpiness, adj. There’s not much to say about this wonderful word other than it is first recorded in C. N. and A. M. Williamson’s book The Heather Moon in 1912.

grognard, n. This is a rather specialized word. A grognard is a soldier of Napoleon’s Old Guard. In French, the word literally means “grumbler,” and is a nickname the emperor used for his most elite, veteran troops. Anyone who has ever spent time around soldiers knows why.

hometown, n. Another surprisingly late appearance. I would have thought the word was much older.

irregardless, adj. & adv. A favorite bugaboo of prescriptivists, irregardless first appears in Wentworth’s American Dialect Dictionary in 1912.

jazz, n. This is the second big music word of 1912, although the musical meaning didn’t come along until a few years later. Jazz is first used in west-coast baseball circles to denote energy and enthusiasm. Adopted by musicians hired to play at the San Francisco Seals spring-training camp in 1913, it worked its way east and into music lingo.

Kuomintang, n. Sun Yat-Sen founded this nationalist Chinese political party in 1912.

long-playing, adj. This adjective was used in the music industry to denote records that played for an extended period, a whole fifteen minutes or more. It also gives rise to an initialism, L.P., that designates a record that spins at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. But these developments came a later. In 1912, the word was used to denote a phonograph needle that played a whole ten times before wearing out.

low-rent, adj. The 1912 use of this adjective was quite literal, referring a property that was leased inexpensively. The sense of “second-rate” or “tacky” appears in the 1960s.

Montessori, n. The proper noun denoting Maria Montessori’s (1870–1952) educational system was first used in English in this year.

nosedive, n. Another aviation word (see the 1911 list). It makes sense that this metaphor would not appear before the advent of aircraft. The extended use of the noun outside of aviation is in place by 1919. The verb makes its appearance in 1915.

Oreo, n. The Nabisco cookie hit the market this year.

Ottomanization, n. This is a short-lived term, at least in non-historical usage, as the Ottoman Empire would collapse within the decade. The term denotes the political program of enforcing Turkish culture throughout the empire.

Piltdown, n. The “discovery” of the “fossil” Piltdown man was announced in 1912. Named after the village in Sussex, England where the supposed fossils were uncovered, this find is perhaps the most infamous hoax/fraud in the history of paleontology. While doubts about the find’s authenticity were raised almost immediately, it wasn’t until 1953 that the scientific community generally accepted that they had been had.

Pimm’s, n. Trade name for a British gin-based liquor. My reasons for including it, besides Pimm’s No. 1 (Cup) having been trademarked in 1912, are only that I was introduced to it during a memorable night of particularly heavy drinking with British artillery officers at Grafenwöhr Training Area in Germany.

punch-drunk, adj. & n. Yet another surprisingly late appearance. The word describes a dazed boxer and not an American soldier who has had too much Pimm’s.

Rottweiler, n. This name for the dog breed was introduced into English in 1912. It dates to at least 1908 in German usage.

schizophrenia, n. This name for the psychiatric disorder first appears in The Lancet in 1912. It had been in use in German since 1910.

vigorish, n. This word of uncertain, but probably Yiddish, origin refers to the interest on a usurious loan. It is often clipped to vig, and is a staple of mobster vocabulary, or at least how that cant is portrayed in the movies and television. (Despite coming from New Jersey, I don’t know any actual mobsters.)

vitamin, n. This term was coined in 1912 when the precise chemical compounds that prevented scurvy and other maladies were discovered. It was originally spelled vitamine, from the Latin vita, “life,” + -amine, out of the mistaken belief that these were basic compounds. The final e was dropped in 1920 when it was discovered that they were not. (The -in ending is standard chemical nomenclature for a substance of undefined composition.)

walk-in, adj. & n. This term designates a person who enters premises without an appointment. In early use it was often used to denote a thief.

yes-man, n. While obsequious people have been known since antiquity, this word for one of them is less than a century old.

These words are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, based on that dictionary’s earliest citation for that word. Of course, that does not necessarily mean the word was coined in the given year; it only means that is the earliest date the big dictionary has for the word. In many cases, these words can and have been antedated. For each year, I try to select twenty-six words, one for each letter of the alphabet. But in some cases I’ve got more than one for a particular letter, in others none. My selection is not scientific or systematic; it is based on what I think is interesting; Sometimes they are words that appear earlier or later than I would have thought; others have a particular historical affiliation for that year or represent some historical trend; and others are just odd words. I’m avoiding back-formations and variations on existing words. Again, be warned that the coining of a word does not necessarily coincide with the invention of a concept. Often, there will be older words that express the same sense.

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