1925 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 449 words with first citations from 1925. In that year Kleenex, Leica cameras, knitwear, and zippers hit the market. You could have a cuppa, cannoli, party mix, Tootsie Rolls, or Wheaties. This was the year when both Australopithecus and the monkey trial debuted. Ivan was exporting Trotskyism via the Comintern, and the specter of the Red Chinese was rising in the East. And a shamus could put a mercy killer in the hot seat

Events of 1925:

  • January: The sled dog Balto leads his team into Nome, Alaska, carrying diphtheria toxin to that stricken city.
  • February: The New Yorker publishes its first issue; Friedrich Ebert, president of Germany, dies.
  • March: Former President of China Sun Yat-sen dies.
  • April: The Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes opens in Paris, spawning what would decades later become known as the Art Deco style; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is published; artist John Singer Sargent dies.
  • May: In Dayton, Tennessee, John Scopes is arrested for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution; Virginia Woolf publishes Mrs. Dalloway; WWI Field Marshal John French dies.
  • June: Walter Chrysler founds his automobile company; Charles Francis Jenkins transmits synchronized images and sound wirelessly using an electromechanical system, an early form of television; U. S. politician Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. of Wisconsin dies.
  • July: Adolf Hitler publishes Mein Kampf; the Soviet TASS news agency is founded; U. S. politician and Scopes Monkey Trial prosecutor William Jennings Bryan dies.
  • August: 40,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan march in Washington, D. C.
  • September: The U. S. Navy airship Shenandoah breaks apart in a squall, killing fourteen crew.
  • October: Mount Rushmore is dedicated; enclosed double-decker buses hit the streets of London; the New York Giants NFL team play their first game, beating All New Britain, from New Britain, Connecticut 26–0; baseball player Christy Mathewson dies.
  • November: WSM Barn Dance, a Nashville radio show, debuts, it will later be renamed the Grand Ole Opry.
  • December: Reza Shah is coronated in Persia; excavation to completely uncover the Great Sphinx of Giza begins, it won’t be completed until 1936.

The words of 1925:

arachnophobia, n. People have been had a fear of spiders since forever, but in 1925 this word for that fear was coined.

arthroscopy, n. (also arthroscope, n.) This was cutting edge medicine in 1925, which on a personal note was just about the time my grandfather graduated from medical school.

Australopithecus, n. This name was given to a fossil find found at Taung, South Africa the previous year by Australian anthropologist Raymond Dart. It means southern ape in Latin.

Bell, n.5 It was in 1925 that the Bell Telephone Company acquired the sobriquet of Ma Bell, first used by its employees and then later by the general public.

cannoli, n. A cannolo is an Italian desert, a tube of pastry with a sweet filling. Cannoli is the plural in Italian; the singular is rarely found in English. And, of course, the delicacy bequeathed to us what is perhaps the greatest line of dialogue in cinematic history, from 1974’s The Godfather, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

chewy, adj. It seems that every year has a surprise like this one. How did English get along without this adjective for 1,400 years?

Comintern, n. The Communist International was created in 1919 in Russia, but the blend Comintern didn’t appear in English until six years later.

cuppa, n. A Briticism that is all but unknown in North America, this one first appears in P. G. Wodehouse’s 1925 Sam the Sudden. It means, of course, cup of [tea (usually)].

dream team, n. The Dream Team was the 1992 U. S. men’s Olympic basketball team, but the use of the term to mean an all-star team dates back to 1925. That 1992 team, formed after a relaxation of U. S. Olympic Committee rules that allowed professionals to play in the Olympics for the first time, consisted of Christian Laettner (Duke Univ.), David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs), Patrick Ewing (N. Y. Knicks), Larry Bird (Boston Celtics), Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls), Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls), Clyde Drexler (Portland Trail Blazers), Karl Malone (Utah Jazz), John Stockton (Utah Jazz), Chris Mullin (Golden State Warriors), Charles Barkley (Phoenix Suns), and Magic Johnson (L. A. Lakers), and was coached by Chuck Daly.

electronvolt, n. This unit of energy used by particle physicists got its name in 1925. It’s equivalent to about 1.602 × 10-19 joule, or in layman’s terms “very, very small.”

enhat, v. The OED only has two citations of this verb, both from the Times of London in 1925. It refers to the process of investing a new Roman Catholic cardinal with new head covering. The dictionary citations are too brief to tell for sure, but I’m reasonably sure the term is jocular.

freebie, n. and adj. We all like getting something without paying for it, and in 1925 we came up with a name for such things.

gavel, v.4 This verb meaning to hammer with a gavel, as when bringing a meeting to order, is unremarkable. What’s remarkable is that the OED as three other distinct verbs that are spelled the same way. One is a pseudo-archaic word for the distributing of land according to the medieval practices of gavelkind, a system of land tenure that mainly existed in Kent. Another is a dialectal verb meaning to collect mown corn into heaps. And the third is an obsolete verb meaning to either seize property for taxes or tribute or to pay rent for land.

guppy, n.1 In 1866, Robert J. L. Guppy discovered what he thought was a new species of fish, which was dubbed Girardinus guppii in his honor when a specimen was sent to the British Museum. But unbeknownst to him, the fish had already been described and was known in North America under the name Poecilia reticulata, which, being first, is the official name according to the rules of taxonomy. Still, the newer name survived for quite some time in British biological circles, and by 1925 the common name guppy had been coined.

hot seat, n. This term originally referred to the electric chair. But by 1930, it was being used in the metaphorical sense of being in a position where one is accountable for one’s actions.

Ivan, n. The name Ivan Ivanovitch had long been the personification of the Russian people, like John Bull is of the English, but by 1925 it had been clipped to simply Ivan.

Kleenex, n. This brand of facial tissues was trademarked in 1925.

knitwear, n. This marketing category was created in 1925.

Leica, n. Camera-maker Ernst Leitz brought his eponymous line of products to market in that same year.

lipid, n. The fats and fat-like substances that fall into this biological category had previously been known as lipoids. But since the -oid suffix would normally exclude true fats, the name was changed to lipide in 1925. The e was subsequently dropped in most uses.

makeover, n. and adj. The makeover is not an invention of reality television, having been around since at least 1925.

mercy killer, n., (also mercy killing, n.) And another phenomenon that goes back a ways.

monkey trial, n. While there have been and continue to be court battles over the teaching of evolution in U. S. public schools, there was only one monkey trial, the 1925 Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes.

neurosurgeon, n. This medical specialty got its name in this year.

nudnik, n. This borrowing is from Yiddish, meaning a pest, nag, bore. The Yiddish verb nudyen is “to bore,” and the nud stem has cognates in Russian and Polish. The -nik suffix as used here is also from Yiddish, which in turn borrowed it from Russian, and is used to denote a person associated with the quality expressed in the word’s stem.

oncologist, n. Another medical specialty first recorded in 1925.

over the air, adv. and adj. As we’ve seen, the 1920s were a decade when many of the basic terms associated with broadcasting were established. Not surprisingly.

paraphilia, n. Like broadcasting, psychology was also in its infancy and establishing its basic vocabulary. This term refers to sexual interest in or attraction to objects not usually associated with sex, fetishism.

party mix, n. This is a usually pre-packaged assortment of edibles for serving at gatherings. The use of the term to mean a selection of music doesn’t come until the 1970s.

quiche, n.2 The word appears in the French quiche Lorraine in 1904, but it doesn’t make it into English until a couple decades later. A variant guiche appears in a small number of English cookbooks starting in 1923, and the spelling difference may be either a mistake or represent a regional French variant of the word.

recycle, v. (also recycling, n.) No, the 1920s were not a particularly ecologically conscious decade. The early uses of the verb were in the sense of reusing material in chemical or industrial processes. The application of the term to reusing waste materials doesn’t come until the 1960s.

Red Chinese, adj. and n. The Chinese Communist Party wouldn’t come to power for another quarter-century, but this term for its members and supporters was coined in 1925.

shamus, n. A slang term for a detective, it’s either from shamash, “a sexton in a synagogue,” or from the Irish name Seamus.

sousaphone, n. The name for this variant of the tuba is modeled on saxophone and named after marching-band leader John Philip Sousa, who popularized its use.

superstar, n. With the cult of celebrity beginning to take off in the 1920s, there was a need for establishing a hierarchy of stardom.

Tootsie Roll, n. The brand of candy was trademarked in 1925.

Trotskyism, n. Lev Davidovitch Bronshtein, better known by his nom de guerre Leon Trotsky, never played well with others. A perennial opposition figure in Russian Communist politics, following Lenin’s death in 1924 he became increasingly marginalized among Soviet officialdom, but retained a significant following. This name for his particular policies appears in English-language publications starting in 1925.

Wheaties, n. The name of the breakfast cereal was trademarked in this year.

zipper, n. When trademarking a term, one must be extremely careful how one describes the product. Zipper was trademarked in 1925, with a claim of first use in 1923. But what was trademarked was a type of boot that used this fastener, not the fastener itself. Courts later ruled that use of zipper to refer to the fastener itself was not protected by the trademark.

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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