Word A Year: 20th Century, Part II

Last week we examined fifty words, one from each of the years 1950-99. This week we look at words from the first half of the twentieth century.

The words chosen all have their first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary from the year in question. This does not mean that they were actually coined in that year, in fact most were probably not since it usually takes some time from the coining of a term and its appearance in print and there is no guarantee that the OED has even identified the earliest recorded use. But the words were reasonably new to the English language in the year in question and as such are a good guide for tripping down memory lane and recalling what things were new and important in a given year.

For most years, the OED offers several hundred words to choose from. The words here were not selected in any scientific or systematic way. They are simply words that stood out as either representative of that year or just because I found them interesting for some reason or another. Some were obvious choices. What would 1925 be without monkey trial, for example. Others were significant in the year they were coined and remain so today. Big Brother was coined in 1949, with Stalinism dominating Russia and Maoism having just taken over China, but it still resonates today with the current news reports of warrantless NSA wiretaps of American citizens. Others, like Movietone, are only historical artifacts today. Some appear because I was surprised how late (or early) they appeared. I would have, for example, thought sexy was around long before 1928 and I would have thought gigolo was more recent than 1922. Others were chosen just because I like them and it’s a good excuse to include them in A Way With Words, like wanderlust.

So, without further ado, the words of 1900-49

1949, Big Brother, n., omnipotent state authority, esp. one that spies on its citizens, from Orwell’s 1984

1948, dim sum, n., a Cantonese-style savory snack, a meal consisting of these

1947, jet stream, n., a strong wind in the upper troposphere, predominantly blowing from west to east

1946, on-again off-again, adj., vacillating, intermittent

1945, fissionable, adj., capable of undergoing and sustaining nuclear fission

1944, genocide, n., the deliberate extermination of a people or ethnic group

1943, acronym, n., a word formed by the initial letters of other words

1942, zoot suit, n., a style of man’s suit characterized by a long jacket with padded shoulders and high-waisted, tapering trousers

1941, paratrooper, n., a soldier trained to leave a perfectly good airplane via parachute

1940, blitz, n., a military attack launched with suddenness and great violence, esp. an aerial bombing attack, as the Blitz referring to the attacks on London in that year

1939, walkie-talkie, n., a hand-held, two-way radio

1938, nylon, n. & adj., type of synthetic fabric, denoting something made from nylon

1937, yeti, n., Sherpa name for a mythical ape-like mammal that dwells in the Himalayan mountains, the abominable snowman

1936, racism, n., the belief that characteristics and abilities are determined by race and that one race is superior to others

1935, testosterone, n., a steroid hormone responsible for the development of male secondary sexual characteristics

1934, audio, n., sound, esp. recorded or electronically transmitted sound

1933, V.I.P., abbrev., very important person

1932, bagel, n., a hard, ring-shaped, piece of bread

1931, black market, n., illegal trading in commodities that are illegal or in short supply

1930, Third Reich, n., the German state under Hitler’s rule, speculative until 1933 when it became a reality

1929, delist, v., to remove a security from the list of those traded by an exchange

1928, sexy, adj., concerned with sex, sexually attractive

1927, Movietone, n., brand name for a method of recording sound on a film negative, used chiefly in newsreels

1926, totalitarian, adj., pertaining to a system of government where all institutions are subordinated to the state

1925, monkey trial, n., Tennessee v. Scopes, the trial of a high school teacher for teaching evolution by natural selection in the public schools

1924, two-time, v., to deceive, to be unfaithful to a lover

1923, Houdini, adj. & v., descriptive of an escape or disappearance, to escape or disappear, after the stage name of magician Erich Weiss (1874-1926)

1922, gigolo, n., a male escort for a woman, a kept man

1921, Fascist, n. & adj., right-wing Italian nationalists under the leadership of Mussolini who came to power the following year, later applied to the Nazi party in Germany and more widely to anyone with right-wing, authoritarian views

1920, palooka, n., a stupid or loutish person, in boxing, a mediocre fighter

1919, airport, n., a place where passengers embark and disembark airplanes

1918, pogey bait, n., candy, from soldier’s slang

1917, camouflage, n. & v., concealment for military purposes, to so disguise something

1916, tank, n., an armored fighting vehicle

1915, Fritz, n., used to denote something German, esp. a German soldier or soldiers

1914, air-raid, n., an attack by airplane

1913, airmail, n., postal service conveyed by airplane

1912, vigorish, n., a percentage deducted from gambling winnings as payment to the house, a usurious rate of interest

1911, Cubism, n., a style of early 20th century art consisting of a rejection of perspective of a single viewpoint and representations of people and objects using simple geometric shapes, also Cubist, an artist who works in Cubist style

1910, sabotage, n., malicious damage inflicted on property during a labor strike or by military forces

1909, mouth-to-mouth, adj., denoting a method of artificial respiration

1908, Oz, n., spelling variant abbreviation of Australia

1907, Wimbledon, n., lawn tennis tournament played in this district of South London

1906, El, n., an elevated train

1905, Sinn Fein, n., the name of an Irish independence and nationalist movement

1904, heartland, n., the central region of a nation, esp. one that characterizes the nation as a whole

1903, chow mein, n., fried noodles served with a thick sauce or stew

1902, wanderlust, n., a desire or fondness for traveling

1901, Hall of Fame, n., a place where persons in a particular field or institution are commemorated

1900, Zeppelin, n., a dirigible airship

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