1900 Words

(I’m going back and picking up the years from 1900–10. I’ll return with 1951 when I complete the first decade of the century.)

The Oxford English Dictionary has 665 words with first citations from 1900. In that year, the Klondike Gold Rush was petering out, but not before bequeathing us the words klondiking and musher; internal combustion engines were becoming big, giving us turbo-, motorcyclist, and four-stroke; psychologists called chesty persons egocentric and started taking a gander at voyeurs; and, speaking of leers, lovers could use their goo-goo eyes to give a come-hither look.

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Events of 1900:

  • January: U. S. begins its “Open Door” policy to promote free trade with China; the U. S. population reaches 70 million people; Puccini’s opera Tosca premieres in Rome; the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs is organized; writer and social critic John Ruskin dies.
  • February: Davis Cup tennis competition begins; the British Labour Party is formed.
  • March: France limits the workday for women and children to eleven hours; automobile-maker Gottlieb Daimler and piano-maker Carl Bechstein die.
  • April: Hawaii becomes a U. S. Territory; railway engineer Casey Jones dies when his passenger train, the Cannonball Express, collides with a freight train, his death would be immortalized in song.
  • May: Paris Olympic Games open, the second modern Olympiad; European troops arrive in China to suppress the Boxer Rebellion.
  • June: Carrie Nation starts taking her hatchet to U. S. saloons and taverns; writer Stephen Crane dies.
  • July: The first zeppelin flight takes place; the Paris Metro opens.
  • August: European troops take Beijing, freeing Europeans besieged there; chess player Wilhelm Steinitz dies.
  • September: Winston Churchill is elected to parliament for the first time.
  • October: The Wright Brothers begin untethered glider flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina; the U. S. S. Holland, the U. S. Navy’s first submarine, is commissioned.
  • November: William McKinley is reelected President of the U. S.; composer Arthur Sullivan and writer Oscar Wilde die.
  • December: Physicist Max Planck announces this discovery of black body emissions, paving the way for quantum physics.

The words of 1900:

air break, n. This term appears as cricket jargon in 1900, referring to a swerve in a ball when bowled. The OED marks it as “now rare.” The electronic jargon sense, often rendered as air gap, dates to 1910.

bindle, n.2 I first encountered this word while reading Steinbeck’s 1937 Of Mice and Men in junior high school, but it goes back to the turn of the century. Bindle has always been associated with tramps and itinerant laborers, and is probably an alteration of bundle, although there is a nineteenth-century Scottish use of bindle to mean a string that binds something together, and this may have influenced the North American use of bindle.

chesty, adj. This U. S. slang adjective denotes a conceited or self-important person and comes from the image of a person with an outthrust chest.

come-hither, n. This word for enticement is found as early as 1900, although there is an older British dialectal phrase put one’s comether on, which dates to the first half of the nineteenth century.

dorm, n.2 The rather inevitable clipping of dormitory.

Dubliner, n. I’m rather surprise the OED doesn’t have an earlier citation for this one. It’s a rather obvious name for the inhabitant of the city.

egocentric, adj. and n. While this word doesn’t first appear in the translations of Freud, the 1900 appearance is obviously influenced by the psychologist’s work.

escalator, n. Originally a trade name of the Otis Elevator Company, this word for a moving staircase appears in 1900. (A 1950 court case resulted in Otis’s loss of the trademark.) Escalators had started to appear in the closing years of the nineteenth century, but in 1900 they were still a novelty.

familial, adj. This is a later appearance than I would have thought. The adjective starts appearing in medical texts around 1900.

four-stroke, adj. But this one is right on schedule. Four-stroke is descriptive of a kind of internal combustion engine.

glob, n. The origin of this word for a mass of some kind of viscous liquid is uncertain. It may be a clipping a globule. Or it may be a blend of gob and blob. Or perhaps it was influenced by both.

goo-goo, adj. Goo-goo eyes are an amorous and inviting look. The slang term appears around 1900 and may stem from goggle.

Hall of Shame, n. This play on hall of fame also appears in 1900. (The OED only has 1901 for Hall of Fame, which it says is an Americanism, but it’s trivially easy to date Hall of Fame to eighteenth-century Britain. The OED’s Hall of Fame entry hasn’t been updated since the 1989 second edition, which demonstrates the power of the internet in doing research of this nature.)

hillbilly, n. The OED records this one from 1900, although its use in colloquial speech certainly predates this by some time.

immuno-, comb. form The word immunotoxin appears in medical writing in 1900, the first known use of immuno- to form a word.

Klondiking, n. This gerund refers to prospecting for gold in the Klondike. It is first recorded in a letter written by Jack London; no surprise there.

Kobe, n. Kobe beef starts becoming internationally famous at the turn of the twentieth century.

Ltd., adj. The abbreviation for limited, denoting corporate status, akin to Inc. in U. S. parlance, starts appearing in British English in 1900.

menarche, n. I would have thought this one would be much older; it seems so archaic-sounding. But the name for a woman’s first menstrual period only dates to the beginning of the twentieth century. Menarche is a borrowing from German, where it first appears in 1895.

Möbius, n. This word denoting a one-sided surface is from its inventor, the German mathematician August Ferdinand Möbius. The term Möbius surface starts appearing in American mathematical journals in 1900. The more common Möbius strip appears by 1904.

mongolism, n. This older and deprecated name for what we now call Down syndrome appears in The Lancet in 1900.

motorcyclist, n. The dawn of the twentieth century brought many words associated with the internal combustion engine, including this one. Motorcycle dates to 1894.

musher, n.3 Originally, musher referred to anyone who traveled the arctic, either on foot or by dog sled. Later, the term becomes restricted to dog sledding. The verb to mush dates to 1862 in the form mouche (the spelling mush appears by 1897), and is probably from the French verb marcher.

nitro, n. The clipping of nitroglycerine appears by 1900.

ping-pong, n.1 The echoic name for table tennis appears by 1900, and by 1909 ping-pong is being used metaphorically to denote a series of rapid exchanges.

pint-sized, adj. (and n.) In 1900, pint-sized was used literally to mean holding sixteen ounces (or more if you use imperial measure). By 1921 the metaphorical sense of “small, diminutive” appears.

radiology, n. The new century and its new physics brought with it a new discipline of medicine.

razzmatazz, adj. and n. In 1899, humorist George Ade wrote of a character dubbed Grip Razmataz, an incarnation of disease. Then the next year he uses razmataz as an adjective to describe a sophisticated and stylish woman. Then in 1901, a couple of jazz pieces come out, both titled Raz-a-ma-taz, and the word was on its way.

Ritz, n. and adj. Swiss hotelier César Ritz opened the Hôtel Ritz in Paris in 1898, and the Ritz Hotel in London followed in 1906. In between, the Ritz became synonymous with opulence and a wealthy lifestyle. The adjective ritzy follows in 1908, and the phrase put on the Ritz in 1921.

Stetson, n. Around 1900, the name of John B. Stetson became synonymous with the style of hat he made, especially the broad-brimmed, high-crowned “cowboy” hat.

tanker, n.1 The name for a ship that carries bulk liquids, especially oil, appears in 1900. Earlier terms for this type of ship include tank-boat and tank-steamer.

tendinitis, n. Doctors gave this malady a name around 1900.

thermite, n. The incendiary mixture of aluminum and other metal oxides gets its name.

Throgmorton Street, n. The London Stock Exchange got this nickname from the street on which it used to be located.

turbo-, comb. form The year 1900 saw the introduction of turbo-alternator, the first of many words to use turbo- to indicate a machine driven by or containing a turbine.

vocab, n. The clipping of vocabulary is recorded in 1900.

voyeur, n. The twentieth century would see a boom in psychology and psychological terms, many of them related to sex. This is just one. From the French verb voir “to see.”

weasel, v. The name of the animal goes back to the Old English wesle, but the slang verb meaning to equivocate or deceive with words doesn’t appear until around 1900.

Zeppelin, n. Ferdinand von Zeppelin flew his first airship in 1900.

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. 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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