1902 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 637 words with first citations from 1902. In that year, the growing number of automobiles brought us garages, windshields, Michelins, and limousines; new words like auto-correct, biometrics, and electronics appear, but not in the senses we use them today; Marmite and moo-goo-gai-pan appear on menus; and -drome had a good year, with the appearances of aerodromes and velodromes, although the seeds of the destruction of the former were also sown with the introduction of airport.

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Events of 1902:

  • January: The first Rose Bowl game is played in Pasadena, although it wasn’t called that until much later.
  • February: Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie founds the Carnegie Institution for Science; Dowager Empress Cixi bans foot binding in China.
  • March: The American Automobile Association (AAA) is founded; mining magnate Cecil Rhodes dies.
  • April: Tally’s Electric Theater, the first purpose-built movie theater, opens in Los Angeles.
  • May: The London School of Economics awards its first degrees; Cuba gains independence from Spain and the U. S. occupation of the island ends; the Second Boer War ends; writer Bret Harte dies.
  • June: Women in Australia, with the exception of Asian, Aborigine, and African women, gain the right to vote; Horn and Hardart open the first automat in the U. S.
  • July: John McGraw becomes the manager of the N. Y. Giants baseball team.
  • September: Clothier Levi Strauss and writer Émile Zola die.
  • October: feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton dies.
  • November: U. S. Army physician Walter Reed dies.

The words of 1902:

aerodrome, n.2 The word aerodrome has a number of meanings related tp aviation, all pretty much obsolete today. The earliest is the OED’s sense for aerodrome n.1, which is Samuel Langley’s 1895 name for his various aircraft; a use unique to the American aviation pioneer. More commonly, the aerodrome refers to an airfield. The 1902 citation in the OED is in reference to a hangar for a balloon. By 1908 aerodrome was being used to refer to an airfield. The word is a combination of aero- + -drome (Greek δρομος “course, racecourse").

airport, n.2 This word was more successful than aerodrome.

all clear, phr. and n. The phrase meaning “danger has passed” is first recorded by the OED in Joseph Conrad’s 1902 short story Youth.

auto-correct, v. No, they were not envisioning word processing software in 1902. The original sense of auto-correct refers to the healing of maladies or injuries without medical treatment.

biometrics, n. The 1902 sense of biometrics refers to actuarial work, measuring the duration of human life under various conditions. It isn’t until the 1980s that the sense of measurement of physical human characteristics (fingerprints, retinal scans, etc.) arises.

buttinsky, n. In 1902, humorist George Ade wrote about the fictional Buttinsky family.

catalyst, n. I would have thought catalyst to be an older word, but it seems to have come in with the revolution in chemistry in the early twentieth century.

dead zone, n. Originally this term referred to a place where no life could grow. In the 1920s, dead zone began to be applied to areas where radio reception was unavailable.

electronic, adj. This word started out as a generic term for the quantization of electricity into electrons. By 1919 electronic was being used to refer to devices operating on this principle. (There is an 1832 use of electronic by Michael Faraday, but this is probably a printer’s error, and Faraday probably intended electrotonic, which refers to electrical conductors under the influence of a magnetic field.)

fool-proof, adj. Fools have been with us since forever, but it wasn’t until 1902 that someone thought to invent a word for the principle of safeguarding against them.

garage, n. and adj. This is a borrowing from French that came in with the automobile. It’s based on the French verb garer “to shelter.”

junior varsity, n. and adj. Varsity is a colloquial British variation of university that dates to the mid-1800s. Varsity began to be applied to school sporting events and teams in the 1890s U. S., and in 1902 the term junior varsity began to be used to refer to the second-tier team at a school.

Lalique, n. René Lalique (1860–1945) was a French designer of jewelry and glassware, and in 1902 his name began to be applied to his work and style.

Lee-Enfield, n. The British Army began using Lee-Enfield rifles in the Boer War, and later versions would be used in both World Wars. The name comes from James Paris Lee, Canadian/American inventor of the bolt action rifle, and Enfield, a suburb of London containing a small-arms factory where the rifles were made.

limousine, n. Like garage, this is a French import and a word not formerly associated with older horse-drawn carriages. The name comes from the Limousin region of France.

made-to-order, adj. The rise of mass production brought about a backlash.

manic-depressive, adj. and n. This name for what is now known as bipolar disorder is from the German manisch-depressiv, in use in that language since 1899.

Marmite, n.2 The original sense of marmite dating to the sixteenth century is a stock pot. In 1902 the paste of vegetable and yeast extract hit the market and was originally intended for use in soups and stews, hence the name and the image of a pot on its label.

Mendelian, adj. The science of genetics was just getting underway at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Michelin, n. and adj. The Michelin Tire Company was founded in France in 1888. The company began publishing maps and travel guides in 1900, and by 1902 the name for its products had entered English.

mint, adj. This clipping of mint condition appears in 1902, first in the world of stamp collecting.

moo goo gai pan, n. The Chinese dish begins appearing on American menus in this year.

number two, n. (also number one, n.) The nursery euphemism is recorded in Farmer and Henley’s Slang in this year, indicating that it was in use for some time prior to 1902.

pacifism, n. Borrowed from the French pacifisme, which appears in that language in 1901, this one makes an appearance in the proceedings of a conference on peace.

Pavlov, n. Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, of the dog fame, bequeathed his name to posterity in this year.

Rhodes, n. Rhodes scholarships were first awarded in 1902, named for mining magnate and imperialist Cecil Rhodes, who also died in this year.

Rosetta stone, n. The actual Rosetta Stone, which enabled the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphs, was discovered in 1799, but in 1902 the term began to be used figuratively for any key to unlocking arcane or mysterious knowledge.

Shinola, n. The OED records the name of the brand of shoe polish from 1902, although Shinola actually hit the market in 1900, so it can probably be antedated a year or two.

suitcase, n. This one surprised me; I thought it would have been older. Older terms include valise and portmanteau, but suitcase itself doesn’t appear until the twentieth century.

towelette, n. Not much to say about this one, other than here it is.

Übermensch, n. Friedrich Nietzsche used Übermensch in his 1883 Thus Spake Zarathustra, which was first translated into English in 1896 using the word beyond-man. In 1902 the German word was simply imported into English. The more common superman is first used by George Bernard Shaw in 1903 in his Man and Superman. The comic-book hero appears in 1938.

velodrome, n. This name for bicycle race track is a French import. The velo- is a clipping of velocipide.

walk-on, adj. and n. The theatrical term appears in 1902.

wanderlust, n. A German import.

wassup, int. The one appears long before its use in annoying beer commercials.

windshield, n. The opening years of the century would see the introduction of many automotive terms.

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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