The Oxford English Dictionary has 655 words with first citations from 1909. In that year, aviation really started taking off with ailerons, fuselages, and trailing edges; Girl Scouts in their Mary Janes formed after-school playgroups; metal products that had been die-cast were replaced by ones made with Bakelite; people went to the cinema to see photoplays; and bipartisan politicians started committing gaffes.
Events of 1909:
- January: General Motors purchases the Oakland Motor Company of Pontiac, Michigan, creating the Pontiac division of G. M.
- February: The invention of Bakelite is announced; the U. S. outlaws the importation of opium; the U. S. Navy’s “Great White Fleet” completes its circumnavigation of the globe.
- March: The U. S. Department of Justice created its Bureau of Investigation, which would add Federal to its name in 1934; the first concrete is poured during construction of the Panama Canal; playwright J. M. Synge dies.
- April: New York City imposes a speed limit on automobiles, 12 mph (19 km/h); Robert Peary claims to reach the North Pole, but it has been subsequently determined that he was eight kilometers (five miles) short; South Dakota is the first U. S. state to recognize Mother’s Day; Joan of Arc is beatified, 475 years after her death; Mary Pickford appears in her first film, D. W. Griffith’s Her First Biscuits.
- May: Walter Reed Army Hospital opens its doors; Leopold Stokowski makes his debut as a conductor, waving the baton before Paris’s Colonne Orchestra.
- June: The U. S. Mint in Philadelphia begins production of Lincoln pennies.
- July: Fritz Haber announces his nitrogen fixation process, allowing the economical production of artificial fertilizers; Louis Blériot is the first to fly across the English Channel; General Motors buys the Cadillac Motor Company.
- August: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts its first race, which is for motorcycles, not cars; the first photographs of Pluto are taken, but no one realizes it—the significance of the 1909 photos would not be discovered until the year 2000; the city of Tokyo makes a gift of cherry trees to the city of Washington, D. C.
- October: General Motors reaches an agreement to purchase the Ford Motor Company, but is unable to acquire the financing for the down payment.
- November: Woolworth’s opens its first department store in Britain; a U. S. federal district court orders the dissolution of Standard Oil of New Jersey for violation of antitrust laws.
- December: The Union of South Africa is created with the unification of the Cape, Natal, Transvaal, and Orange Free State colonies; the first Radisson Hotel opens its doors; artist Frederic Remington dies.
The words of 1909:
A-frame, n. The noun A-frame, the type of house, is first attested in the 1909 supplement to the Century Dictionary.
after-school, adj. After-school activities are a big thing for children nowadays, but they also go back aways.
aileron, n. Although he did not invent ailerons to control the roll of an aircraft, in 1909 aircraft-maker Glenn Curtiss made and flew a biplane that used them, kicking off a nasty patent battle with the Wright Brothers. The Wrights had used wing-warping to control their plane, but had mentioned that ailerons could be used for roll control in their patent. The litigation was eventually decided in 1913 in favor of the Wrights.
air conditioner, n. (and air conditioning, n.) In 1909, air conditioners were used to control temperature and humidity in industrial plants, like cotton processing facilities, that were sensitive to such conditions.
bakelite, n. Bakelite is a proprietary name for an early type of plastic. It’s borrowed from the German Bakelit, and is named for its inventor, Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland.
bipartisan, adj. Everyone wishes Washington politics would be more bipartisan. The sentiment goes back to 1909.
cagey, adj. The U. S. slang term for “wary, reticent” is of unknown origin, but it appears by 1909.
camp, adj. and n.5 Another word with an obscure etymology. This sense of camp is “ostentatious, theatrical, affected, effeminate.”
chetnik, n. I’ve always associated the chetnik guerrillas of the Balkans with the Second World War, but the term predates that war by some decades. The word comes from the Serbian četa “band, troop” + -nik. (Languagehat has antedated chetnik to 1883.)
cinema, n. This one is a clipping of the late-nineteenth century cinematograph.
die-cast, v. This is a relatively recent verb for a very ancient process.
empathic, adj. This adjective is often associated with science fiction nowadays, but its origins are not futuristic. Its synonym empathetic appears in 1932.
expense, v. People always complain about recent verbing of nouns by business people, but they never complain about the old ones like this.
foodist, n. The foodies of the 1980s and later were once called foodists.
fuselage, n. Another aviation term. From the French verb fuseler “to shape like a spindle.”
gaffe, n. A gaffe is a blunder. It’s from the French, but there is a nineteenth century slang word gaff meaning “outcry, humbug” which was used in the phrase to blow the gaff, which could have influenced the word.
geriatrics, n. In 1909 this term, modeled on pediatrics, was suggested as a name for the medical discipline addressing the health of the aged.
Girl Guide, n. (also Girl Scout, n.) These two terms for the female counterparts to the Boy Scout were coined in 1909, although the Girl Guides were not formally organized in the U. K. until the following year and the U. S. Girl Scouts until 1912.
gun control, n. This term originally referred to the mechanical devices that aimed and fired a gun, especially on board a ship. It isn’t until the 1960s that gun control is used to refer to limitations on licensing and ownership of firearms.
hatty, adj. It’s not like this is a common adjective, but I couldn’t resist including it. Hatty refers to a fondness for hats, especially ostentatious ones. Queen Elizabeth is very hatty.
hickey, n. In 1909, a hickey was a gadget. The word would be expanded by 1914 to doohickey. The sense of a love bite appears in the 1930s.
home-school, adj.1 The adjective, as defined by the OED, is limited to the relationship between a child’s home and school. The noun, meaning “education provided in the home,” is much older, dating to the early nineteenth century.
joy-ride, n. Logically, one could have taken joy rides in horse-drawn carriages, but evidently no one did. The word waited until the automobile age before making its debut.
libido, n. Libido is Latin for “desire, lust,” but English didn’t get a yen for the word until psychoanalysts adopted it as a jargon term. (Languagehat has antedated libido to 1894.)
loupe, n. Another word that appears in the 1909 supplement to the Century Dictionary. From the French, a loupe is type of magnifying glass, often used by watchmakers and jewelers. (Sobiest has antedated loupe to 1763.)
Mary Jane, n.1 The style of low-heeled shoes, popular among schoolgirls, makes its appearance. In Britain it’s a proprietary term. The calque of marijuana doesn’t appear until the 1920s.
mopping-up, n. There are various senses of mopping up, all having to do with removing the excess or remains of something. The OED’s 1909 citation refers to mopping up of precious metals in the London financial markets. The military sense would appear during World War I.
mouth-to-mouth, adj. and n. A 1909 Lancet article recommended use of a bellows over mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It wouldn’t be until mid-century that the mouth-to-mouth method caught on.
mushroom cloud, n. You don’t need an atomic bomb to create a mushroom cloud; any large explosion will do. The 1909 supplement to the Century Dictionary refers to a mushroom cloud associated with a volcanic eruption.
peeve, n. While the noun dates to 1909, the people have been irritated by it for much longer. The adjective peeved appears a few years earlier, in 1905, and the verb to peeve dates to 1901. But peevish goes back much, much further. That adjective can be found in a c. 1400 copy of William Langland’s c. 1387 poem Piers Plowman.
pH, n. The pH acid-alkaline scale was invented in 1909 by Danish Chemist Søren P. L. Sørensen. Writing in a German biochemical journal, Sørensen used the symbol PH•. The original meaning of the P is uncertain, but may have been for the German Potenz “power.” H• is an old symbol for a hydrogen ion. So the symbol PH• stood for “power of hydrogen.” The symbol PH quickly made its way into English and other languages. The modern form with the shift in capitalization pH dates to the 1930s.
photoplay, n. Another term for motion picture, this word is now chiefly found in historical contexts.
playgroup, n. This term started out as sociological jargon for the associations that children naturally form with their peers. By the 1940s it was being used to denote such groups that were deliberately formed by their parents for supervised play.
prep, v.2 This one is U. S. slang for attending a preparatory school.
retread, n. Another automobile term, a new tread placed on a worn tire.
room service, n. The 1909 OED citation of room service is in reference to the provision of telephone service in individual hotel rooms. The food and drink sense appears by 1916.
scrounge, v.1 This one probably comes from the English dialectal word to scringe. It is recorded in the form scrunge in Webster’s 1909 New International Dictionary, and it gained widespread use among soldiers in the First World War.
sea monkey, n. The original sea monkey is a heraldic term for a half-monkey-half-fish that is said to appear on some coats of arms, although the author of the OED’s 1909 citation says he is unaware of any actual examples, sort of a heraldic jackalope. The marketing name for brine shrimp, sold as “pets” to unsuspecting children who need an object lesson in deceptive advertising, appears in the 1970s.
socialite, n. Oddly, the OED’s 1909 citation of socialite comes from Oakland, California, not the natural habitat of the socialite. (Actually, the Oakland Hills is a rather posh neighborhood.)
Spork, n. This is a surprisingly early term. I would have pegged Sporks (half-fork-half-spoon, the sea monkeys of the utensil world) to the 1970s and the rise of fast food, but the word appears in the 1909 Century Dictionary supplement.
trailing edge, n. Another aviation term. Ailerons typically are found on the trailing edge of a wing.
up to the minute, adv. (and adj.) By 1909 we’re starting to see the obsession with news and connectedness that the internet world would take to never-before-conceived heights.
Wasserman, n. I’ve always wondered if August Paul Wassermann really wanted to be immortalized by the test for syphilis that he invented.
work out, n. This noun gets its start in boxing, before branching out into other sports.
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.
Copyright 1997-2017, by David Wilton