1910 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 431 words with first citations from 1910. In that year, German scientists gave us immunotherapy and phenotypes; pantywaist and moron were not insulting terms; restaurants began serving melt-in-your-mouth pierogies and other delicacies of mixed grill; in emergencies, klaxons could sound and S. O. S. messages could be sent; and the world of the arts gave us Bloomsbury and post-Impressionists.

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Events of 1910:

  • January: The New York Metropolitan Opera makes the first, experimental, radio broadcast of a live musical performance; aviator Glenn Curtiss takes off and lands in the first seaplane flight.
  • February: The Boy Scouts of America is founded; the Browning Arms Company files the first patent for a gun safety mechanism; Mary “Typhoid Mary” Mallon is released from confinement, she would be returned to confinement in 1915; the last legal bare-knuckle boxing match takes place in the United States.
  • March: The National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D. C. opens its doors.
  • April: U. S. President Taft begins the tradition of throwing the ceremonial first pitch at an opening day baseball game; Comet Halley becomes visible; writer Mark Twain dies.
  • May: King Edward VII dies, succeed by George V.
  • June: Antarctic expeditions led by Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen with the goal of reaching the South Pole depart London and Oslo respectively; writer O. Henry dies.
  • July: African-American Jack Johnson defeats the undefeated, former heavyweight boxing champion James Jeffries; baseball pitcher Cy Young records his 500th win.
  • August: The National Association of Rotary Clubs is founded; Florists’ Transworld Delivery (FTD) is founded; nurse Florence Nightingale dies.
  • September: Manhattan and Queens, New York are linked by a subway under the East River; Ole Evinrude files the first patent for an outboard boat motor; painter Winslow Homer dies.
  • October: A terrorist bombing of the Los Angeles Times building kills twenty-one people; E. M. Forster publishes Howard’s End.
  • November: The Grafton Gallery in London holds an exhibition featuring post-Impressionist paintings by Cézanne, Matisse, Gauguin, and van Gogh; the first commercial airplane flight takes place; writer Leo Tolstoy dies.
  • December: The population of the United States, including its overseas territories, tops 100 million; the New York Ritz-Carlton hotel permits women to smoke in its dining room; Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, dies.

The words of 1910:

affordability, n. This one sounds like it was coined recently, but affordability is over a century old. The 1910 citation is in reference to automobiles, no surprise there.

age-old, adj. This adjective isn’t.

airwoman, n. A female pilot, an aviatrix, the last being a word that wouldn’t appear until 1927. Starting in World War II, an airwoman would be a female member of an air force, not necessarily a pilot.

amputee, n. Another one that appears surprisingly late.

bean, v. This one is baseball slang meaning “to hit on the head, especially with a pitch.” Bean is also slang for head. While the verb dates to 1910, bean ball “a pitch thrown at a batter’s head” appears at least five years earlier.

beaver, n.3 This slang sense of beaver is a beard or a bearded man. By 1927 the word is being applied to the female pubic hair and genitalia.

Bloomsbury, n. The Bloomsbury Group was a loose affiliation of intellectuals that flourished in the Bloomsbury section of London in the early part of the century. Members included writers Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey, and economist John Maynard Keynes.

busywork, n. Primarily found in educational circles, busywork is intended to keep the tykes out of trouble. (Sobiest has antedated busywork to 1884.)

cheerio, int. This stereotypical British bit of parting encouragement is first seen in a 1910 Punch cartoon in which one loafer says cheero [sic] to another. Cheero seems to have been the usual form until around 1928.

cripes, int. A 1910 euphemism for Christ.

curie, n. In 1910 Ernest Rutherford suggested that the unit of radiation be named in honor of Pierre Curie, who had died in 1906.

flivver, n. Not much heard nowadays, a flivver is U. S. slang for a cheap car or airplane. Where the word comes from is not known.

Freudian, adj. and n. This adjective begins to appear in psychological circles in this year.

go, adj. The adjective go, meaning “functioning properly,” is most closely associated with the space program, but its use by engineers dates back to at least 1910.

grabby, adj. The term for greedy or too free with one’s hands makes its appearance.

homeport, v. The noun is centuries older, but the verb meaning to base a ship or sailor at a particular port is more recent.

immunotherapy, n. From the German Immunotherapie, which was coined the previous year.

jai alai, n. The term entered the language via U. S. soldiers occupying Cuba. An older name for the game is pelota.

keystroke, n. As typewriters, cash registers, adding machines, and the like reached critical mass, this term appeared.

kitchenette, n. According to the 7 May 1910 issue of Variety, “swell aparts.” have kitchenettes.

klaxon, n. The horn is named for the company that originally made them.

melt-in-the-mouth, adj. In 1653, Margaret Cavendish wrote, “As Sugar in the Mouth doth melt, and taste, / So Eccho in the Aire it selfe doth waste.” But it took several centuries for the idea of melting in the mouth to move from verb to adjective.

mixed grill, n. The first citation in the OED for this term meaning a dish of a variety of grilled foodstuffs is from a 1910 issue of the New York Times Magazine, but the use is metaphorical, hinting that the literal meaning of mixed grill is older: “The salad and the cheese may be chosen with epicurean taste, but it’s a mixed grill every day where the music is concerned,”

moron, n.2 (and adj.) Psychologists coined moron in 1910 with the specific meaning of someone with an IQ between fifty and seventy, but by 1917 moron was being used generally and depreciatively to refer to a stupid or foolish person.

nuts, int. A U. S. slang interjection. The later British bollocks (1940) is a similar term.

pantywaist, n. and adj. You still sometimes run across the derogatory epithet, but the name garment on which the epithet is based is pretty much gone from the vocabulary. A pantywaist was originally a piece of children’s clothing, consisting of a pair of shorts and a shirt attached at the waist. The sense of a weak or effeminate person developed in the 1930s, conjuring the image of an adult wearing one.

phenotype, n. In 1909 German biologists coined Phaenotypus to denote the array of observable characteristics of an organism. Within a year the word had entered the lingo of English-speaking scientists.

pierogi, n. This Eastern European dumpling makes its way into English cookery via Polish.

post-Impressionist, n. and adj. (also post-Impressionism, n.) The 1910 Grafton Gallery exhibition gave a name to this artistic movement.

prankster, n. The combination of prank and -ster was probably inevitable. 1890 saw the word pranker, but 1910’s prankster overtook the earlier word and left it in the dust. (Sobiest has antedated prankster to 1824.)

qwertyuiop, n. and adj. Christopher Sholes patented a keyboard in 1878 that arranged its keys in this sequence of letters, but it isn’t until 1910 that people began using the sequence as a discrete entity. It is later clipped to qwerty.

rummy, n.3 The name for a number of card games where the players attempt to empty their hands by laying out a series of flushes and straights is of unknown origin. But it appears in 1910.

sabotage, n. Labor disputes raged across Europe and North America in the opening years of the century, and in 1910 French railway workers began to commit sabotage.

scrapie, n. The name of this ovine spongiform encephalopathy is from the practice of infected sheep scraping their fleece against fences, trees, rocks, or other convenient surfaces. The disease is now known to be caused by prions and is related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad-cow disease") and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

S. O. S., n. The international distress signal was officially adopted in 1908, but it wasn’t put into practice until 1910. The letters don’t stand for anything; they are simply easy to transmit in Morse Code.

spigotty, n. (and adj.) This derogatory term for a Hispanic person was later clipped and modified into spic.

tutu, n.2 The name for the ballet skirt made its way into English from French in 1910.

vamp, n.4 This sense of vamp is that of a seductive woman, one who attracts and then takes advantage of poor, unsuspecting men. It is, of course, a clipping of vampire.

World Bank, n. Financial commentators started calling for an international organization to coordinate international financial transactions between nations. The first World Bank was actually established by the League of Nations in the 1930s, and is now known as the Bank for International Settlements. The present World Bank was established following the Second World War, originally to coordinate relief and reconstruction payments.

Zonian, n. (and adj.) A Zonian is a U. S. citizen who resided in the Panama Canal Zone.

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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