The Oxford English Dictionary has 333 words with first citations from 1918. In that year, buck privates and sergeants overcame defeatism and were leaving their tankodromes for the front lines in preparation for D-Day. A ladies had to be installed in the Capitol building for the new congresswoman. The gallery crowd thought they had drunk a snootful, or maybe even a Mickey Finn, after seeing the latest surrealist art. And hush puppies were pogey bait, not some new kind of macrofauna.
Events of 1918:
- January: U. S. President Woodrow Wilson delivers this “Fourteen Points” speech; Ukraine declares its independence.
- February: Russian switches to Gregorian Calendar; Lithuania, Estonia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia declare independence from Russia; painter Gustav Klimt and the last parrot native to North America die.
- March: Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ends Russian participation in World War I; a soldier at Camp Funston, Kansas becomes the first victim of the Spanish Flu, over 30 million will die in coming months; the Russian capital is moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow; U. S. Congress establishes time zones and daylight savings time; the German spring offensive begins with the Second Battle of the Somme, German troops will advance to within 75 miles of Paris; composer Claude Debussy dies.
- April: The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merge to become the Royal Air Force; Manfred von Richtofen, the “Red Baron,” and Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and triggered the war, die.
- May: General Motors acquires the Chevrolet Motor Company; the first regular airmail service begins, between New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D. C.
- July: The Germans make a last gasp attempt to take Paris, but are repulsed at the Second Battle of the Marne; the RMS Carpathia, the ship that rescued the RMS Titanic passengers, is sunk by a U-boat, 218 of 223 on board are rescued; Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children are executed.
- August: The Allies launch the Hundred Days Offensive, a series of counterattacks that drive the Germans back and result in the collapse of the German army; the Spanish Flu becomes a pandemic; British, American, and Japanese forces invade Russia to assist the counter-revolutionary movement.
- September: Boston Red Sox win the World Series for the last time until 2004; Bulgaria requests an armistice.
- October: Germany begins to sue for peace; Czechoslovakia declare their independence; German High Seas Fleet begins to mutiny; Austro-Hungarian Empire is dissolved.
- November: The Allies take Constantinople; Poland and Latvia declare their independence from Russia; at 11 a.m. on 11 November World War I ends, over sixteen million had died as a direct result of the war.
- December: Iceland gains independence from Denmark; Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later called Yugoslavia, is formed; writer Edmond Rostand dies.
The words of 1918:
buck, adj.2 The OED has twenty-three separate entries for buck, so it’s a versatile combination of four letters. The sense in question here is the lowest grade of a military rank, as in buck private or buck sergeant. Why U. S. soldiers going off to war in 1918 began to use this term isn’t known for sure, but the sense is probably related to that of buck as “male, man.”
congresswoman, n. Jeanette Rankin of Montana was the first one, elected in 1916 and taking office in January 1917. But 1918 is the year that the word was added to Webster’s New International Dictionary, which is where the OED gets its first citation.
D-Day, n. The D-Day is 6 June 1944, but lesser D-Days have been around since 1918. The term is U. S. military jargon for the day an attack is to begin. The D simply stands for “day.” It may seem redundant, but it makes sense when seen in military timelines like D-2, D-1, D-Day, D+1, D+2... The less-well-known H-hour also gets its start in 1918.
defeatism/defeatist, n. In 1918, the fortunes of war see-sawed, with the Germans nearly taking Paris, getting close enough to shell the city with long-range artillery, but with the Allies taking the offensive in August and driving on to eventual victory. With everyone weary of war, defeatism was in the air on both sides. The English word comes from the French défaitisme/défaitiste.
devalue, v. With war debts climbing on both sides, devaluing currency was a tempting strategy in 1918. The concept is hardly new, having been practiced since antiquity, but the word is.
earthrise, n. The most famous photograph in history may very well be Earthrise, taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders in 1968. It shows the Earth rising over the moon’s horizon. But the word had a different meaning in 1918; it meant “sunset.” Never a commonly used word before the Apollo missions and the new meaning, the word does provide a different perspective on the term sunset.
extrovert/introvert, n. This pair of psychological terms were coined in 1918.
fade-out, n. In 1918, filmmakers were still inventing the fundamental techniques of their craft.
farmerette, n. Not every word is destined for greatness, and it’s important from time to time to recognize the words that didn’t make the cut. This American term for a female farmer never really caught on.
Gantt, n. Project managers the world over owe a debt to Henry Gantt (1861–1919) and his Gantt chart. A Gantt chart is one where the various tasks that compose a project are represented by horizontal lines corresponding to when they begin and end.
hush puppy, n. These bits of deep-fried corn-meal batter are a staple of cookery in the U. S. south. The brand of shoe doesn’t make its appearance until 1961.
internee, n. Bureaucratese was nothing new in 1918, but the early twentieth century saw an increase in the size of government bureaucracies and in the specialized language they use. This one is a euphemism for prisoner.
ladies, n. Another euphemism, albeit a grass-roots rather than a government one. In 1918, women started excusing themselves to go to the ladies when nature called.
macrofauna, n. Biologists had coined microfauna in 1895 to refer to microscopic animals. In 1918 they started using this one to refer to bigger ones, like us.
Mickey Finn, n. This term for a drink that has been laced with a sedative is attested to only in 1918, although the man it’s named for was notorious a few decades earlier. Mickey Finn was a Chicago saloon-keeper at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1903 he was convicted of drugging and robbing his customers.
Murphy, n.4 A staple of comedy routines since they first appeared in 1900, the OED’s first citation of the Murphy bed, which folds into a wall, is from a 1918 advertisement. The beds are named after their inventor William Murphy (1876–1959). In 1989, U. S. courts ruled that the name Murphy bed was no longer entitled to trademark protection as the term had become generic.
Okie, n.1 Oklahoma became a state in 1907, and this nickname for its residents was in place a decade later. But the term would not become widespread until the 1930s, when the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl forced many Okies off their farms and into a life of itinerant labor, as depicted in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The term also generalized to refer to any itinerant worker from the Great Plains and to their descendents.
patootie, n. The OED says this slang term for an attractive woman may be an alteration of potato, as in sweet potato/sweet patootie.
pitch-in, n. This is a U. S. slang term for a communal meal where everyone brings a dish to share. It’s synonymous with the older pot luck.
pogey bait, n. Pogey bait is military slang for candy or other sort of snack food. It first appears in U. S. Navy circles in 1918 as poggy bait. It’s still a current slang term, in use throughout the U. S. military. But what’s a pogey? It could be a reference to the menhaden, a fish also known as the pogy or moss bunker. Or, and I think this more likely, it could be related to another U. S. military slang term pogue. Originally, and the term is first recorded in 1919, a pogue is a young, homosexual partner. In more recent use, pogue has lost its sexual meaning and come to mean a soldier assigned to administrative duties. So the term might have gotten its start as a gibe at soldiers who kept such snacks, with their fellows jocularly accusing them of using the snacks in order to attract a sexual partner.
Potemkin, n. Allegedly in 1787, Grigorij Aleksandrovic Potemkin, a minister to Catherine the Great, ordered the erection of facades of picturesque villages along the empress’s route when she visited the Crimea. But it wasn’t until 1918 that the term Potemkin village came into English use. As to the truth of the story, it is almost certain that Potemkin did undertake efforts to “clean up” the Crimean countryside for the empress’s benefit, but unlikely that he went so far as to create such Potemkin villages.
pre-med, adj. and n.1 A pre-med student is an undergraduate who is preparing to go on to medical school. It’s a clipping of premedical, a term that dates to the 1890s. It was in this period that western medical education became systematized, and the institutions we know today were formed. The move from the official jargon of premedical to the student slang of pre-med shows that this transition was well under way.
R. A. F., n. The Royal Air Force was formed in April 1918. It was the first independent military aerial service in the world, as opposed to one that was a component of an army or navy.
rev, v. In 1918, you could rev your car. The clipped noun rev, short for revolution, is older, dating to 1851, originally referring, of course, to steam engines.
shimmy, n.2 Shaking the Shimmy, a a cross-over African-American dance consisting of a foxtrot accompanied by shaking of the shoulders and upper body, was the rage in 1918. Shimmy would continue as a name for any dance with such bodily quivering. There is citation of a dance called the Shimme-Sha-Wabble a year earlier.
simba, n. This Swahili word for lion, also used figuratively for a warrior or leader, appears in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar in 1918.
snootful, n. A snootful is the amount of alcohol it takes to get one drunk. Snoot is a jocular alteration of snout. There is an older term, skinful, meaning the same thing that dates to the seventeenth century. Evidently we can’t hold our liquor like we used to.
surrealist, adj. and n. A new art movement was taking hold in 1918. The English word is from the French surréaliste. Guillaume Apollinaire had coined surréalisme in 1917, and it didn’t take long for the term to cross the Channel.
tankodrome, n. Like the civilian farmerette, military jargon can fail too. This word for a place where military tanks are kept and maintained is after the more successful, but still obsolete equivalent for aircraft, aerodrome. The current term would be tank park, which is modeled after artillery park, a seventeenth century military jargon term.
underclass, n. This term for the poor and unemployed of a society dates to 1918. The English word appears to have been modeled on the Swedish underklass, but given that its roots are simple and standard English words, it probably would have been coined even without the Swedish model.
Venn diagram, n. Henry Gantt wasn’t the only one creating visual aids and charts in 1918. English logician John Venn was doing it too. A Venn diagram consists of circles representing sets that overlap to show the degree of elements they have in common.
voiceprint, n. In 1918, a voiceprint was just a concept, all science fiction and no science. Today, voiceprints are a real, but not very reliable, means of identification.
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. For each year, I try to select twenty-six words, one for each letter of the alphabet. But in some cases I’ve got more than one for a particular letter, in others none. 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 1997-2013, by David Wilton