Words of 1911

I’m starting a new series of posts here, appearing about once a week or so. In each one I’ll compile a list of words first used in English for a particular year, starting with one hundred years ago, 1911, and working my way to the present year. The 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.

I tried 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.

So, for 1911 the OED, as of 25 May 2011, has 483 “new” words. Here are the ones I’ve selected:

air force, n. The Wright Brothers first flew eight years earlier. Britain and Germany were deep in an arms race. Germany sent the gunboat Panther to North Africa, precipitating the Second Moroccan Crisis, and war clouds were on the horizon. It seems only natural that people would start thinking about applying the new technology to warfare.

airmail, n. The Royal Air Mail service, the world’s first such scheduled service began in September, between Hendon and Windsor.

allergen, n. Austrian scientist Clemens von Pirquet coined this word in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

battlecruiser, n. Although Admiral Jackie Fisher had been using the term since 1908, in this year the Royal Navy dubbed their new class of ships by this name. Bearing the big guns of a battleship, but lighter armor, these ships could steam much faster than the dreadnoughts. Germany quickly followed suit with its own battlecruisers. The ships proved less than successful in battle. They were too lightly armored to survive in engagements with battleships, and the British battlecruisers had a design flaw that enabled fire from hits to the ships’ turrets to easily reach the magazines. Three battlecruisers exploded at the Battle of Jutland, with heavy loss of life, prompting Admiral David Beatty, the commander of the battlecruiser squadron, to comment, “there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.”

brassiere, n. Borrowed from French in this year. The clipped bra doesn’t make its appearance until 1936.

Chardonnay, n. The variety of grape, and the wine made from it, makes it into Encyclopedia Britannica in this year.

de-sexed, adj. Used to refer to an animal that has been spayed or neutered. The noun was probably in existence in 1911, but it’s not recorded until this year.

electrophoresis, n. This is the use of an electric field to move charged particles in a gel or liquid. It’s commonly used today in DNA analysis.

floozy, n. This word for a disreputable woman first appears in the 1911 edition of Charles Byron Chrysler’s book White Slavery.

get together, n. This noun phrase meaning a meeting or gathering first appears in 1911.

hoosegow, n. Most might think that this US slang term for a prison is from the heyday of the Wild West. But it’s only from 1911. It’s from the Mexican Spanish juzgao, “tribunal.”

hophead, n. A term for a drug addict, this is another one from Chrysler’s White Slavery.

ivory tower, n. From the French tour d’ivoire.

joblessness, n. No, it’s not a new phenomenon.

kolo, n. A type of Yugoslavian dance, after the Croatian word for “wheel.” I include it only because I needed a K word and there used to be a restaurant in Berkeley that served kolos, a kind of stuffed pastry, that may or may have anything to do with the Croatian word. We passed the empty building bearing signs for the restaurant’s opening every day on our way to lunch for over a year. When it finally opened, it stayed open less than a month. (The kolos weren’t very good, and the restaurant made terrible coffee.)

lettergram, n. A lettergram was a telegram that upon arrival at the local telegraph office, was placed in the mail for ordinary postal delivery, instead of being delivered immediately by courier. A nice bit of nostalgia for those that remember them. (I don’t.)

mozzarella, n. The word has been used for centuries in Italian, but it’s relatively new to English.

needlenose, adj. Used to describe tools that are tapered to a point, as in needle-nose pliers.

off-peak, adj. The growth of electrification caused power companies to begin experiments with off-peak pricing in 1911.

photocopier, n. This one surprised me. I thought the technology came along decades later. Although the actual process nowadays is much different than the one used in 1911.

poison pen, adj. and n. On the other hand, I would have guessed this one was earlier.

polio, n. This clipping of poliomyelitis first appears in this year.

reefer, n. No not that. This name for refrigerated railcars, trucks, and ships first appears in 1911.

Sen-Sen, n. The brand name for a mint used to cover up the breath of generations of teenagers and alcoholics was trademarked in 1911.

taupe, n. When the names of colors are coined never ceases to surprise me.

taxi, n. and v. The noun referring to a car for hire appears in 1907, but in 1911 the word is first applied to small aircraft and to the action of moving a plane along the ground.

underinsure, v. To take out an inadequate insurance policy, although the adjectival form dates to the 1890s.

virguncule, n. From Latin. It’s a nonce-word, but I needed one for V. This is a “young virgin,” not quite an oxymoron, but redundant in most cases.

Waldorf salad, n. After the Waldorf Hotel in New York where it was first served, it consists of apples, walnuts, celery or lettuce, and mayonaisse.

X chromosome, n. The sex chromosome shared by both sexes, named after its shape. It was dubbed “chromosome x” in 1908, but the order was reversed in 1911. See next.

Y chromosome, n. The sex chromosome that appears only in males of most species.

Zapatista, n. A supporter of the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. The Mexican Revolution had begun in 1910.

zing, n. This echoic term for a twang or high-pitched ringing sound first appears in 1911.

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