Last week, Merriam-Webster launched a new tool on its website called Time Traveler that lets you explore words by year. What does the tool say about our culture?
‘America in So Many Words’
The site also made me think of a book from 1997 that I liked called “America in So Many Words” by Allan Metcalf and David Barnhart.
In the book, the authors choose one word that was coined in America for nearly every year between 1555 (“canoe”) and 1998 (“millennium bug”).
They noted some interesting trends, saying that in the seventeenth century, the hot topic for new words was nature because the settlers were naming all the new things they came across in North America like corn, catfish, raccoons, and moose.
The authors call the trend in the eighteenth century “independence,” noting new words such as “minutemen,” “cowboy” “veteran,” “immigrant,” and “ticket” as in to vote for a ticket.
They cite expansion as the trend in the nineteenth century, with new words such as “know-how,” “skyscraper,” “downtown,” “commuter,” and “ranch” (a ranch usually being far bigger than a typical farm).
And the twentieth-century trend was science, with words such as “IQ, “rocket scientist,” “goo,” “brainstorm,” and “streamline.”
I love looking at these words and thinking about the times and cultures in which people started using them, and I bet you will too.
Again, the website is Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler, and the book is “American in So Many Words.”
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