Time Traveler: When Did New Words Appear?

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?

Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
Episode #583

‘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.” 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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