Notable new words coined the year you were born
Published 4:00 am Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Picturesque Japan // Shutterstock
In honor of Dictionary Day, here are notable new words coined the year you were born
The English language is a living, breathing, expanding phenomenon. The poet Derek Walcott once remarked, “The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination: It is the property of the language itself.”
Year after year, new words are coined as time, technology, world events, and fashions dictate—but fads are fickle. If the public interest wanes for a particular trend, or world events are relegated to a foggy past, many associated words will be lost and forgotten. Still, others remain as mainstays to our evolving language and how we use or misuse it. Every three months, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) evaluates the vernacular, adding new words, tenses, and subentries to the language that the dictionary’s lexicographers deem essential.
Usually, the end of the calendar year is when the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Dictionary crown their “word of the year,” choosing an especially resonate word, a newish word that captures the zeitgeist, or one that encapsulates the spirit or larger conversations of the year. But 2020 was in many ways a year unlike any other, something the Oxford English Dictionary reflected in its choice to not choose: There is no word of the year for the storied dictionary, which instead released a larger report called “Words of an Unprecedented Year.”
After looking into the data of word lookups, it “became apparent that 2020 is not a year that could neatly be accommodated in one single ‘word of the year,’” the dictionary wrote. Most notable, of course, is the coronavirus and its related terms about science, lockdowns, and the new reality of work, school, and isolating. But lookups also revolved around election and rise of a new kind of politic (“conspiracy theory” and “QAnon”) as well as words around nationwide Black Lives Matter protests and racism (“Juneteenth,” “decolonize,” and “allyship”).
Words hold a fascination for all, from what they convey to the feelings and thoughts they evoke. Some may jog memories of incidents or events long past, while others forgotten throughout the years may be wholly new to some. When used correctly, a single word can slice through emotionally fraught situations. Or, when used incorrectly or at the wrong moment, that same word can supercharge an interaction, turning a mundane conversation into a conflagration of sentiment.
Stacker grabbed a handful of newly minted words from the years they were coined, from 1920 to 2020. Their definitions come from the Merriam-Webster Time Traveler site, except for the years 2012–13 and 2017–18. Read on for the words—and the events that may have triggered them—that reached popularity the year you were born.
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1920: Chemical weapon, fascista
Other notable words: loudspeaker, oxygen mask, smoke-filled room, submachine gun, technical sergeant, undercover
Between World Wars I and II, Britain, Spain, and Italy launched attacks using chemical weapons against Afghanistan, Iraq, and North Africa. Such weaponry was introduced during World War I. Fascista, a member of an Italian political organization following the principles of fascism under former Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, first came into use this year. Its use faded after 1943 when Italy surrendered to allies.
1921: Capital gain, sales tax
Other notable words: grade point average, last-gasp, match point, over-the-counter, superiority complex, teenage
1922: Café society, gestalt
Other notable words: anesthesiologist, baloney, mad money, mountain gorilla, saber rattling, xenophobe
Rudolph Valentino financed the first nightspot in Hollywood in 1922 welcoming fashionable, high-class café society patrons. German-born Kurt Koffka introduced psychologists to the gestalt movement in his work “Perception: An Introduction to the Gestalt Theory,” published in 1922.
1923: Bathtub gin, demand deposit
Other notable words: dial tone, endangered species, gross national product, photointerpretation, southern oscillation, ultrasound
Home distilling of illegal alcohol, known as bathtub gin during the Prohibition era, met only a small part of the demand for alcohol in 1923, but became a mainstream component of alcohol lore. Demand deposits, a phrase first coined in 1923, speak to the practice of allowing bank depositors to withdraw funds without warning or with minimal notice.
1924: Malarkey, scofflaw
Other notable words: answering machine, Bible Belt, freelancer, M-day, placement test, tossed salad
Politicians often accuse each other of speaking nonsense or ‘malarkey,’ a term believed first used by Irish cartoonist Thomas Aloysius Dorgan several years earlier. A Boston banker sponsored a contest to coin a derogatory term for law-breaking drinkers in 1924, and two contestants who came up with ‘scofflaw’ split a prize of $200 in gold.
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Jane Rix // Shutterstock
1925: Cosmic ray, Paul Bunyan
Other notable words: big government, desktop, gas station, honor guard, situation comedy, travel agent
Robert Millikan announced the discovery of cosmic rays, which are particles that bombard Earth from outside its solar system, in November 1925. James Stevens published the story of Paul Bunyan, a classic character of American folklore, in 1925.
Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons
1926: Nervous Nellie, Protestant ethic
Other notable words: Cotton candy, down payment, driver’s license, meals-on-wheels, pig in a blanket, sugar daddy
In his 1926 book, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” Max Weber examined the rise of modern economies and the institutions that influenced them. Frank Kellogg, secretary of state at the time, was chided for being a nervous Nellie in 1926 for his non-aggression foreign policies.
1927: Anti-Red, boondoggle
Other notable words: credit hour, Dixieland, interior design, mouthbreeder, ozone layer, zone defense
The 1927 execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, accused of murder on doubtful evidence, marked the high tide of the irrational anti-Red hysteria in America. On a lighter note, Boy Scouts of America scoutmaster Robert Link, reportedly coined ‘boondoggle’ as the name of Boy Scouts’ traditional handcrafted braided leather cords.
U.S. Air Force
1928: Astronautics, drill team
Other notable words: Councilwoman, inkblot test, indie, jalopy, Mediterranean diet, soundtrack
Space pioneer Robert Esnault-Pelterie first discussed the concept of astronautics with the French Astronomical Society in 1928, which is also the year the concept was named by J.H. Rosny. Gussie Nell Davis is credited with fielding the world’s first dance/drill team in 1928.
1929: Antilife, in-line engine
Other notable words: blue-collar, hootenanny, hot spot, in-line engine, macadamia nut, penicillin, Sasquatch
Author and anti-Semite D.H. Lawrence spoke of his hatred for homosexuality in a letter to Else Jaffe, referring to it as ‘antilife.’ Squadron leader A.H. Orlebar of Great Britain set a world record and won the Schneider Trophy air race in 1929 in a seaplane using an in-line engine.
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1930: Bathysphere, Hooverville
Other notable words: daily double, functional shift, gangbuster, mass transit, Mickey Mouse, shouting distance
In 1930, Americans William Beebe and Otis Barton discovered a way to dive deeper than ever before, using an underwater chamber known as a bathysphere. First coined in a 1930 newspaper, Hooverville referred to destitute communities during the Great Depression, blamed largely on the policies of President Herbert Hoover.
Stephen Zeigler // Wikimedia Commons
1931: Jehova’s Witness, skid row
Other notable words: account executive, desegregation, linebacker, microwave, supermarket, trick or treat
Rutherfordites, a name given to Bible students of J.F. Rutherford, leader of the Watch Tower, were renamed to Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931. Skid row was first documented in a 1931 book on American slang that defined it as a place where social misfits congregated.
U.S. Marine Corps
1932: New Deal, Purple Heart
Other notable words: brownshirt, dogface, power steering, spaceman, tape recorder, zoom lens
President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 pledged the New Deal as a way forward for Americans devastated by the Great Depression. More than 1.8 million people have received the Purple Heart award since its creation in 1932.
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Dr. Laughlin Dawes
1933: Angiogram, barking mad
Other notable words: fast lane, jet engine, lobster shift, natural childbirth, police action, rhythm and blues
Norman Dott of Edinburgh, Scotland, produced the first angiogram in 1933, demonstrating a cerebral aneurysm. Author Raymond T. Pierrehumbert referred to the concept of geo-engineering as ‘barking mad’ in 1933.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R99057 // Wikimedia Commons
1934: Analytic philosophy, gestapo
Other notable words: chef’s salad, extrasensory perception, mobile home, newscast, one-armed bandit, tweeter
In his 1934 book, “Problems of Mind and Matter,” John Wisdom used the term analytic philosophy to describe one who gains new insights into old truths. Adolph Hitler raised the gestapo to the status of an autonomous organization in July 1934, effectively taking over all political police forces in the Third Reich.
1935: Dust bowl, parking meter
Other notable words: doodle, ecosystem, flash bulb, graphic design, paper trail, rent-a-car
Severe drought and massive dust storms through the 1930s transformed the Midwest and southern Great Plains from fertile farmlands to dust, prompting the coining of the term ‘dust bowl’ in 1935. Also in this year, the world’s first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City.
1936: Anasazi, delta wave
Other notable words: all-points bulletin, blabbermouth, fifth column, hairstyling, panel discussion, Richter scale
Ancient cliff-dwelling Native Americans of the Southwest were given the name Anasazi by archeologists in 1936. Identified in the 1930s and coined as a new phrase this year, delta waves are associated with sleep and the release of several hormones.
Hoffman, Heinrich // Wikimedia Commons
1937: Blitzkrieg, pizzazz
Other notable words: bubble gum, ice-cream headache, press conference, rat race, senior citizen, trailer park
German blitzkrieg attacks virtually obliterated the Basque town of Guernica in 1937. The editor of the Harvard Lampoon is credited by Harper’s Bazaar in 1937 with coining ‘pizzazz,’ then associated with clothing or drinks.
1938: Electroshock, Rastafarianism
Other notable words: deficit spending, germ warfare, photojournalism, poster child, squad car, thermonuclear
Neuropsychologists Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini first experimented with electroshock therapy on a person in 1938. The first known use of the word ‘Rastafarianism’ in 1938 referred to a religion practiced in Jamaica.
1939: Bloody Mary, fancy-pants
Other notable words: cocktail lounge, fearmonger, housing development, off-ramp, shoulder belt, tie-dye
Not welcomed to the dictionary until 1939, the Bloody Mary drink was first created in the 1920s by Fernand Petiot and it evolved from there. The first hyphenated use of fancy-pants as an adjective appeared in the Coshocton Tribune in November1939.
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1940: Hipster, paratroops
Other notable words: acrylic resin, burnout, checksum, machine pistol, private investigator, significant other
The first American paratroops regiment was created in July 1940. American subculture in 1940 included the jazz-loving hipsters.
1941: Classical conditioning, existentialism
Other notable words: biological clock, homogenate, identity crisis, obsessive-compulsive disorder, take-out, top gun
Welcomed to the American dictionary in 1941, classical conditioning refers to the studies of Ivan Pavlov’s drooling dogs. Existentialism became identified with a cultural movement in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s based on work by Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and others.
1942: Atomic reactor, C Ration
Other notable words: butternut squash, eye contact, highlife, plutonium, sitting duck, tunnel vision
In June 1942, the U.S. Army took over the means for developing atomic bombs, which led to the use of atomic reactors. Wide-scale use of C Rations in the early 1940s fed soldiers in the field.
1943: DDT, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Other notable words: Bay scallop, contrail, escape artist, irritable bowel syndrome, seed money, white noise
DDT was first made in the U.S. in 1943 and was used widely to combat malaria, typhus and other insect-borne diseases. Its use was halted in 1972. The first Joint Chiefs of Staff—a concept adapted by the U.S. in 1942 and defined a year later—worked throughout World War II without legislative sanction.
USMC Archives // Flickr
1944: Banzai attack, rotator cuff
Other notable words: Antigravity, dishpan hands, hiatal hernia, sacrifice fly, thrift shop, trickle-down
The Japanese military performed its largest banzai attack of World War II against American troops in the Battle of Saipan in 1944. Rotator cuff was accepted into the dictionary this year—injuries to it have often been the bane of baseball players.
Binksternet // Wikimedia Commons
1945: A-bomb, cold war
Other notable words: bumper car, consumer price index, espresso, moisturize, Pentagon, sheeple
On Aug. 6 of this year, an American bomber dropped the world’s first A-bomb over Hiroshima. The alliance between the U.S. and then-Soviet Union became a divide between communism and capitalism after World War II, leading to the Cold War.
1946: Digital computer, freeze-dried
Other notable words: bakeware, crawl space, f-stop, onion ring, printed circuit, snowpack
The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer is introduced this year as the first programmable electronic digital computer. It occupied more than 1,000 square feet and weighed 30 tons. Added to the dictionary in 1946, freeze-dried food includes coffee, meat, and vegetables, among others.
KNewman1 // Wikimedia Commons
1947: Apartheid, cookout
Other notable words: bikini, citizens band, jimmies, decongestant, jet stream, prime time
Symptoms of what would become a 43-year period of apartheid in South Africa led to this word addition to the dictionary this year, just before the rise of the Afrikaner Nationalist Party. Coined in 1947, cookouts became a popular backyard event following World War II.
Terence Ong // Wikimedia Commons
1948: Air piracy, hydraulic fracturing
Other notable words: chili dog, deep freeze, Milky Way galaxy, privatize, stocking stuffer, xenophile
In 1948, a Cathay Pacific plane became the first commercial airliner hijacked in an act of air piracy. Research on the possible commercial use of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which began in 1947, continued through this year and led to the processes used now.
1949: Chlorofluorocarbon, methamphetamine
Other notable words: coronary heart disease, L-tryptophan, neomycin, pallbearer, postnasal drip, risk factor
Highly regulated because of their destructive effects on the ozone layer, chlorofluorocarbons joined the dictionary in 1949, following Julian Kahn’s patents on aerosols. Sales of methamphetamines climbed to $7.3 million in 1949 in the U.S., helping to further spur the American epidemic surrounding the drug.
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1950: McCarthyism, radiocarbon dating
Other notable words: action figure, brainwashing, money market, shopping mall, subscription TV, telecourse
Sen. Joseph McCarthy presented a list of alleged Communists working in the State Department in 1950, and the Washington Post used McCarthyism in a political cartoon that year. Radiocarbon dating results were based on oxalic acid, containing about the same radiocarbon content as a wood sample grown in 1950.
Cogart Strangehill // Wikimedia Commons
1951: Fast-food, manic-depressive illness
Other notable words: animal control, après-ski, birth control pill, cable television, lede, magnetic disk
Experiments in 1951 found that lithium was very beneficial for patients suffering with manic-depressive illness. Although begun as early as 1921, the rise of fast-food chains including KFC prompted dictionary acceptance of the term in 1951.
George Tsiagalakis // Wikimedia Commons
1952: Defibrillator, global warming
Other notable words: droid, kvetch, photo opportunity, rabbit ears, stoned, Veterans Day
One of the first defibrillators put to use was made in then-Soviet Union in 1952. Also this year, the catastrophic London fog that killed 12,000 became a rallying point in the fight against global warming.
TY Lim // Shutterstock
1953: Random-access memory, stiletto heel
Other notable words: ballpoint pen, bench press, day trader, microprogramming, talent show, videotape
In March 1953, there were 53 kilobytes of high-speed random-access memory on the entire planet. Roger Vivier, who worked for Christian Dior, invented the stiletto heel this year.
NASA // Flickr
1954: Anti-recessionary, trickle-down theory
Other notable words: cash flow, hard copy, junk mail, New York minute, surround sound, TV dinner
The so-called Eisenhower recession of 1953–54 was reportedly minimized by the passage of the anti-recessionary Revenue Act of 1954. The phrase ‘trickle-down theory’ was used as a joke attributed to Will Rogers in 1954.
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Robert T. Peterson // Wikimedia Commons
1955: Factor IX, fallout shelter
Other notable words: Big bang theory, home computer, microwave oven, mind-boggling, solar cell, veggie
Numerous research papers published in 1955 discussed factor IX, also known as the Christmas factor, and its connections with hemophilia. Fort Wayne realtor J.L. Haverstock began selling freestanding family fallout shelters in 1955 as a sideline.
U.S. Air Force
1956: Fiber optics, gobsmacked
Other notable words: all-terrain vehicle, backlit, country rock, snooze button, worry beads, zilch
The fiberscope, an image-transmitting device, used the first all-glass fiber, dubbed fiber optics in 1956. Jack Reynolds, who published “A Woman of Bangkok” this year, wrote of being “properly gobsmacked.”
Otis Historical Archives // Flickr
1957: Asian flu, magic mushroom
Other notable words: bone spur, clip art, leaf blower, rumble strip, static cling, transsexual
The 1957 Asian flu pandemic was first identified in February in East Asia and spread to countries worldwide. A 1957 photo essay, “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” by amateur mycologist Robert Gordon Wasson, describes his experiences taking psilocybin mushrooms.
1958: Beatnik, Commonwealth Day
Other notable words: acetaminophen, beatnik, Lou Gehrig’s disease, scuba diver, shotgun start, third world, Van Allen belt
Author Jack Kerouac, who introduced the Beat Generation in 1948, explained the concept of beatnik at a Brandeis forum in 1958. In Great Britain, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told Parliament that Empire Day would be changed to Commonwealth Day, celebrating the Commonwealth of Nations.
1959: Apgar score, DEFCON
Other notable words: munchies, pantyhose, queen-size, Saturday night special, skateboard, tipping point
Developed in 1952 by Virginia Apgar, newborns worldwide are now examined for their health using the Apgar score, a term adopted by Merriam-Webster in 1959. Also this year, the Joint Chiefs of Staff defined the DEFCON military-readiness command system.
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1960: Eurodollar, new journalism
Other notable words: brain drain, cruise control, dreadlock, junk food, theme park, wide receiver
With its roots traced to an $800,000 transaction in 1957, when European banks began accepting deposits in U.S. dollars, “eurodollar” made its way to the dictionary in 1960. So did “new journalism,” although the term wasn’t officially credited until a 1972 article by Tom Wolfe in New York Magazine.
1961: Affirmative action, macro lens
Other notable words: black ice, docudrama, photo-realism, soul music, theater of the absurd, travel trailer
President John F. Kennedy was the first to use the term “affirmative action” in an executive order in 1961. Credited for its invention by a West German in 1955, the macro lens lets photographers get up close and personal.
1962: AK-47, carpool
Other notable words: lavalier microphone, mixed-media, Oval Office, road rash, salsa, tight end
Deemed the most successful assault rifle in human history, the AK-47 was designed in 1947 and accepted to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 1962. First used as a noun in 1942, “carpool” was accepted as a verb 20 years later as people increasingly partook in carpooling.
1963: Space walk, ZIP-code
Other notable words: bobblehead doll, checkbook journalism, electronic publishing, leaderboard, play-action pass, scam
America’s first space walk, a term first accepted this year, came in 1965. The U.S. Postal Service adopts a system of five-digit ZIP-codes this year to speed mail delivery.
1964: Antiquark, garage sale
Other notable words: barf bag, rat fink, snowmobiling, strike-slip, talking head, xanthan gum
Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig put forth the idea of quarks and antiquarks this year, dealing with particle masses. Although they go by many names, garage sales became increasingly popular through this time, and well into the 1970s and beyond.
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cdrummbks // Flickr
1965: Big-block, doo-wop
Other notable words: Black Panther, credibility gap, flashcube, hippie, stagflation, wiggle worm
Chevrolet rolled out its big-block Mark IV engine in 1965. Vocal-harmony rhythm and blues known as doo-wop went mainstream in the 1950s and 1960s, and was added to the dictionary in 1965.
1966: Big hair, guerrilla theater
Other notable words: bullet train, domino effect, foosball, ranch dressing, trail bike, vanity plate
Actress Marjorie Lord’s massive bouffant in a Bob Hope comedy in 1966 is considered quintessential big hair. The popularity of guerrilla theater, which sprang up in 1965, continued to grow in 1966 when the San Francisco Mime Troupe took it on a cross-country tour.
1967: Cannabinoid, cryonic suspension
Other notable words: dietary supplement, firmware, networking, omega-3, spaghetti western, word processing
Research continued on cannabinoids this year, but controversy over legalizing its medical and recreational uses continues. Frozen in 1967, James Bedford was the first recipient of cryonic suspension.
1968: Epstein-Barr virus, liquid crystal display
Other notable words: blind carbon copy, correction fluid, green revolution, marginalize, peace symbol, sanitary landfill
RCA announced the discovery of a liquid crystal display in a press conference in May of this year. Also, Epstein-Barr virus was found to be the major cause of infectious mononucleosis.
1969: In vitro fertilization, Martin Luther King Day
Other notable words: advocacy journalism, biofeedback, graphic equalizer, plate tectonics, sport-utility vehicle, windsurfing
Robert Geoffrey Edwards and other researchers fertilized a human egg using in vitro fertilization in 1969. The King Memorial Center sponsored the first observance of Martin Luther King Day in January, recognizing the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.
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1970: Agent Orange, comfort food
Other notable words: Africanized bee, erectile dysfunction, gene therapy, Kwanzaa, physician’s assistant, Tourette’s syndrome
From 1969 to 1971, the U.S. government sprayed 20 million gallons of herbicides and defoliants including Agent Orange over vast areas of South Vietnam and neighboring regions during the Vietnam War. On U.S. soil, people looked to comfort food at home in the 1970s, which included chicken potpie, potatoes au gratin, and lasagna.
1971: Animatronics, shield law
Other notable words: cooking spray, health maintenance organization, open marriage, sexual harassment, needle-nose pliers, reboot
Walt Disney World in Orlando opened in 1971, and many of their attractions featured lifelike animatronics. News reporters in most states are protected from disclosing confidential information or sources by shield laws. Rhode Island enacted its version in 1971.
Plismo // Wikimedia Commons
1972: Blaxploitation, garage band
Other notable words: air hockey, beer pong, floppy disk, Kirlian photography, newswire, red zone, username
Films such as “Super Fly” epitomized the phenomenon blaxploitation movies released this year. Garage bands, popular in the 1960s, were not recognized as a distinct musical genre until the release of a compilation album in 1972.
Daniel Oines // Flickr
1973: Closed captioning, performance-enhancing drugs
Other notable words: duct tape, gas-guzzler, Global Positioning System, hot tub, NSAID, trauma center
A PBS Washington television station successfully tested a closed-captioning system for the first time in 1973. The U.S. Senate convened hearings this year on improper use of drugs by athletes, including performance-enhancing drugs.
goddard studio 13 // Flickr
1974: Chroma-key, touch screen
Other notable words: direct deposit, Heimlich maneuver, individual retirement account, megavitamins, string cheese, transgender
American and British television networks switched to green backdrops from blue in the early 1970s for chroma-key compositing. Sam Hurst and Elographics are credited with developing the first true touch screen using a transparent surface.
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DeclanTM // Flickr
1975: Debit card, psychobabble
Other notable words: CAT scan, electronic mail, gigabyte, greenhouse gas, sleep apnea, sports bar, variable rate mortgage
Credit giant Visa introduced a branded debit card in 1975. Journalist R.D. Rosen coined the word “psychobabble” this year to describe jargon or cliché that damages psychological understanding.
Brett Jordan // Flickr
1976: Digital camera, Legionnaires’ disease
Other notable words: body piercing, crunch time, ethernet, meme, restless legs syndrome, skill set
Steve Sasson of Eastman Kodak gets credit for developing the first digital camera in 1976. The first known outbreak of Legionella, or Legionnaires’ disease, was discovered in Philadelphia this year.
1977: Food insecure, magnetic resonance imaging
Other notable words: brewski, chop shop, cringeworthy, kite surfing, memory foam, warp speed
New rules from the 1977 Food Stamp Act helped determine the cost of a healthy diet for those who were food insecure. The first use of magnetic resonance imaging on a live human patient was performed in July.
1978: Agritourism, gene-splicing
Other notable words: attention deficit disorder, face-time, half-pipe, open mic, permaculture, satellite dish
The first agritourism operations in Sardinia in 1977 were founded to empower women in rural areas. A December 1977 article in The New York Times discussed the national debate in Congress over gene-splicing technology.
1979: Compact disc, Kemp’s ridley
Other notable words: butterfly effect, done deal, first world problem, identity politics, Lyme disease, napa cabbage,
Sony and Philips Electronics conceived the compact disc in 1979. The blowout of an oil well this year spilled 126 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, covering primary nesting habitats of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.
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Mika Väisänen // Wikimedia Commons
1980: Hip-hop, megamerger
Other notable words: bird flu, northern harrier, post-traumatic stress disorder, profiling, support system, wind farm
Daniel Christensen // Wikimedia Commons
1981: High-definition, lemon law
Other notable words: app, boom box, canola oil, spreadsheet, uninstall, weekend warrior
The first demonstration of high-definition television in the U.S. this year generated considerable interest. Buyer beware: the first used-car lemon law was endorsed by the Federal Trade Commission in August.
Squidz // Flickr
1982: Snail mail, text messaging
Other notable words: acquired immune deficiency syndrome, break dancing, couch potato, domain name, e-mail, preferred provider organization
To contrast the speed of electronic mail with that of the U.S. Post Office, Jim Rutt is said to have first used the phrase “snail mail” in 1981, and the term spread from there. Created in the 1980s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Zephyr Notification System was used for early text messaging.
Kevin Old // Flickr
1983: Gastric banding, proton pump inhibitor
Other notable words: CD-ROM, information superhighway, kettle chip, liposuction, screenshot, toolbar
Clinical applications of adjustable gastric banding for obese patients were begun in the early 1980s. Studies released in April looked at the effects of omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor, on gastric acid.
1984: Desktop publishing, DNA fingerprinting
Other notable words: clot buster, laptop, moonwalk, phen-fen, spendy, sriracha
American inventor Bob Doyle and family members introduced MacPublisher, the first desktop publishing program, this year. Geneticist Alec Jeffreys discovered and named the concept of DNA fingerprinting in September.
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U.S. Air Force
1985: Biodiversity, statin
Other notable words: anime, boy band, caller ID, go-to, multi-tool, sexual predator
Walter Rosen of the National Research Council presented a seminar in 1985 to discuss biodiversity. Michael S. Brown and Joseph L. Goldstein won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries on regulating cholesterol metabolism, which led to the release of the first commercial statin two years later.
1986: Glasnost, ozone hole
Other notable words: arena football, bungee jump, junk e-mail, sippy cup, sound-bite, SUV
American scientists in October 1986 reported strong evidence that chemical processes were causing the ozone hole over Antarctica. Although a Russian word for centuries, the term “glasnost” was propelled this year after Mikhail Gorbachev used the word to describe openness in activities in the Soviet Union.
1987: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, virtual reality
Other notable words: bovine spongiform encephalopathy, community-supported agriculture, in-line skate, paintball, physician-assisted suicide, single-payer
The American Psychiatric Association updated the distinctions of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” in 1987. Jaron Lanier, founder of the visual programming lab, coined the term “virtual reality” this year.
davidmulder61 // Flickr
1988: Boomerang child, stair-stepper
Other notable words: brick-and-mortar, crop circle, hyperlink, JPEG, mosh pit, road rage
Coined in 1988, boomerang child refers to young adults who have moved out of the family home only to move back in. The Gauntlet, an improved rotating staircase version of a stair-stepper, was introduced this year.
1989: Eco-friendly, hypertext markup language
Other notable words: beatdown, cybersecurity, gangsta rap, Generation X, right-click, viral marketing,
Tim Berners-Lee, credited with inventing the web in 1989, used hypertext markup language, commonly referred to as HTML, to link documents. Also this year, Walmart launched one of the first major retail eco-friendly campaigns.
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1990: Lithium-ion battery, McMansion
Other notable words: chyron, geek out, hoodie, malware, shout-out, tighty-whities
Coined in the 1980s and added to the dictionary in 1990, McMansion caught on in the late 1990s to describe the phenomenon of home-size growth to an average of more than 2,000 square feet in 1990. Large-scale manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries began in the early 1990s for phones, laptops and other devices.
1991: Chemo brain, SIM card
Other notable words: bestie, carjacking, crowd-surf, gift card, pescatarian, residential college
Research on chemo brain, or cognitive changes with chemotherapy, didn’t appear until the 1990s. A German company made the first SIM cards, which stands for subscriber identity module, and sold the first batch in 1991.
Linux Screenshots // Flickr
1992: Buzzkill, pdf
Other notable words: hypertext transfer protocol, infinity pool, man cave, photoshop, smack talk, zip tie
Being negative in a positive situation became known as buzzkill in 1992. First announced at a computer expo trade show, the first version of a PDF, formerly known as Camelot, appeared in 1992.
1993: Booty call, fashionista
Other notable words: digital video disc, e-commerce, microdermabrasion, robocall, web page, universal resource locator
Attributed to an album released by Dazzey Duks in 1993, booty call first referenced an unflattering sexual relationship. Stephen Fried coined the word “fashionista” in his 1993 book, “Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia.”
1994: Botox, Universal Serial Bus
Other notable words: cybercafé, dot-com, phytoplasma, pole dancing, spoiler alert, spyware
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1995: Anglosphere, webcast
Other notable words: cap-and-trade, instant messaging, refinance, shovel-ready, subprime, regift
Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson coined the term “anglosphere” in his 1995 book, “The Diamond Age.” The 1995 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony was one of the first events to be webcast live.
Oldmobil // Wikimedia Commons
1996: Gastropub, smartphone
Other notable words: cloud computing, cyberattack, face-palm, fist bump, phishing, pick-six,
The first reference to gastropubs came in Great Britain in a 1996 Evening Standard headline. Nokia and Hewlett-Packard developed some of the first smartphones in 1996.
Bob Boster // Wikimedia Commons
1997: Amber Alert, budtender
Other notable words: emoji, friend with benefits, judgy, m-commerce, smackdown, weblog
Named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old murdered in Texas in 1996, Amber Alerts are now distributed via most versions of electronic communication. First used in 1997, a budtender oversees the sale of legal cannabis.
sridgway // Flickr
1998: Arctic oscillation, webinar
Other notable words: cyberbullying, dark energy, DVR, open source, pikeminnow, social networking
Discussed in a 1998 paper by David W.J. Thompson and John M. Wallace, arctic oscillation dealt with wintertime high-pressure systems. Eric Korb registered the term webinar in 1998 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
1999: Blog, clickbait
Other notable words: carbon footprint, chillax, dashcam, metabolomics, snark, vape
Coined in 1998, weblog was shortened to blog, renamed by programmer Peter Merholz in 1999. Clickbait, first used in 1999, became part of the new digital vocabulary.
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Michalowic // Wikimedia Commons
2000: Bokeh, geocaching
Other notable words: google, speed dating, Sudoku, tanga, TiVo, walk back
First popularized in 1997, bokeh has become increasingly popular in rendering out-of-focus backgrounds in digital photography. Created in 2000 by David Ulmer and named by Matt Stum, geocaching is a worldwide phenomenon today.
Theanxy // Flickr
2001: Bromance, captcha
Other notable words: cankle, click fraud, goliath grouper, Internet of Things, tadalafil, twerking
Although its origins aren’t confirmed, the concept of bromance entered popular usage in 2001. Created as a tool and coined as a word this year, captcha foils automatic computerized registrations without human confirmation.
Christo // Wikimedia Commons
2002: Dubstep, selfie
Other notable words: exoneree, goji berry, humblebrag, norovirus, thumb drive, vlog
2003: Baby bump, severe acute respiratory syndrome
Other notable words: binge-watch, electronic cigarette, manscaping, muffin top, net neutrality, unfriend
Hollywood programs and celebrity magazines enjoy pointing out female stars’ baby bumps, beginning the term with Debra Messing in 2003. Animals in China could have spread the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003.
Web Archives // Wikimedia Commons
2004: E-waste, social media
Other notable words: life back, paywall, podcast, roentgenium, Silver Alert, waterboarding
Signed into law in 2003 and amended in 2004, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act is designed to help consumers safely recycle their e-waste. Although social media began on sites including Friendster and Myspace, its popularity permeated the internet with the advent of Facebook in 2004.
Alex Graves // Flickr
2005: Glamping, locavore
Other notable words: didymo, microblogging, ransomware, sexting, truther, vodcast
Although glamorous camping has been around for centuries, luxurious tent camping earned the name “glamping” in the U.K. in 2005. Challenging San Francisco residents to eat only local foods sourced within 100 miles, Jessica Prentice coined the term locavore in 2005 with Dede Sampson and Sage Van Wing.
cesar harada // Flickr
2006: Crowdfunding, sizzle reel
Other notable words: agender, bucket list, crowdsourcing, Eris, hypermiling, mumblecore, ski cross
Michael Sullivan is credited with creating the term “crowdfunding” in 2006 after launching fundavlog, a failed attempt to create funding for video-blog projects. Also known as a showreel or demo reel, a sizzle reel showcases actors’ or presenters’ previous works.
USDAgov // Flickr
2007: Additive manufacturing, colony collapse disorder
Other notable words: hashtag, listicle, netbook, sharing economy, tweep
3D printing, one of seven recognized categories of additive manufacturing, helped vault the term into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2007. During winter 2006–2007, beekeepers reported losses of up to 90% of their hives due to colony collapse disorder.
2008: Bitcoin, mansplain
Other notable words: burner phone, dumpster fire, exome, frenemy, hate-watch, photobomb
Originated as an electronic cash system in 2008, Bitcoin’s growth continued into 2017, when the price of one peaked at $17,900. Rebecca Solnit published critiques discussing mansplaining, a term she coined this year.
2009: Alt-right, subtweet
Other notable words: anti-vaxxer, censorware, copernicium, glocal, lipectomy, taxflation
Making it to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary this year, “alt-right” refers to white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other groups on the far right of the political spectrum. A subtweet, a word added this year, is addressed to a recipient without using their name or Twitter handle.
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Gigi Ibrahim // Wikimedia Commons
2010: Arab Spring, gamification
Other notable words: biomechanic, cytostatic, dog soldier, head shot, hog piece, worlding
From December 2010 to December 2012, the world saw waves of demonstrations, protests, and other anti-government actions during the Arab Spring. Discussed in Fortune magazine this year, gamification use the mechanics of how to get gamers addicted toward generating more business.
Guilhelm Vellut // Wikimedia Commons
2011: Bibimbap, blockchain
Other notable words: cruise, earworm, over-accessorized, zero emission
The Korean dish, bibimbap, was accepted as a word by the Oxford English Dictionary this year. Launched in 2011, blockchain provides information on bitcoin transactions.
2012: Astrogeology, geotagging
Other notable words: boat person, databasing, design-build, femcee, surface mount, totes
The United States Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center published several news pieces in 2012, including those on planetary feature naming. The U.S. Army warned of the security risks of geotagging photographs shared on social media.
Johnxangabear // Wikimedia Commons
2013: Flash mob, microbiome
Other notable words: fracking, geekery, headbang, imbongi, parasomnia, salat
Many videos of flash mobs suddenly appearing in public places have been shared online, including one from National Dance Day in Boise, Idaho. Scientific research into microbiomes skyrocketed in both 2011 and 2013, leading scientists to name it one of its breakthroughs of both years.
FriedC // Wikimedia Commons
2014: Initial coin offering, manspreading
Other notable words: backwash, bestie, flexitarian, group hug, ICO, pescatarian
Ethereum launched an initial coin offering of its cryptocurrency in a token sale in 2014. The New York subway system launched a campaign against manspreading this year, which is the term for when some men spread out on public transportation, taking up more room than necessary.
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European Space Agency // Flickr
2015: Aquafaba, haptics
Other notable words: bigender, esports, hyperlocal, lifehack, microaggression, slacktivisim
American software engineer Goose Wohlt’s work with chickpea brine led to his coining the term “aquafaba” in 2015. The World Haptics Conference in 2015, sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ Robotics and Automation Society, was held in Chicago.
Brent Schumacher // Flickr
2016: Humblebrag, photobomb
Other notable words: First world problem, listicle, microaggression, side-eye, utility token, wayback
Added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016, those who humblebrag are using an ineffective self-presentation strategy. Also inducted this year, the term “photobomb” has earned significant coverage since 2009.
2017: Clicktivism, dad bod
Other notable words: Burkini, cold brew, face-palm, K-pop, man bun, superfood,
So-called armchair revolutionaries choose clicktivism to state their cases on social media. Yale University Professor Richard Bribiescas suggests women are more attracted to “dad bods” in his book, “How Men Age: What Evolution Reveals About Male Health and Mortality,” published in 2016.
Cory Doctorow // Flickr
2018: Antifa, embiggen
Other notable words: chiweenie, hate-watch, microcredit, neoadjuvant, self-care, schnoodle
Although in use in various forms and as a movement for decades, “antifa” came into prominence as a term in the United States in 2017 as resistance to fascism spread. As a verb meaning to make bigger, embiggen was welcomed into dictionaries in 2018.
Brocreative // Shutterstock
2019: Gig economy, screen time
Other notable words: pickleball, stan, deep state
The “gig economy” came about with the rise of companies like Uber and TaskRabbit that use technology to connect people who need a service with providers looking for short-term work, or “gigs.” Monitoring the amount of screen time, especially for children, or the time one spends in front of a computer, smartphone, and television, has become a hot-button issue as studies show screen time changes the human brain.
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NurPhoto // Getty Images
2020: A year unlike any other
Around two dozen new words added to the dictionary in 2020 have to do with the novel coronavirus pandemic that has swept across the world. Definitions for COVID-19 (the abbreviated form of the novel coronavirus 2019), terms we’ve all grown familiar with like social distancing, and contact tracing—the method being used for tracking the spread of the virus—were among the words added.
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