Smoking gun. Life support. Alternative music. Heimlich maneuver. Probiotic. What do those words and phrases have in common? They all saw print for the first time in 1974—the year I was born. The wordsmiths over at Merriam-Webster dictionaries made it easier—and fun—to see which words made their “big print” debut the year you were born with a a new online app called Time Traveler. That doesn’t mean the word didn’t necessarily exist before, of course. Just that, as far as Merriam-Webster can determine, the word appeared in print for the first time that year. The implication: that was the moment an editor at a publication saw the word or phrase, and for the first time, opted not to say, “Don’t use that; nobody will know what it means.”
Rather, they had become familiar enough for the common reader to reliably comprehend. (It would take another 20 years before you’d hear “alternative music” and “probiotic” on every other commercial, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.) The app is pretty reliable throughout recent history, though gets a little sketchier prior to 1500 (“brownie,” “frisky,” “hives”). The only individual year they list prior to that is 1472, which boasts the singly entry “reassume.” Then they go back to the 12th century, by century. Among those earliest from the 1100s: “harbor,” “healer,” and “justice.”
The most recent entries, from 2020, are particularly timely. The few new words and phrases added are all related to the global pandemic. “SARS-CoV-2″ and its many variants—”Coronavirus disease 2019,” “COVID-19,” and “CV-19″—all make an appearance. Additionally, several new entries are related to “pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome,” a COVID-related disease affecting children. And, it wouldn’t be 2020 without the term “physically distance” making the cut. However, in an interesting twist, the antiviral drug Remdesivir, which has made numerous headlines this year, actually debuted back in 2018.
It’s always fun to look back at the moment certain words entered the common vernacular. Now we can determine exactly what new words were en vogue when we were born.
Header Image: 20th Century Fox
Originally Published on October 25, 2018.