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Merriam-Webster App Tells You Which Words Were First Printed the Year You Were Born

Merriam-Webster App Tells You Which Words Were First Printed the Year You Were Born

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. Now, the wordsmiths at M-W dictionaries have made it easier—and fun!—to see what words made their “big print” debut in the year you were born—or any year, really!—with a new online app called Time Traveler.

Now, a word being assigned a given year by the app doesn’t mean it hadn’t been spoken aloud before that, 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 2016, are not what you’d expect, but keep in mind, you might be hearing them in ads 20 years from now: moscovium, nihonium, oganesson, tennessine, and utility tokenOganesson, by the way, is “a short-lived, artificially produced radioactive element that has 118 protons.”

What are the best words and phrases first printed the year you were born? Take the Time Traveler for a spin and let us know in comments!

Image: Flickr/Radarsmum67

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