Entering the 2020s, which seemed so far into the future, caused me to pause and focus on the plethora of words that come into our language every year. Entering the year 1920, some of the world’s great minds were inventing the rotary dial telephone, the pop-up toaster, and forming the League of Nations, which preceded the United Nations. They also were dabbling in clever wordplay and coining catchy new words. Here are ten of them that stuck and are now 100 years old.
1. Bats: Unlike the animal, which the dictionary defines in the singular form, the word, bat, with an “s” is a synonym of batty—as in mentally unstable or unhinged.
2. Complimentary close: You might not realize that there’s a term for the words you use to close an email (or, in the case of our 1919 predecessors, a letter). The phrase that comes before your signature and expresses your “regard for the receiver”—such as “sincerely yours”—is considered a complimentary close.
3. Danish pastry: This delicious and often fruit-filled pastry isn’t actually Danish at all. The treats are called “Viennese bread” in Denmark because they were brought to the country by Austrians. Nowadays, we just call them Danishes—even if it is a misnomer.
4. Dunker: This early sports term is straightforward enough. It refers to a basketball player who makes dunk shots. The sport itself was invented 28 years earlier at Springfield College in Massachusetts.
5. Fanboy: This term for “a boy or man who is an extremely or overly enthusiastic fan of someone or something” predates our internet-fueled obsession with celebrities. The female equivalent, fangirl, didn’t roll around until 1934.
6. Golden retriever: These very good golden boys were first bred in Scotland in 1865. A breeder mated a yellow retriever with a Tweed water spaniel, and their offspring became a new breed of dog that would later be called golden retrievers.
7. Jigsaw puzzle: According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle were cut with a vertical reciprocating saw called a jigsaw in the early 1900s—hence the name jigsaw puzzle. (Before that, they were known as dissected maps or dissected pictures).
8. Phooey: What in tarnation? This interjection, used to “express repudiation or disgust,” has probably been in use before your grandpa was born. Some other fun synonyms include faugh, phew, yech, and rats.
9. Skivvies: If you’re looking to spice up your vocabulary, swap out underpants for skivvies. According to one newspaper article from 1927, this word started out as U.S. Navy slang.
10. Snooty: Snobby is a slightly older term, having first been documented in 1846, but snooty also gets the point across. If you don’t like either of those words, try snotty, potty, or, the chiefly British term, toffee-nosed.
Please submit your experiences, thoughts on this month’s column, or any word you may like to share, along with your insights and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.