Tag Archives: Merriam-Webster

Merriam-Webster Goes Back in Time

2020 is unlikely to be remembered fondly but it’s brought new words and phrases into common use – pandemic, coronavirus, Covid-19, social distancing, bubble, lockdown, furlough. While not necessarily brand-new words, they’ve taken on different meanings and gained widespread usage throughout the year.

Language is always evolving and changing, and English does a particularly good job at creating, borrowing and morphing new words to suit the occasion. Etymologists are always interested in the first uses of words, especially in print, to see how words have developed and changed.

For the rest of us, it might just be fun to see what words came into use in the year we were born, in which case you’ll be delighted that Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler lets you choose a year of interest and then shows the words first used then. Let’s go back forty years to 1980 and see what was new. Here’s A to F….

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I’m still surprised how now common words or phrases came into the language so recently. Some are clearly related to the technology of the time – BIOS, bitmap, DRAM, expansion slot – but air guitar, chill out and comb-over? Incredible that they are so recent. Ok, if you’re a millennial, it might not be “living memory”.

Merriam-Webster’s data goes back centuries and you can easily spend a few hours here.