When was that word first used?
When I was in High School, I remember being fascinated by the idea that James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon was so popular that his invented paradise, Shangra La, entered into the public consciousness and Common usage. That may have been the first time I realized the power that an author may wield. And, here’s the thing, that happens more than we realize. I think we’re taught that English is this monolithic thing that is static and fixed, but it’s not. It’s not at all. New words are being added to our cultural vocabulary all the time. Eventually, they get added to the dictionary, mostly as a recognition of language that’s already in use. Sometimes, though, we can know who coined a term, and when they did it, like “cyberspace”. That was first used by William Gibson in a short story titled “Burning Chrome”, published in Omni Magazine in 1982. That story, along with Frank Herbert’s Dune are what made me want to be a writer, before paying bills drowned that creative impulse almost completely.
But, all that aside, my point is, every year, writers add to our English vocabulary. Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler can tell you what new words were added in what year. Go, look. Even if you don’t find it as inspiring as I do, it is occasionally fascinating to know how long some common words have been in use. For some it’s longer than we realize, but for others, it’s not as long as you might suppose!
This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!