The New Word That Debuted the Year You Were Born

Were you here at the dawn of the "frenemy?" The answer may surprise you.


Language is always evolving to reflect the technology, new culinary delights, and trends of the era. That's why the dictionary is never really "done." We took a look back at Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary for a sampling of words that debuted each year, and we found a few surprises. ("Text messaging" is way older than you think.) Take a peek at when other words found their way into our language.

John Kobal Foundation
1926: Facelift

Though the process has become much more advanced since its debut, the facelift has been helping people deal with the aging process for 90+ years.

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Archive Photos
1927: Perm

Nope, the year of the perm didn't happen during the '80s. In 1927, this rather frightening gizmo allowed everyone to achieve their dream of a head full of curls.

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ullstein bild
1928: Fat Cat

The boom of the '20s was coming to an end, but not before a phrase was coined to refer to the rich industrial types who gained the most.

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1929: Spacecraft

Space travel has always caught the imagination of dreamers, even decades before we'd actually make it up there.

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JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado
1930: Pass-Fail

The grade-that's-not-a-grade might have calmed some college jitters when it first came around.

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1931: Platinum Blonde

Perhaps inspired by the most famous platinum blonde of all, determined women sought to replicate this gleaming shade. (And they haven't stopped since.)

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Juan Lin / EyeEm
1932: Gelato

Though it existed before it entered the OED, we're glad we have the right word to order this delicious treat.

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1933: VIP

The shorthand for "Very Important Person" made the work of gossip columnists of the era much easier. 

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1934: Headstand

It's an exercise that's been around forever, but the '30s brought a trend of doing these difficult poses. Even actress Elsie de Wolfe could be caught such an inversion.

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H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile
1935: Muzak

This new genre would eventually fill our supermarkets, drug stores, elevators, and dentist offices with the oddly soothing-but-annoying tunes. 

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Jack O'Connell/The Boston Globe
1936: Double-Park

As cars became more popular, we started quickly running out of places to park. Enter: Double-parking. 

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Harrison /Topical Press Agenc
1937: Doodle

It's what you do mindlessly while you wait on hold (perhaps listening to muzak?), and often the one action that can keep you from falling asleep in the process.

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Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection
1938: Private Eye

Pulp novels likely brought about this term, which would give rise to a whole genre of movies.

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1939: Celebutante

Nope, this wasn't coined during the heyday of Paris Hilton, but back in the late '30s, when beautiful society types began filling the pages of magazines and gossip columns.

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1940: Freeloader

We wouldn't call these happy barbecue guests "freeloaders," unless they started overstaying their welcome by a few days.

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1941: Radar

The new boom in technology lead to a host of new words entering the lexicon, including radar.

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Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Images Collection
1942: Maître d'

This French term made its way into our language thanks to the rise of fine dining. 

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1943: Falsies

Whether you're enhancing your eyelashes or certain parts of your figure, it's nice to have this fun term in our vocabulary.

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Duane Howell/The Denver Post
1944: Mudflap

Though it would be some time before they became as graphically interesting as this '70s design (not to mention the cliché lady figure), this truck part helped keep vehicles a little bit cleaner.

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Kurt Hutton/Picture Post
1945: Espresso

Like gelato, espresso has existed for quite some time, but didn't become common enough to enter Merriam-Webster or the OED until this year. However, misspellings threaten to morph this word into "expresso." 

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1946: Binge Drinker

We're not saying this spirited bartender is one, but that line-up of beer could possibly be for him. 

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Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis
1947: Bikini

First, it was freeing to bare a little more, especially compared to the highly structured swimsuits of the time period. But later, the bikini seemed a little less carefree as the whole "bikini body" industry popped up.

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Bill Boch
1948: Linguine

Another food that existed long before it jumped into the dictionary, this pasta helped convert more and more people to Italian cooking.

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1949: Jet Set

Whether it was A-list celebrities or socialites, the jet-setters were fascinating to watch in an era where traveling was much more difficult and time-consuming.

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Mathew Zucker
1950: Styrofoam

It helped keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot, but the invention presented a challenge to the environment to say the least. 

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Hulton Archive
1951: Fast Food

Touting fun, budget-friendly meals, fast food gave busy families a reprieve from kitchen duty. Like the bikini, it's something that would seem less carefree as time went on, but for a brief moment it was an innocent treat.

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Albert L. Ortega
1952: Droid

It would be years before you'd see droids like R2D2 and BB-8, along with the "droid" smart phone, this technical phrase was in the dictionary in 1952.

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Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archive
1953: Frenemy

We were kind of surprised how old this word was, but isn't it one of language's most perfect inventions?

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ullstein bild
1954: Cha-Cha

Social dancing got a little more interesting in the '50s, with fun-sounding styles such as this one. In the '60s, we'd all but abandon this more organized approach to dancing. 

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1955: Artificial Intelligence

Advances in the computer industry lead to the invention of "artificial intelligence," which promised an optimistic new era.

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