This week in words in 1879 (±51 weeks)


FACT: the Merriam-Webster dictionary is wonderful. If you've never cracked one open, do your eyes the opposite of a non-favour and check one out. One thing they've always done, in hardcopies and onthelinecopies, is let you know the year in which each word was first known to be used in print. Now, online, you can also do this backwards and look up the words that are believed to be first used in any given year.

I chose to highlight words from 1879, because that's the year my sister will turn -100 when time starts Benjamin Buttoning her. Here are some words that were first (and in some cases probably only) used in 1879,

  • Hardscrabble - A level of Scrabble two above mediumscrabble that ultimately ends with a board of tiles flung across the room and your father yelling at you that hardscrabble is a bullshit word.
  • Chin-wag - As host of the Tonight Show, Jay Leno was an excellent chin-wagger.
  • Sulphur butterfly - Sulphur Butterfly was 1879's 3rd greatest metal band, right after Wooddica and Muskets N' Daffodils. 
  • Nonlibrarian, nonmathematician - It turns out that 1879 was so infested with egghead librarians/mathematicians that the English language decided to give a shout out to the non-those guys. Much like how in 2012 we all collectively longed for the word nonbelieber.
  • Death's-head hawk moth - Not only my nickname in high school, but also a type of moth. Also, the seventh best metal band of 1879.
  • Pectoral girdle - Despite all appearances, it is not what Kramer later termed the bro and what Frank wanted to call the manssiere. Basically, it's your shoulder region. He was a bit too creepy, so I decided to give him the cold pectoral girdle.