40 Words That Didn’t Exist 40 Years Ago
Language evolves so quickly you'd think natural selection is at play.
It’s weird to think about, but behind every word, there’s a person who decided that a specific string of letters was going to refer to a certain action or thing. And while the English language already has more than 171,000 (!) words in it, folks still conjure up new phrases every day to refer to specific scenarios and objects that didn’t previously exist. How were lexicographers in the 19th century supposed to know that we’d eventually need words like blog, voicemail, and WiFi, after all? Herein, we’ve rounded up some common words that have only existed for 40 years or fewer.
Originating from a 2008 entry on Urban Dictionary, photobomb is used to describe the moment when someone purposefully inserts themselves into a photograph the moment it’s being taken. It’s generally done as a prank, in jest—and it always ruins the shot.
Though the word troll has existed in the English language for some time, it wasn’t used as internet slang until 1992, according to the Oxford Dictionary. When used online, this slang term refers to someone who intentionally makes offensive comments with the goal of stirring up controversy.
Though the word emoji is now as ubiquitous in America as hello or goodbye, its etymology is actually Japanese. The term was coined in the ’90s, around the same time that Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita released the world’s first set of emoji. The noun derives from the Japanese e, meaning “picture,” and moji, meaning “letter” or “character.”
The word pops up a lot on photos of beloved pets, as it describes the noise that, well, everyone makes when they briefly touch the nose of something adorable. It wasn’t until the subreddit /r/boop was created in 2009 that it became commonly known, though the earliest example of it seems to be a 1992 Simpsons episode in which Bart places a stamp on baby Lisa’s nose before mailing her away. Boop!
The first known use of the word booyah—or, less commonly, booya or boo-yah—was in 1990. And it was around that time that ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott popularized the previously unknown exclamation, using it to express his joy over every touchdown, home run, and three-pointer he witnessed.
Nowadays, the term foodie is all over social media. On Instagram alone, there are more than 112 million posts associated with the hashtag #foodie. But where does the word come from? According to etymologist Barry Popik, the word first appeared in New York magazine back in 1980, and from there it slowly started to gain traction amongt food writers until it was ubiquitous.
Infomercial (early 1980s)
Infomercial—a portmanteau of information and commercial—didn’t show up in the English language until the early 1980s. It was then that the FCC eliminated certain restricting regulations that made airing advertisements all but impossible.
Short for weblog, the word blog began to be used in the early 1990s in the way that it is used now: to describe a website housing a collection of writing. The creation of the word weblog is most commonly attributed to “weblogger” Jorn Barger, and the shortening of the term into blog is attributed to programmer Peter Merholz.
Though early renditions of the modern answering machine were invented in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that people actually began to use the now-ancient recording devices. Once the machines became more popular, people needed a word for the messages being left—and thus, the word voicemail was born. Originally the word was trademarked by Televoice International—or Voicemail International—to describe their machines specifically, but today it’s used to refer to any and all automated voice messaging systems.
Contrary to popular belief, the word wannabe wasn’t actually coined by the Spice Girls. Rather, the Online Etymology Dictionary reports that the surfer slang for the phrase “want to be” was first used in 1981 and popularized a few years later when Madonna fans began to call themselves Madonna wannabes, or Madonnabes.
No, not the edible spam. We’re talking about the annoying e-kind that floods your inbox. Spam became an integral part of internet culture in 1993 when Usenet administrator Richard Depew accidentally posted the same message some 200 times, essentially “spamming” the chat board.
When Facebook, the social media giant, took the internet by storm, it brought with it a whole new set of words—including unfriend, or the action of removing someone from a list of connections on a social networking site.
During the beginning of Barack Obama’s residency in the Oval Office, the erroneous belief that he was born outside of the United States (mostly fueled by conservative talk show hosts) dominated headlines—so much, in fact, that the term birther was given to people who believed it. At the time, polls indicated about a quarter of Americans doubted that he was born in the country. He released his “long-form” (certified) birth certificate in April 2011; a Gallup poll from May of that year found that just 13 percent of Americans doubted his birthplace.
Obviously, you couldn’t hook your laptop up to the WiFi 40 years ago. Which means it makes sense that this word didn’t exist either. The abbreviation is sometimes incorrectly interpreted as a shortening of “Wireless Fidelity,” but according to Oxford Dictionaries, no one knows for sure. The etymologists there say it stands for “wireless + an apparently arbitrary second element.”
Short for emocore, this 1980s word is used primarily in the music scene to refer to a subset of rock music: fast tempos, high-octave vocals, and more harmonizing than you can pump a fist at. In other instances, emo is also used as an adjective to describe the people who listen to this type of music, who are generally defined by alternative clothes and hairstyles.
By now, everyone knows what bingeable means. (If you don’t, you should probably become better acquainted with your Netflix account, ASAP.) Surprisingly, the word wasn’t added to Merriam-Webster until 2018. It means, “having multiple episodes or parts that can be watched in rapid succession.”
Yes, cougar has been a real word for centuries. After all, cougars—as in the jungle cat—have been around for ages. But it’s only been used to describe an older woman who likes to date younger men in recent years. According to The Star, cougar first appeared in 1999, on a now-defunct Canadian dating website called cougarsdate.com.
If you’re a youngster who’s having trouble figuring out the ways of the world—how to file your taxes, how to pay your credit card bill, how to know what to do with your 401(K)—then you’re having trouble adulting. Popular with millennials, this word was nominated as a candidate for word of the year in 2016 by Oxford Dictionaries.
Eminem fans already know precisely where this word comes from. But in case you’re unfamiliar with the musings of Marshall Mathers, here’s a little history: In 2000, Eminem released a song called “Stan” about an overzealous fan, and since then, the name of the song has been used to refer to fanatics obsessed with a certain celebrity. You might see people use the word as a verb (“I stan that celebrity”) or as a noun (“she’s a huge Beyonce stan”). Either way, the meaning is essentially the same.
Widely considered to be one of the ugliest inventions of all time, jorts, popular icons of the ’80s, are denim shorts mostly worn by “NASCAR afficianados [sic] and men over 40,” according to Urban Dictionary.
Pescatarians are the new kids on the block, as far as herbivores are concerned. According to Merriam-Webster, the portmanteau of pesce and vegetarian was created in 1991 to refer to vegetarians who also ate fish—since, technically, they aren’t vegetarians.
No, Paris Hilton did not invent the selfie. According to The Guardian, an unidentified drunk Australian man attempting to describe his face was the first person to coin the term, back in 2002. How appropriate.
Previously known as “audioblogging” when it was first created in the 1980s, the term podcast describes an episodic series of digital audio files available online. Generally, the content is non-fiction in nature, and analytical in content. The updated version of the word was first made popular in 2004, by Ben Hammersley, in an article in The Guardian.
FOMO, an acronym that stands for “fear of missing out” (a thing we all have in some form or another) was first used by marketing strategist Dan Herman in 2000, according to Boston magazine.
Yes, muggle, a term invented by J. K. Rowling to describe a person who isn’t endowed with magical abilities, is a real word. It first showed up in 1997, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and it took just six years for the Oxford English Dictionary to deem it official.
Going Postal (1993)
Okay, so it’s technically two words, but they’re always used together. Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing on through the 1990s, there were a number of incidents involving United States Postal Service workers shooting coworkers, comrades, and even innocent citizens. Because of the string of terrible tragedies, people began to use the phrase “going postal” to describe people who are uncontrollably angry and even violent—and while these shootings have thankfully mostly stopped, the phrase is still widely used today.
A flexitarian is basically a vegetarian without the extreme dedication, according to the New York Times. Flexitarians are those who eat a regular diet of vegetables but include other sources of protein, like meat, in moderation.
First coined by the hip hop music scene in Memphis, Tennessee, crunk is a genre characterized by heavy basslines and shouting vocals. Decades later, it’s picked up a double meaning: to be crazy and drunk simultaneously.
Short for the word bourgeois, the word bougie means “marked by a concern for wealth, possessions, and respectability,” wrote Merriam-Webster when they added it to the dictionary in 2018. That expensive bag you have? Bougie. That friend who’s obsessed with his shoes? Bougie.
Since the 1990s, props has meant nearly the same thing as respect—only it’s used as a plural noun. One is not just given props. One must earn them. And no, one cannot get just a single prop. That’s not a thing (at least in this sense of the term).
As early as 1997, lit appeared in the music produced by East Coast rappers. Though no one quite knows how the word grew so popular, so quickly, everyone knows what it means: That something is crazy fun.
Reusing discarded items to create new ones, or upcycling, has become incredibly popular in the past few decades. This Marie Kondo–approved form of recycling was first coined by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: The Way we Make Things.
If you’re a fan of television, then it’s likely that you’ve rooted for at least one showmance, or relationship between two members of the cast on a television series, a film, or a play.
Yaas (late 1980s)
Further emphasized by the number of a‘s that you insert into the word, yaas is used as a strong expression of excitement or approval. Yas is slight approval. Yaaas is intense approval. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas is, well, honestly, probably overkill.
First debuting on Twitter in 2008, being turnt means to be extremely excited, wild, and, um, drunk. It can refer to a singular person, a group of people, or even a particular environment, like a party or a bar.
Derived from its root word, suspect, sus is a term generally applied to someone who might have shady or questionable intentions. “He only texts you after midnight? That’s sus.”
Coming from the combination of the words true and real, trill is used to describe someone who is considered to be well-respected.
Back in the 19th century, dope was used as a noun to describe someone who might be—to put it politely—a bit slow on the uptake. Such usage quickly died out. But in 1981, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was revived as an adjective, meant to describe something positively excellent. Dope!
Malware has been around pretty much since computers have been around. In fact, the very first bit of malicious software—what you may call a computer virus—was detected in 1982.
The word inbox came to be in the 1980s, around the same time that emails did. Of course, the term always existed to describe a tray or basket used to house physical pieces of mail, but it wasn’t until the age of the internet that it was also used to refer to e-folders that house virtual mail.
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