This Is the Most Tubular Slang Word the Year You Were Born
Were you born in the "mondo" era or the "dishy" one?
Every year, dictionary editors comb through publications to find new vocabulary words that have become minted in the American lexicon. Those terms that are most widely used and have a clear definition then get added to the dictionary, whether formally created or slang. In 2019, for instance, Merriam-Webster added both stan and swole to the dictionary.
If you're curious as to which popular slang term was added to the dictionary the year you were born, wonder no more. We've gone back through the archives to gather the most iconic slang words that've been added to Merriam-Webster every year since 1940.
According to Merriam-Webster, the exact origin of whammy isn't known, but it started being regularly used in the '40s to describe "a supernatural power [that brings] bad luck." The word's usage picked up in the '50s, thanks to cartoonist Al Capp's Li'l Abner comic strip. These days, it merely describes a "potent force."
It may seem like the term yeehaw has been around since the dawn of country western music in the 1920s. But it was only added to Merriam-Webster in 1941, as a way to "express exuberant delight or excitement" in imitation of cowboys.
Zoot suits became a popular style of suiting for men in the 1940s. And in conjunction with this trend, people started using the word zooty to describe those who wore zoot suits. It also eventually just became synonymous with anyone dressing "flashy in manner or style."
We won't say duh if you didn't know the origins of this slang term, since it's a word that's also associated with the '90s. However, duh actually came about in the '40s. Merriam-Webster added it to the dictionary in 1943 as a way to express "actual or feigned ignorance or stupidity."
Swabbie wasn't exactly a kind slang term when it came about in the '40s. The word, which was added to the dictionary in 1944, is based off the word swab, and refers to a sailor, specifically "a useless or contemptible" one.
Honcho is a slang term synonymous with boss, meaning "a person who exercises control or authority." And, according to Merriam-Webster, the word originated from the World War II era. Since the United States had a large presence in Japan the years following, honcho was adapted from the Japanese word hanchō, which means "leader of the squad, section, or group."
1946: Sack out
Nowadays, people usually say they are "hitting the sack" when they're going to sleep. But, back in the 1940s, the slang term for heading to bed was sack out. Why "sack," you ask? Well, people used to sleep on sacks stuffed with hay back in the day. (That's also where "hitting the hay" comes from.)
1947: Party pooper
No one wants to be a party pooper these days, but you definitely didn't want to be one back in 1947, when the slang term first gained popularity. The term was added to the dictionary to describe a "person who refuses to join in the fun of a party." Broadly, it's been used to describe someone "who refuses to go along with everyone else."
Patzer isn't a word we often use anymore, but it was popular in the '40s and was added to Merriam-Webster in 1948. The word is used to describe an "inept chess player." The etymology is not certain, but Merriam-Webster says it possibly comes from the German word patzen, meaning "blunder."
When the word cornball was first popularized in 1949, it was used to describe an "unsophisticated person." According to Merriam-Webster, it wasn't until two years later, in 1951, that the word evolved to describe someone who has a "corny" or "old-fashioned" sense of humor.
1950: Big Brotherism
Big Brotherism describes "authoritarian attempts at compete control … of a person or a nation." The term is an instance of science fiction influencing reality: The year before, George Orwell released his tour de force, 1984, in which Big Brother, the personification of a totalitarian regime, plays a major role.
When Merriam-Webster first recognized the slang term aw-shucks in 1951, it was defined as an adjective marked by a self-conscious manner. And although the word has remained popular throughout the years, it is now more commonly used as a stand-alone expression of modesty.
You might be thinking to yourself that the word bafflegab sounds like gibberish, and you wouldn't be wrong. The slang term was added to Merriam-Webster in 1952 as a way to describe "wordy and generally unintelligible jargon."
Professor X and Magneto from X-Men. Serena and Blair from Gossip Girl. These two ladies fighting over the same beach ball and guy. Yes, frenemy describes anyone "who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy." And while it's still in use today, the slang term was popularized and added to Merriam-Webster in 1953.
1954: Rock and Roll
Both the words "rock" and "roll" have been around for centuries, but Merriam-Webster only added the compound term rock and roll to the dictionary in 1954, describing what was then a nascent trend in music. The term gained fame and popularity courtesy of '50s Ohio DJ Alan Freed.
Thirty years after the Jazz Age, Merriam-Webster added the slang term jazzed to the dictionary. The adjective, a play on the word for the popular ragtime music, is an informal way to describe someone who is "full of excitement or enthusiasm."
While it's more commonly associated with the '60s and '70s, the word psychedelic was actually first added to Merriam-Webster in 1956. At the time, it was used literally to describe a substance that produced psychic effects, like hallucinations.
Back in the late 1950s, if you wanted to describe your admiration for something, calling it merely fantastic or fabulous wouldn't cut it. Instead, people decided to combine the two words to create the portmanteau fantabulous, a term so fantabulous that Merriam-Webster added it to the dictionary in 1957.
Everyone knows what you mean today when you say you're favorite film genre is rom-coms. But those heart-fluttering films weren't known as such until the late 1950s—and the slang wasn't officially added to Merriam-Webster until 1958, specifically. The shortened term for "romantic comedy" was coined in an era when some of the best of the best were hitting the screens. Roman Holiday, anyone?
Meant to describe a "foolish person," the slang term doofus came about in the early '60s. As for where it comes from? No one is 100-percent sure, but Merriam-Webster offers two possible origins: It was either a substitute for the informal word goofus, or it was derived from the Scottish word doof, which also refers to a foolish person.
If you were to use the word dishy nowadays, someone might assume you're about to serve up some serious gossip. However, when it was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 1961, the slang term was used to describe an "attractive" or "good-looking" person.
If you saw someone wearing baggies in 1962, you might be so kind as to offer them a belt. The slang word was coined in the early '60s as a way to describe "baggy pants or shorts."
In 1961, Joseph Heller released his satirical war novel, Catch-22. The term catch-22 itself appeared multiple times throughout the novel, mostly to describe a governmental loophole or contradiction. The phrase gained such popularity afterwards that, in 1963, Merriam-Webster officially added it to the dictionary to describe a "problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule."
American folk music took off like a rocket ship in the mid-1960s, and the term folkie—which refers to a folk singer—was added to Merriam-Webster in 1964. Bob Dylan (pictured here on the left) and Leonard Cohen were just two popular folkies from that era.
Hippie comes from the word hip, which means "cool" or "up-to-date." The new slang term was popularized by journalists in the 1960s as a way to label the new, arising youth subculture that was rejecting long-established societal norms. Then, Merriam-Webster officially adopted the word into the dictionary in 1965—and we still use it today to describe earth-conscious, free-loving countercultural folks.
Today, the word groupie is pretty much used to label any dedicated fan of a celebrity who travels to attend as many of their public appearances as possible. When Merriam-Webster added the word to the dictionary in 1966, however, it specifically referred to female fans who followed rock groups around on tour.
Grinch was added to the dictionary in the late '60s as a way to describe a "grumpy person who spoils the pleasure of others." And yes, it was coined by Theodor Giesel, better known as Dr. Seuss, courtesy of his 1957 story How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A year after the animated version of the children's book aired on TV in 1966, Merriam-Webster added this common slang term to the dictionary.
As a slang way to say "extremely" or "very large or great in amount or number," mondo was added to Merriam-Webster in 1968. The English use of the word comes from the bizarre 1962 Italian film Mondo Cane, where "mondo" translates to "world." But it was circulated in America through mock-Italian phrases like "mondo bizarro."
The word ew is commonly associated with the '80s, during which it quickly became a core tenet of valley-girl speak. But the slang term—used to express disgust—was actually first popularized during the late '60s, and acknowledged by Merriam-Webster in 1969.
Synonymous with words like beginner and newcomer, the slang term newbie describes anyone who has recently started a particular activity. Its etymology is unclear, but it was used by the United States Army in the '60s and '70s as a way to label new troops joining the service during the Vietnam War.
Trifecta is used nowadays to describe something, typically positive, in terms of a group of three. But according to Merriam-Webster, when it was first added to the dictionary in 1971, it was a slang term used for a "horse-racing bet in which the first, second, and third place finishers are chosen in the correct order."
If you're a frequent denizen of the internet these days, you know what it means to be woke (i.e., aware of social issues, especially in relation to racial injustice). However, the slang term has actually been around for decades. It was added to the dictionary in 1972, when it was made popular by the play Garvey Lives!
1973: Space cadet
When the slang term space cadet was added to the dictionary in 1973, it had been circulating in a derogatory way, meaning someone who is "flaky, lightheaded, or forgetful." And while that's the same way it's used today, before the '70s, Merriam-Webster explains that it just referred to a high astronaut ranking, as coined by Robert Heinlein with his 1947 novel, Space Cadet.
Gotcha was added to the dictionary in 1974 by Merriam-Webster as an alteration of "got you," referring to an "unexpected, usually disconcerting challenge, revelation, or catch." It's also used typically to "embarrass, expose, or disgrace someone," most often a politician.
Added to Merriam-Webster in 1975, downsizing describes reducing something in size. In the '70s, it was often used to describe automakers building smaller automobiles, and then in the '80s, it was used in reference to corporations cutting down their number of employees. However, more recently, it's used to refer to a couple buying a smaller house after becoming empty nesters.
'Tude became a common slang term in the late '70s, as a shortened form of the word attitude. Merriam-Webster added the abbreviation in 1976, noting that it specifically refers to a "cocky" or "arrogant" demeanor.
Grabbing a brewski in 1977? Well, make sure you don't down too many! The American slang word—adopted by Merriam-Webster in 1977—simply refers a beer. It's a combination of the word brew, as in "to brew beer," and the Slavic surname suffix, ski.
You don't hear the word snitty much anymore, but it was a common slang word used in the late '70s to describe someone who's "disagreeably ill-tempered." The etymology of this term is unclear, though lexicographers do know that the word snit had been used as early as 1939.
If you heard someone use the word def today, you most likely would assume they meant the shortened form of definitely. However, when this three-letter slang word was first popularized in the late '70s and added to the dictionary in 1979, it was used to describe something or someone as "cool."
1980: Chill out
When valley-girl speak took off in the '80s, the slang word chill grew increasingly common. And one of the earliest plays on this term was chill out, which Merriam-Webster added to the dictionary in 1980, meaning "to calm down" or "go easy."
A shortened form of "street cred," meaning "local credibility," the slang term cred originated in the '80s and was added to the dictionary in 1981. It's used to describe the "ability to gain acceptance as a member of any particular group or class."
In the '80s, B-boy culture was strong. It referred to those who took part "in the pursuit of hip-hop culture," especially in the Bronx area of New York City. The slang phrase B-boy originated from the term breakdancing and the abbreviation was added to Merriam-Webster in 1982.
Yup. Yep. Yes. They're all just various versions of an expression of agreement. But yup was coined in the early '80s and added to Merriam-Webster in 1983. It comes from the word yuppie, which describes a young college-educated adult who has a good job in a large city, typically known as a "yes" man—or in this case, "yup" man (standing for "young urban professional" or "young, upwardly-mobile professional").
If you geeked in the mid-'80s, you were "filled with excitement or enthusiasm." The slang word, which was adopted by Merriam-Webster in 1984, of course, comes from the word geek. While usually used interchangeably with the negative term nerd, geek actually also means "an enthusiast or expert" in a certain field or activity.
1985: Cool Beans
Nowadays, you're not exactly considered "cool" if you throw out the phrase cool beans in everyday conversations. However, when the word was adopted by Merriam-Webster in 1985, it was a pretty cool slang term used to "express agreement or approval."
McJob was controversially added to Merriam-Webster in 1986. The slang term arose in the '80s as a way to describe a low-playing job requiring little skill with little opportunity for advancement. And we're sure you can see how the controversy emerged.
Diss was a popular slang term in the late '80s, formally added to Merriam-Webster in 1987. The word—which can be used as a verb or a noun—either describes treating someone or something "with disrespect or contempt" or serves as a synonym for the word criticize, as in "finding fault" with someone or something.
Most 2000s kids will tell you they went through an "emo phase." However, the word emo—a shortened version of the word emotional that describes an introspective form of rock music—was actually added to Merriam-Webster in 1988. Popular emo bands of the '80s were Moss Icon, Rites of Spring, and Gray Matter.
No matter which way you spin it, you don't want to be involved in a beatdown. The slang term, which was added to Merriam-Webster in 1989, describes an "emphatic or overwhelming defeat" or an actual "violent, physical beating."
When the term spam was recognized by Merriam-Webster in 1990, it was defined as an unsolicited message sent to a large number of people. Since then, the noun itself has evolved into a verb meant to describe the act of sending any unsolicited or unwanted messages.
In the '80s, you called your best friend your BFF, an acronym formally recognized by Merriam-Webster in 1987. Then, in the '90s, the term bestie became the new way to informally refer to your BFF. Merriam-Webster added this newfound term for "best friend" in 1991.
These days, buzzkill refers to anything that elicits a negative mood. However, as The New York Times pointed out in 1993, around the time the slang term came about, it originally specifically referred to something or someone who killed a buzz in terms of drugs or alcohol, like cops breaking up a party. Merriam-Webster added this compound word to its arsenal in 1992.
1993: Booty call
The term booty call was recognized by Merriam-Webster in 1993 to describe "communication by which a person arranges a sexual encounter with someone." One of the earliest uses of the slang term was by hip-hop duo Duice, who released a song called "Booty Call" on their 1993 album Dazzey Duks.
If you were talking about the police in the '90s, you might have referred to them as the po-po. The slang term, which was formally added to Merriam-Webster in 1994, is just a reduplication of the the initial syllable "po."
While people were referred to as newbies in the '70s, by the '90s, the slang term had clanged to noob. The word, which was recognized by Merriam-Webster in 1995, is the shortened form of noobie, which is a spelling variant of newbie.
The act of covering your face with your hand or hands to express embarrassment or dismay has been formally referred to as a face-palm since Merriam-Webster added the word in 1996. The action has become popularized in recent years through memes, but it's been around for more than a century, as evidenced by Henri Vidal's 1896 "Cain" statue.
If you're referred to as judgy, you're someone who tends "to judge others harshly or critically." The slang term, which is simply derived from the word judgmental, was recognized by Merriam-Webster in 1997.
Flexitarian was brought about in the '90s to describe someone who was kind of vegetarian. The word, which was added to the dictionary in 1998, describes someone whose diet is mostly meatless, with the occasional consumption of fish or lean meats.
Although the use of adding "chill" to phrases was popular in the '80s, the slang term chillax wasn't formally recognized by Merriam-Webster until the late '90s. The term, which means "to calm down," is a blend of the words chill and relax.
During the '90s, a form of "rap music featuring repetitive chants and rapid dance rhythms" emerged from the South. The style was referred to as crunk, and made popular by groups like OutKast and Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz. Soon, it became an adjective to describe getting crazy and drunk. It was added to Merriam-Webster at the turn of the century and thankfully, it didn't make it into the 2010s. And for all the slang terms you no longer hear about, check out the 150 Slang Terms From the 20th Century No One Uses Anymore.
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