- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
David Barnhart and Allan Metcalf have combed source works and select one "new" word to characterize signal years in American history for their book, America in So Many Words. For 1555 it's "canoe;" for 1588 it's "skunk," words that name palpable and natural objects in the New World. In the 1700s, social concepts like "squatter" (1790) and "logrolling" (1792) move in. The 1800s bring inventions like the graham cracker (1882) and the credit card (1888). Some words -- "backpack" (1914) and "groovy" (1937) -- have surprisingly venerable pedigrees, while some apparent basics, such as "bathtub" (1870), turn out to be relative neologisms. The authors' chirpy patriotism lite may annoy the kind of reader who hates USA Today, but taken in small doses, it's an acceptable price to pay for learning that "OK" ("America's most successful linguistic export") was invented by a Boston newspaper in 1839.
Slang dictionaries exhilarate because they fly in the face of strict usage purists and other officious types -- the pinch-lipped correctors of the world. Slang proves that language comes alive when regular people treat it like the vast, evolving, mutually created organism that it is. Discovering a deftly turned slang phrase is like witnessing a surfer punch through to the pope's living room; it's killer. -- Salon