Living languages, by their very nature, are constantly evolving. The English language is no exception, as words are added to the lexicon each year. There are many reasons words are examined and added, but a main reason is they are commonly spoken. These word candidates generally fall into a few categories: advancing technology; specific industries (like food or space); and cultural references (like fashion or the daily living experience). What’s of specific interest to the observations of Mister Boomer are the cultural touchstones that manifest themselves into words of common usage.
It’s hard to believe, for example, that the word “selfie” was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary more than twenty years ago. Certainly self-portraits were not new to the twentieth century (see Mister B’s: Boomers Watched the Evolution of the Selfie), yet the nickname shortcut of “selfie” didn’t find its way into everyday language until the first forward-facing camera made its debut in a cellphone at the end of the 1990s. The word itself was added to the dictionary in 2002.
Certainly younger people have always been at the forefront of the creation of new words, and the Boomer Generation had its share. Some made it into common language use, others did not. Mister Boomer wondered what some of those words were that had their start during the boomer heyday of the 1960s and ’70s.
1960 was an auspicious year for new word entries that told of the increasing influence of the Boomer Generation. The fashion world contributed words like “Mod” and “catsuit.” A burgeoning night life scene coined the words “discotheque” and “wait-list.” And an expanding national food industry added “junk food” and “arugula.” It’s hard to believe now, but at the time, iceberg was likely the only type of lettuce people were able to get in their region. (See Mister B’s: Boomers Watched Out for the Iceberg)
The sixties saw the beginnings of space exploration, so words relating to space appeared. Could anyone imagine the need for the word “spacewalk” before the world watched Astronaut Ed White perform the first one in 1965? One year earlier, in 1964, the compound words of “high tech,” “sucker punch,” and “Zip Code” joined the dictionary. Naturally, the Summer of Love propelled “flower child” into the books in 1967, but wouldn’t you have thought “dork” had already been inducted decades earlier?
As technology advanced into the 1970s, additional words became part of the everyday language and ultimately, welcomed into the dictionary. “Beeper” joined in 1970. Cultural compound words that also were added that year include “love handles” and “comfort food.”
At the time, few if any boomers were aware that their language was being tweaked to accommodate modern life. It may very well still be the case today, as common words are spoken. It is certainly logical that the 2022 word inductees included “greenwash” and “metaverse,” as those terms cross into everyday speech. Yet also added was a word boomers have probably heard their kids or grandkids use, but may not have had the occasion to utter with confidence themselves: “janky.” It can be defined as something that is not functioning properly or is of poor quality. This word is attributed to the influence of hip-hop culture. Groovy, man. The word beat goes on.
How about it, boomers? Do you recall words spoken in your youth that were new then and ultimately crossed into everyday language?