Merriam-Webster, the venerable dictionary publisher known for its often snarky Twitter account, unveiled a new feature on Monday that lets users go back in time.
The online dictionary's Time Traveler feature allows curious amateur linguists and cultural historians to enter a year and see all the words that were initially recorded — in other words, published — in that period.
Both “apology” and “civil war” were first used in 1533, for example. Other words and phrases that made their first appearances in English that same year include “famed,” “harangue,” “excrement,” “good-for-nothing,” “ovation,” “ungrateful,” “vigilance,” “preposterous,” “carrot,” “turnip” and “utopia.”
The project is extensive, allowing users to choose options time beginning in “before 12th century” to 2010, the year that brought us "Arab spring" and "gamification."
"Exploring Time Traveler is surprising and enlightening, with many words first recorded much earlier or later than one might expect," the dictionary publisher said in a news release. "Prima donna and unsportsmanlike date back to 1754, while neurotypical wasn’t recorded until 1994."
Many recent years have yielded words that have become common parts of the American English vocabulary, such as "photobomb" (2008), "hashtag"(2007), "bucket list" (2006) and "sexting" (2005).
Not all of the recent words will be instantly familiar to the general public, however. It's unlikely that you'll hear "roentgenium" (2004, a type of radioactive element) or "rock snot" (2005, a single-cellalgae) in casual conversation unless you run in some esoteric circles.
Merriam-Webster included a caveat in its news release: "Note that there is some art to these facts: antedating happens regularly, and first-known-use dates are subject to frequent (but not instant) updating, as new evidence is uncovered."
That might explain why the dictionary has the word "cheesesteak," the iconic Philadelphia sandwich that dates to the 1930s, as being first recorded in 1977, the same year that saw "brewski" (a beer, of course) entered the language.
Still, users might be surprised at how long some popular slang words have been around. According to the dictionary, people have been "chillaxing" since 1999, "face-palming" since 1996 and "smack talking" since 1992.
Lisa Schneider, Merriam-Webster's chief digital officer and publisher, suggested that users explore milestone years using the new feature.
"It’s entertaining to see what words were first used the year you were born, or the year you graduated college, and it’s especially interesting to discover a word that has been around for centurie slonger than (or is much newer than!) you might expect," she said."We’re thrilled to extend this new feature to our users, and invite them to explore along with us."