A Century of New Words

by John Ayto (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007): 256pp, £10.80 (pbk), ISBN 978 0 199 21369 6.

Reviewed by Michèle Clarke

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Here's yet another 'Do you know the meaning of all these words?' book from OUP. As I suggested in an earlier review of some of these types of books, I'm not sure how useful they are, but this is another to add to the stable.

The title says it all: there are chapters on new words (and phrases) introduced in the decades between 1900 to 2000. (Actually there is a typo on the contents page: the first mentioned '1990s' should actually have been '1900s', but the chapter title itself is correct, and I'm being picky.) In addition, there is an interesting introduction to each decade before the list of words appears. And there is an index.

It is quite a good time-waster to go through one's 'own' decade to see which words were invented then. Just for your coffee break, have a look at these ten words and terms:

  • addict (1900s)
  • astronaut (1920s)
  • bonk (1970s – and not recognised by spellchecker yet!)
  • docusoap (1990s – ditto)
  • four-letter word (1930s)
  • global village (1960s)
  • New Man (1980s)
  • quiche (1940s)
  • sanctions (1910s)
  • with it (1950s).

Don't ask why I chose those words out of all the others. Freudian possibly.

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