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9 ‘Current’ Words That Are Much Older Than You’d Guess

It is known that words, and especially slang words, go in and out of favor over time. Language can tell a lot about society and the fashions and interests of a given era. For that reason, it’s surprising that some words that we think of as distinctly modern or contemporary, are much older than we’d guess. We proved this claim in our previous article 11 Words That Sound Modern, But Are At least a Century-Old, and it is time for another installment of curiously old terms.
The following 9 words have quite a rich history. The meanings of some have gone through a transformation over the years, while others are still used in the same context as they were decades and centuries ago! 

1. Hipster

Modern Words That Are Much Older Than You Thought Hipster
‘Hipsters’ are members of a fairly recent sub-culture, and according to Urban Dictionary, they are people who ‘try too hard to be different, by rejecting anything they deem to be too popular or mainstream’. Ironically, in those attempts at being the most unique, many hipsters actually wind up quite... similar.
Despite the whole thing being strongly associated with the 21st century, it turns out that the word itself was in use in the late 1930s and 1940s, much in the same way that it is today!

2. Politically Correct

Modern Words That Are Much Older Than You Thought politically correct

The use of ‘Politically Correct’ or PC has spread like wildfire during the last 20 years, to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage members of particular groups of society. The term, however, was coined much earlier than you might think.

'Politically correct' was first used in a 1783 US supreme decision Chisholm v. Georgia. Justice James Wilson wrote that the people, not the states, held the real power in the country: “To ‘The United States’ instead of to the ‘People of the United States’ is the toast given. This is not politically correct".

3. Smash HitModern Words That Are Much Older Than You Thought smash hit

This term, which is in use to this day, was actually first used by the entertainment magazine Variety, to describe a very successful movie back in the 1920s! Each word on its own can be used to describe something - a movie, a song, a theater show, that is widely popular, but when both words are combined, the meaning is amplified.  

4. GossipModern Words That Are Much Older Than You Thought gossip

The word ‘gossip’ has a surprisingly long history. It dates back to the medieval term ‘gossib’, which referred to a close friend or confidant. In the 16th century, the word assumed the meaning of a person, mostly a woman, who greatly enjoyed idle talk and was overall a busybody.

It is believed that notion originated from the childbirth customs of those days. Giving birth used to be a social event, exclusively attended by women. The female relatives and neighbors of the pregnant woman would congregate and while waiting for the baby, they would idly converse. ‘To gossip’ was first used as a verb by Shakespeare, in All’s Well That Ends Well. Over time, it came to mean the talk of others.

Related: 10 Times You’ve Quoted Shakespeare Without Realizing It

5. BarbecueModern Words That Are Much Older Than You Thought barbecue

If you think “barbecue” is an American concept, you’re in the wrong. The US does boast a great love for burgers and hotdogs, but the origins of the term ‘barbecue’ are actually rooted in the ancient word ‘barbacoa’, from the language of a Caribbean Indian tribe called the Taino.

It first appeared in print in a Spanish explorer's account of the West Indies in 1526, and it referred to a structure of sticks for cooking meat over a fire. After a while, people started using barbacoa to refer to the process of cooking and the cooked food itself, rather than the structure.

6. DopeModern Words That Are Much Older Than You Thought dope

There are quite a few ways to use the word ‘dope’, but all of them are considered slang. It could have an adjective meaning like ‘awesome’, or it could be used to describe a not-so-intelligent individual and even be a shorthand for drugs. The original meaning of the word, however, is pretty different.

Dope comes from the Dutch word doop, and accounts from 1807 define it as "sauce, gravy; any thick liquid". During the 19th century, it was mostly used to describe any mixture of unknown ingredients. The use of ‘dope’ as foolish first appeared in 1851, maybe for the notion ‘thick-headed’. The association with drugs came later, around 1890, from the practice of smoking semi-liquid opium preparation.

Related: 10 Modern Words Included in The Dictionary This Decade

7. InfluencerModern Words That Are Much Older Than You Thought influencer

The word ‘influencer’ has certainly been in more frequent use recently, mainly associated with people who have a very large following on social media. But the word itself isn’t such a modern invention at all. In fact, according to multiple dictionaries, the combination of ‘influence’ and the suffix ‘-er’ dates back to the 1660s!

It was used to describe an influential person, or circumstance, essentially the same way it is used today. Of course, back then it wasn’t a job, and there was no Instagram involved... 

8. GinormousModern Words That Are Much Older Than You Thought ginormous

This term, which sounds like a combination of ‘gigantic’ and ‘enormous’ has a cute ring to it; we can imagine it’s a term a kid might use to describe something very large. You might be surprised to find out that ‘ginormous’ actually has its roots in military slang, and the earliest accounts of the word were found in a British newspaper from 1942.

9. DudeModern Words That Are Much Older Than You Thought dude

In the late 1880s, the word ‘dude’ was used in mockery to describe young men who were overly concerned with keeping up with the latest fashion. “For some reason, early in 1883, someone was inspired to call foppish young men of New York City ‘doods,’ with the alternate spelling ‘dudes’ soon becoming the norm.” explained forensic linguist and author Allan Metcalf. By the turn of the century, the word came to describe any guy, usually a pretty cool and laid back one. 

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