Wordplay October 2013

'Arab Spring' Goes Back to 1975?

Five contemporary terms that are older than you might think
Nishant Choksi

Coining a phrase circa 2013 turns out to be a bit harder than you’d think—many words that might appear to be new aren’t. Take the following expressions. They may sound decidedly 21st-century, but according to The Oxford English Dictionary’s Katherine Connor Martin, each one has a backstory.

Arab Spring. The phrase can be traced to a 1975 edition of the journal Islamic Studies, which mentions people “impatiently waiting for the advent of an ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

OMG. Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher was way ahead of texting teens. In a 1917 letter to Winston Churchill, he wrote: “I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis—O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)—Shower it on the Admiralty!!” Yes, with two exclamation points.

Srsly. This abbreviation for seriously, beloved by economizing denizens of the Internet, harks back to an 18th-century guide to shorthand note-taking.

Super pac. Although the term didn’t go mainstream until 2010, it popped up in a 1980 issue of Texan newspaper The Paris News: “Capitol observers are referring to the businessmen’s coalition as a front to camouflage special interest contributions, a Super pac, a pac’s pac or even more ominously, The Ultimate pac.”

LOL. You may know it as an online ha-ha, a use that dates back to 1989. Decades earlier, the columnist Herb Caen used the same three letters in his book Only in San Francisco, as an acronym for a different phrase: “A traffic officer bellowed at an LOL”—a little old lady—“who didn’t seem to know which way to turn her car, ‘Use your noodle, lady, use your noodle!’ ” Presumably, the LOL did not LOL in response.

 

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Jen Doll is a former staff writer for The Wire. She is the author of Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest.

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