15 New Words From the 1927 Webster's International Dictionary

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"The dictionary is really an all-knowing special teacher whose services are always available." -- Webster's Dictionary Ad

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Every year, words come into and out of the English language. Humans are endlessly inventive and as inventions and circumstances demand labeling, we affix neologisms to describe the world.

In a musty Brooklyn bookstore this past weekend, I went looking for an old dictionary for a very special secret project. Among the teetering stacks of books, I came across a gorgeous 1927 Webster's International New Dictionary, and paging through it at Karloff down the street, I found myself drawn to the NEW WORDS section. These words were not invented in 1927, but represent additions to the book since its original publication in 1909. So, what we're capturing here is change between 1909 and 1927, a fascinating historical moment of great technological and social change. Automobiles spread. Electricity becomes common. Airplanes! World War! Bolshevism! Nuclear physics! Jazz!

One word I want to single out is "cosmocracy." Lost for decades, it has a secondary definition that could find fertile ground in the Internet age: "the people of the world, esp. when regarded as the source of government."

cosmocracy.jpg

  • activist, n: One who favors a more active policy; specif., in the World War, one who favored a more energetic action in prosecuting, or in taking sides in, the war.
  • airplane, n: A form of aircraft, heavier than air, which is driven through the air by a screw propeller, and which obtains support by the dynamic reaction of the air against the wings. Airplane is commonly used to designate airplanes with landing gear suited to operation from the land. If the landing gear is suited to operation from the water, the specific term seaplane is generally used. Cf. SEAPLANE, below. Airplanes are classified as monoplanes, biplanes, triplanes, quadruplanes, or multiplanes, according to the number of parts into which their main supporting surface is divided. The form airplane has been officially adopted by the United States Army and Navy, Bureau of Standards, etc.; aëroplane is still generally used by British writers.
  • bootleg, v: a. To transport or sell alcoholic liquor in prohibited territory. b. To transport or sell anything illicitly, as uninspected milk. c. To transport, esp. to import, illegally; as, to bootleg aliens into the country
  • cosmocracy, n: a. A government including the whole world. b. The people of the world, esp. when regarded as the source of government.
  • Diesel engine, n: A type of internal-combustion engine in which the suction stroke draws in only air, which the compression stroke compresses so highly that the heat generated ignites the fuel (as crude oil), which is sprayed into the cylinder under high pressure.
  • Great White Way: That portion of Broadway, in New York City, which centers around Times Square; -- so called from its brilliant electric illumination. esp. of the theaters, at night.
  • IQ: Abbr. Intelligence quotient.
  • jazz, n: a. Music. A recent type of American music, esp. for dances, developed from ragtime by introduction of eccentric noises and negro melodies, and now characterized by melodious themes, dance rhythms, and orchestral coloring.
  • movie, n: A moving picture or a moving-picture show; also, in pl., with the, moving pictures or moving picture shows as a class. Slang or Colloq.
  • nucleus, n: Chem. a. a characteristic and stable complex or atoms to which other atoms may be variously attached. b. According to modern theories of the atom, a positively charged central part surrounded by revolving electrons.
  • rayon, n: A glossy fiber, resembling silk, made by forcing cellulose through minute holes and drying the filaments in air or chemicals; also, a fabric woven from this material.
  • sleeping Bag, n: A kind of large baglike receptable, of peltry, duck, blanketing, or the like, used by explorers, prospectors, hunters, and others for sleeping in outdoors. 
  • super: A prefix freely used in recent formations, after superman to signify a person, animal or thing which surpasses all or most others of its kind or class, as in power, size, or other characteristics; as super-dreadnought, supersubmarine, super-Zeppelin. Many of these formations on super-, however, are thus far occasional, or nonce uses only; as superace, superairplane, superbrute, superbuffoon, supercannon, superclown, superconscience, supercritic, superculture, superdetective, superdramatist, superego, supergoddess, supergovernment, supergun, superhorse, supernation, supernurse, superpatriotism, superpilot,superrace,superrifle, superservant, supersnob, superstate, superthing, superthtrill, supertramp, supertyrant, superwar, superwoman.
  • windshield, n: A shield or screen of glass set in a metal frame, extending upward from the body of a motor car to protect the occupants from wind, rain, etc.
  • Yuan, n: The monetary unit of the Chinese Republic, since January, 1914; also, a silver coin containing 23.98 grams of pure silver. It is equivalent to .644 of a haikwan tael, or .464 cents, U.S. Currency. Called also Yuan dollar.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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