How Famous Words Originated, According to the Historical Oxford English Dictionary
Hunting down five centuries of linguistic innovation.
By Maria Popova
As a lover of language and the secret life of words, I’m in love with this: For their Spring 2012 issue, entitled Means of Communication, the fine folks at Lapham’s Quarterly tracked down the first usages of common and beloved words according to the Oxford English Dictionary, from “anarchy” (“the unleful lyberty or lycence of the multytude,” 1539) to “fun” (“a Cheat or slippery Trick,” 1699) to “cookie” (“In the Low-Country the Cakes are called Cookies,” 1754) to “hipster” (“a know-it-all,” 1941).
(They missed a modern essential, however — “snark,” courtesy of Lewis Carroll, 1874.)
Means of Communication is excellent in its entirety and you can find it in your favorite intelligent bookstore, or subscribe online.
Published March 20, 2012