Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler

Friday, 26 October, 2018

“When was a word first used in print? You may be surprised! Enter a date below to see the words first recorded on that year.” So heralds the Merriam-Webster dictionary its new Time Traveler service.

I was born the same year as agribusiness, big bang theory, consultancy, DIY, exurbia, free agent, gangbusters, hidden agenda, information science, juicehead, kegger… Why stop at “k”? Well that word kegger, “a party featuring one or more kegs of beer,” is worth a look. Surprisingly, in Merriam-Webster’s list of eight example sentences featuring the word, there is no mention of “Kavanaugh”. And that is startling because “kegger” was one of the main words used in the demonization of Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his nomination to the US Supreme Court. Here’s a Roll Call headline from 5 October: “Protesters Throw ‘Kegger’ at Mitch McConnell’s House Ahead of Kavanaugh Vote.”

Anyway, Time Traveler is an entertaining and informative tool for the word sleuth and, particularly, for the teacher of English needing an extra activity to keep learners busy.

*An important note on First Known Use dates: “The date most often does not mark the very first time that the word was used in English. Many words were in spoken use for decades or even longer before they passed into the written language. The date is for the earliest written or printed use that the editors have been able to discover.”

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