Essay:Surprising Dates of Origin for Terms

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One can learn history simply by skimming a dictionary that has the origination of terms. But there are many surprises. Add to our growing list:

New Term Origin date Comments
Biblical 1780-1790 It's hard to imagine such a late date of origin. Perhaps the word became necessary as an increasing number of people turned away from the authority of the Bible?
continental drift 1926 that's surprisingly recent for such a simple concept; wonder what held it up?
bill of rights 1798 Wow: that's many years after it was added to the Constitution!
corvette 1636 Perhaps you thought a car company in Detroit invented this name for a sports car? Not by a long shot: it was a type of warship ranked just below a frigate
dead hand 1300s an oppressive, unjustified influence of the past; this problem is not new, and led to the Rule Against Perpetuities in property law
dinosaur 1841 surprisingly late date of origin, the term means "terrifying lizard," which raises the question of why its real name of lizard is not used today
diploma 1702 The term "diploma" seems to be an invention of atheistic sentiments in the Enlightenment, and unrelated to scholarly achievement or even the development of the universities hundreds of years earlier
exclamation point 1824 never used, not even once, by the King James Version?
fission 1617 Looks like nuclear fission is not a new idea after all!
flagpole 1884 What did flags hang on for centuries before that? Flagstaffs.
hello 1889 What was the prior greeting? Is this surprisingly late date of origin due to the invention of the telephone?
landlord before 1100s Think landlord problems are new? This is one of the very oldest words in the English language. That revelation then opens one's eyes to what the word really is: Lord of the land, in the feudal system.
pole vault 1890 Apparently this was not a recognized athletic field event much before the revival of the Olympics in 1896.
separation of church and state 1802 More than ten years after the adoption of the First Amendment, the least Christian of the early presidents (Thomas Jefferson) used the phrase for the first time in an appeasing letter to Baptists. (It's also important to note that he used the term to assure them that their religious rights took precedence over the government--not the other way around.) The Supreme Court did not endorse this phrase until the liberal Justice Hugo Black used the term in 1947 (Everson v. Board of Education). (The Court also quoted from the Jefferson without endorsing the phrase in the 1879 polygamy case of Reynolds v. United States).
theism 1678 Nearly a hundred years after "atheism" (1587). Perhaps such an obvious position that no word was required until atheism became more widespread?
worldwide 1632 Did people really think in terms of the entire world nearly 400 years ago? Apparently so.

See also