The top ten: Old words that sound new


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The Independent Culture

Jan Huntingdon said she has a tattered 1790 edition of the K-Z volume of Thomas Sheridan's 'Dictionary of the English Language', and the first word under Z is the first on this list, defined as: 'One employed to raise laughter by his gestures, actions, and speeches; a merry Andrew, a buffoon.'

1. Zany, 16th century From French zani or Italian zan(n)i, Venetian form of Gianni, Giovanni (John), stock name of the servants acting as clowns in the commedia dell'arte.

2. Synthesis, around 1600 From Richard Morris.

3. Unfriend, 1275 As a verb, dates back to 1659; the noun is even older, according to OxfordWords. Suggested by Politics and Tea.

4. Hipster, 1941 OxfordWords, Oxford Dictionaries' blog. From Politics and Tea again.

5. Interactive, 1833 Nominated by Malcolm Redfellow.

6. Trash, 1603 "Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing." Iago in Othello. Nominated by Stig Abell.

7. Fanboy, 1919 And fangirl. 1934. OxfordWords blog. Another Politics and Tea proposal.

8. Advertorial, 1914 A headline in Rotarian, 14 May: "A word to the women folk. An advertorial." Nominated by Jem Stone.

9. Freak, 16th century Originally dialect: sudden, arbitrary change of mind. Four hundred years later, in 1978, Chic's "Le Freak" reached number one. Proposed by Nedemus.

10. Baseball, 1755 From the Diary of William Bray, Guildford. Jane Austen's Catherine in Northanger Abbey, (written 1797-8), prefers "cricket, base-ball, riding on horseback" to books. From Sarah Brown.

Next week: Fictional buildings (Tower of Babel, Hogwarts)

Coming soon: Public art. Send your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to

John Rentoul's 'Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top 10s, from Politics to Pop' (Elliott & Thompson, (£9.99; e-book, £4.99) is out now