Four charts that show what hipsters are doing to our language

Old-timey words like bespoke, peruse, smitten and dapper appear to be creeping back into the lexicon

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The Independent Culture

Hipsters are famous for their love of all things old-fashioned: 19th Century beards, pickle-making, Amish outerwear, naming their kids Clementine or Atticus. Now, they may be excavating archaic language, too.


As Chi Luu points out at JSTOR Daily  — the blog of a database of academic journals, what could be more hipster than that? — old-timey words like bespoke, peruse, smitten and dapper appear to be creeping back into the lexicon.

This data comes from Google's Ngram viewer, which charts the frequencies of words appearing in printed sources between 1800 and 2012.


Google's Ngram shows that lots of archaic words appear to be resurfacing -- including gems like perchance, mayhaps and parlor.


The same trend is visible for words like amongst, amidst, whilst and unbeknownst, which are are archaic forms of among, amid, while and unknown.


The upturn is even visible in some seriously Shakespearean terms, like thou, thee, ere and hath.


It's not clear exactly why this trend is occurring, but one candidate could be the broader influence of hipster culture, which continually combs through the past in an activity that Luu refers to as "nostalgia mining." Hipsters are certainly smitten with all things bespoke and dapper, and they mayhaps be getting into parlors, too.

It's not like hipsters are the first youth trend to look to the past for inspiration. The hippies built on the beats, and '90s grunge sampled from both. But hipsters are somewhat unique in the nomadic way they roam the past in search of things that are "authentic" -- acquiring, and perhaps just as quickly losing, tastes for things like Pabst Blue Ribbon, small-batch whiskies, and heritage brands.

Some hipsters do this with a greater sense of irony than others -- irony, because, in seizing on something authentic and making it popular and hipster, they might be making that thing "inauthentic" again, like tourists continually in search of remote vacation spots that haven't yet been touched by tourists.

But others may not pick up on that irony. Mayhaps they just do hipster things because they like them.

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