HAPPY CENTENARY / Crumpet fondling: an earwitness account: Part 2, compiled by William Hartston

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The Independent Culture
UNTIL 100 years ago, no feminist in a homburg ever rode on a scenic railway with a hangover after having one aperitif too many. There was no disorganisation until 200 years ago. And nobody fondled his housemaid until 300 years ago.

These conclusions all come from a trawl through the Oxford English Dictionary (the easy way - on CD-ROM) to identify those words that are this year celebrating the centenaries of their first recorded appearances in the language. Hardly anything can give a better picture of the changing world than the words added to the language each year, so here are some verbal snapshots of the past.

1894 saw 466 words make their first appearance, with a newspaper report on the French Chamber of Deputies bringing us the earliest occurrence of feminist. The predominantly anti-feminist linguistic bias, however was maintained with slinkiness, good-looker and decolletage all coming into use. Advances in medicine brought us venereology and appendectomy as well as orchiectomy (an operation to remove a testicle).

On the leisure side, we had honkytonk and wireless, or we could ride a scenic railway, drink an aperitif or even partake of some marijuana. The first hangover also appeared, though the word was not yet used in connection with over-indulgence in alcohol.

The academic world gave us argon and the phoneme, but also caused us to worry, for the first time, about cholesterol. It was also the year of the first spaceship (in J J Astor's Journey in Other Worlds), and the first time a doorbell went ding-a-ling. Other useful first appearances included hog-tie, Homburg and Britishism.

1794 brought 468 new words, including the first abbreviation of 'are not' to aren't or even ar'n't. It was first time anyone waltzed or was guillotined, though the nouns waltz and guillotine had been around for some time. Badger was another new verb.

If the appearance of cavort had encouraged pessimism about the low- life (another two firsts), a healthier side of life came with the aubergine and coleslaw.

Science brought us the first hip- joint, the countersunk screw, and let us speak of a molecule of nitrogen. A dinghy too had previously been indescribable.

Two surprising first appearances were iron curtain and sky-scraper, though their meanings were confined to a safety device in theatres and a ship's sail. Battleship was also launched into the language. As an addendum, we should also mention creepy and vampirism.

Only 105 words are celebrating their 250th anniversary this year, though this is no reason to be apathetic. While it might not merit an editorial, we should like to record that 1744 was the first year anyone could enjoy an ice-cream or a relationship. It also saw the introduction (pending the first orchiectomy of 1894) of bollock as a new form of the older ballock.

1694 saw 224 new words, including the introduction of poll-tax (in Molesworth's Account of Denmark where he recorded 'one poll-tax at least every year'). While a dyspeptic could burst a bloodvessel using the horsewhip on his housemaid, he could also bid au revoir to his hovel and fondle a crumpet instead.

It was probably not a mistranslation of Rabelais that brought us the word naufrageous. 'Our State's naufrageous and periclitating,' he said. Which, if we may wisify you, means in danger of shipwreck (naufrageous) and heading for peril.

Back in 1594, among the 665 new entrants, we had the first appearance of Noah's Ark, while capricious bagpiping could be all in a day's-work for a depraved and sultry temptress. Her devoted lusciousness, however, would have been unfamiliar or even an aberration to an obsequious miser.

That year also brought us the useful, but now mostly forgotten, earwitness, as well as aorta, cognac, filament, gymnast and giraffe.

Who could disagree that 1494 was full of legitimate words (235 in total), such as affectionate, circumspect and benefactor? Triumphant, infancy and prodigy also secured their admission. But misfortune struck with cock-fight, degenerate (as an adjective), intoxication and blustering. We hope it is not too irreverent to note that 1494 was also the year of the first misprint, in its verbal use.

It was not, however, a good year to eat a sandwich, which first appeared in 1494 meaning a kind of cord.

1394, with only 67 words, was, despite an injection of sanctity, as dull as ditch-water, while 1294 could offer us only us only five new words, of which only joist and harness are still in use.

1194 brought us the first coroner and the now somewhat obsolete mangonel - a military engine for hurling rocks at enemy positions. That year did, however, give us two words that we might consider bringing back: childwite and yeresyeve.

The first was a fine paid to a lord for getting one of his bondwomen pregnant, while the yeresyeve is as good a way as any of describing and ending this piece: a gift customarily given or enacted at or around the New Year.