... and some real reasons to party

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The Independent Online
Forget the millennium; there are more worthy anniversaries around. For this year sees the bicentenary of the first recorded appearance of the word "centennial", and if that's not worth a party in Greenwich, I don't know what is. Unless it's the centenary of "jock-strap", the tricentenary of "what's-his-name" (first used by Dryden) and the 700th anniversary of such basic concepts as "marriage", "duty", "libel" and "sodomy".

A search through the Oxford English Dictionary on CD-Rom shows 1897 to have been a year of bad emotions. Algophobia (fear of pain) and anhedonia (absence of pleasure) both made their first appearance. Before then, also, no knickered au pair could be reshuffled on the Davenport.

By contrast, 1797 was a year of ideological iconoclasm with the anti- social propagandist phenomenology of the time enabling the first autobiography - of a manageress with a taste for semolina.

The year 1697 brought us the first hailstorm and thundercloud. Not the weather for having a barbecue, sailing one's catamaran or engaging in urination (in its original meaning of diving).

A chap in 1597 could have been rendered frigid, or infertile, by the incompetent removal of his scrotum. It was also the first time anyone became legless (though its connection with alcohol dates back only to 1976).

Talking of which, inebriate hit the language in 1497, which seems to have displeased his spouse. Why else should she excoriate the victim with a rolling-pin? She could even have used the pilliwinks of 1397 - a form of thumbscrews designed for the fingers.

Thanks to Robert of Gloucester's Metrical Chronicles, 1297 provided a rich word-harvest. An aunt could prepare dinner for her niece or nephew or accuse a bachelor of causing her pain, the bastard.

And why not bring back some words that have not survived the centuries? While gabfest (1897: a gathering for talk) is not to be encouraged, might we not profit from more amorism (1897: loving sentiment)? Let's reinstate it before we forsloth (1297: to lose through idleness) the chance.

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