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Discover the words that became cool in the year you were born

Posted by
Emily Reynolds
Published

Slang comes and goes, doesn’t it? In the ‘80s everything was rad; in the ‘90s it was wicked. And it’s all so evocative – hearing just one “that’s gnarly, dude” transports you right back to the heady days of 1996. Precious memories. 

Now Merriam-Webster has put together a Time Traveller tool – an app that tells you a word’s first known use. 

And lots of them are kind of surprising. GIF, for example, which seems like an incredibly modern word, was first used in 1987. Chat room, similarly, comes straight from 1986. 18-wheeler – which brings to mind huge modern trucks – was first used in 1934.

Words that seem like they’ve been around forever are also relatively recent – “elephant in the room” only had its first use in the mid-’80s.

Here are some of the best – you can find the year you were born and see which words made it big that year.

1975

  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • mobile phone
  • playdate
  • psychobabble
  • trucker hat

1976

  • bicycle shorts
  • body piercing
  • class act
  • digital camera
  • meme
  • skeevy
  • ‘tude

1977

  • buzz cut
  • cringeworthy
  • download
  • gamer
  • gazillion
  • karaoke
  • money shot
  • pig out
  • text message
  • upload

1978

  • bed and breakfast
  • bodice-ripper
  • eye candy
  • MDMA

1979

  • bulk up
  • channel-hopping
  • de-stress
  • first world problem
  • identity politics
  • log off
  • smoke and mirrors

1980

  • air guitar
  • chill out
  • comb-over
  • diss
  • electronica
  • high five
  • hip-hop
  • foodie
  • rabbit hole

1981

  • boom box
  • cred
  • dongle
  • fist pump
  • ghetto blaster
  • sleazebag
  • trash talk
  • uninstall

(Image: iStock)

1982

  • boy toy
  • couch potato
  • cyberspace
  • designated driver
  • email
  • metalhead
  • party animal
  • phone sex
  • skanky

1983

  • cyberpunk
  • information superhighway
  • lap dancing
  • mosh
  • screenshot

(Image: iStock)

1984

  • app
  • bi-curious
  • death metal
  • horndog
  • laptop
  • wack

1985

  • boy band
  • crack house
  • elephant in the room

1986

Shortlist

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  • bungee jump
  • chat room
  • crack baby
  • crackhead
  • outercourse
  • slimeball

1987

  • beatboxing
  • beer goggles
  • BFF
  • emoticon
  • FAQ
  • GIF
  • paintball
  • techno
  • thirtysomething
  • virtual reality

(Image: iStock)

1988

  • bad hair day
  • crop circle
  • emo
  • f-bomb
  • gangsta
  • gentleman’s club
  • road rage
  • unibrow

(Image: iStock)

1989

  • air quotes
  • beatdown
  • latte
  • scrunchie
  • viral marketing

1990

  • geek out
  • hoodie
  • malware
  • shout-out
  • spam
  • tighty-whities
  • twentysomething

1991

  • bestie
  • brain freeze
  • carjacking
  • cybersex
  • gift card
  • soul patch

(Image: iStock)

1992

  • arm candy
  • buzzkill
  • Frankenfood
  • man cave
  • meh
  • PDA
  • pdf
  • polyamory
  • smack talk
  • URL
  • weak sauce

1993

  • booty call
  • click through
  • commentariat
  • DVD
  • fashionista
  • game changer
  • piehole

1994

  • dot com
  • metrosexual
  • MP3
  • pole dancing
  • spoiler alert
  • web page

1995

  • instant messaging
  • webcam
  • webcast
  • wiki

1996

  • cloud computing
  • face palm
  • fist bump
  • gastropub
  • smartphone

(Image: Unicode)

1997

  • air rage
  • emoji
  • friend with benefits
  • smackdown
  • weblog

1998

  • cyberbullying
  • flexitarian
  • social networking
  • webinar

1999

  • bling
  • blog
  • carbon footprint
  • chillax
  • clickbait
  • snark
  • vape

2000

  • crunk
  • geocaching
  • google
  • speed dating
  • TiVo

2001

  • bromance
  • cankle
  • captcha
  • twerking

2002

  • dubstep
  • humblebrag
  • parkour
  • selfie
  • vlog

2003

  • baby bump
  • binge-watch
  • flash mob
  • manscaping
  • muffin top
  • unfriend

2004

  • paywall
  • podcast
  • social media

2005

  • microblogging
  • sexting
  • truther

2006

  • bucket list
  • crowdfunding

2007

  • hashtag
  • listicle
  • sharing economy
  • tweep

2008

  • Bitcoin
  • photobombing

2010

  • gamification

If you want to see the full list – complete with baffling words like ‘mouse potato’ – it’s here