56 popular words that entered the English language over the last century

  • Our communication changes every year.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveller tool shows what words were most popular each year.
  • They have been publishing a list of most looked up words since 2003.

Language is constantly evolving. From neologisms to emoji, how we communicate changes year by year.

To find out which words hit the scene the year you were born, INSIDER consulted Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveller tool – a resource that showcases terms that entered the English language from before the 12th century through 2016. We also looked at the dictionary’s “Words of the Year,” a list published annually since 2003.

Keep reading to see the words that defined our lexicon over the past century.


In 1900, people began shortening “vocabulary” to “vocab.”

Phil Thomas/FlickrVocabulary was shortened to the term we use most often today.

The turn of the 20th century gave us plenty of words we use every day, from “preppy” and “television” to “sorority” and “vocab.”


The next decade gave us “taco,” “legit,” and “empathy.”

ShutterstockTacos became part of the English vernacular in 1901.

In 1901, “offbeat” and “taco” entered the English language (though obviously the latter was used elsewhere well before that), with “nonfat” and “twee” joining the lexicon in 1905.

By 1907, people were saying “blurb” and “legit,” which are ubiquitous to this day. And in 1909, “empathy” and “movie” became part of our lingo.


“Razzmatazz” and “kerflooey” are just two of the memorable words to emerge from the 1910s.

Shutterstock‘Razzmatazz’ became a more popular adjective in 1917.

Razzmatazz” is a synonym for “razzle-dazzle” that’s been in use since 1917, while “kerflooey,” introduced in 1918, means “awry” or “kaput.”

More quotidian terms like “byline” and “lifestyle” were also introduced during this decade.


In the ’20s, advances in science and technology resulted in words like “algorithm” and “robot.”

VCG/Getty Images‘Robot’ first became popular in 1922.

We may think of “algorithm” as a modern word, but it was first introduced in 1926. Another futuristic term, “robot,” entered the English lexicon in 1922.

The roaring ’20s also provided us with additional words that remain in heavy rotation, such as “workflow” and “kitsch.”


From “hepcat” to “yowza,” 1930s lingo was distinctive.

UCSD Mandeville Special Collections LibraryThe 1930s introduced some new lingo.

Not only are the 1930s synonymous with the Great Depression – that decade is also associated with its colourful lingo. Although “hepcat,” a gem from 1937 meaning “hipster,” has generally fallen out of usage, we still say “zillion,” an adjective meaning “an indeterminately large number” that was coined in 1934.

Other distinctive words from the ’30s include “yowza” (used to express surprise) and “Seussian” (which means, you guessed it, “of, relating to, or suggestive of the works of Dr. Seuss”).


Not all ’40s vocab was “gobbledygook.”

ShutterstockThe term ‘kombucha’ was introduced in 1944.

We were graced with the wonderfully goofy “gobbledygook” (“wordy and generally unintelligible jargon”) in 1944, a year that also introduced “autism” and “kombucha.”

Then, in 1945, “gadzookery,” or “the use of archaisms (as in a historical novel)” entered the English language, with “xenophile,” meaning “one attracted to foreign things (such as styles or peoples),” landing in 1948.


In the 1950s, jargon was “fine-tuned.”

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images‘Boho’ was first introduced as an adjective in 1958.

Since 1959, we could “fine-tune” our vocabulary. The nifty ’50s also saw the introduction of “digitize,” “boho,” and “weirdo,” which people started saying in 1953, 1958, and 1955, respectively.


The groovy ’60s were distinguished by words like “trippy” and “stoked.”

Wikimedia CommonsThe term ‘condo’ was introduced in the 60s.

“Trippy” dates to 1968, with “stoked” entering English in 1965. In addition, the ’60s popularised terms as diverse as “yada yada” (circa 1967) and “condo” (circa 1964).


“Woke” and “wannabe” entered our lexicon in the ’70s.

SpiceGirlsVEVO/YouTubeThe Spice Girls used this popular 1970s word as one of their song titles.

Woke” is everywhere these days, but the word was actually introduced in 1972. Other notable ’70s terms range from “wannabe” to “factoid.”


In the ’80s, people talked about “lattes” and “email.”

Thongsuk Atiwannakul/iStock‘Lattes’ became popular.

With the convenience of coffee chains, it’s hard to imagine a world without “lattes,” a word that wasn’t commonplace in English until 1989. The term for another modern marvel, “email,” has only been in use since 1982.

The ’80s also introduced portmanteaus like “unibrow” and “tankini.”


The ’90s were about “mixtapes” and “dot-commers.”

Universal Pictures‘Mixtapes’ are very ’90s.

Whether you made one for your bestie or your crush, “mixtapes” (dating to 1991) were a vital part of ’90s culture. So was “upcycling,” a trend that began in 1994.

Plus, the dot com bubble resulted in terminology pertaining to early internet culture, from “dot-commers” to “weblogs” (which was later shortened to “blog”).


With the new millennium came “google” and “bromance.”

Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images‘Bromance’ first got an official term in 2001.

The verb “google” entered our lingo in 2000. Then, in 2001, we were introduced to “bromance.”

It’s also worth noting that “selfie” first appeared in 2002 (via an Australian news site) but wasn’t popularised for another decade.


In 2003, Merriam-Webster began publishing an annual “Words of the Year” list.

Published each year since 2003, the list has typically featured words relating to the political landscape in the US or internet culture.

For example, “democracy” topped the inaugural roundup. Subsequent lists highlighted words such as “blog” (2004) and “truthiness” (2006). The latter was coined by Stephen Colbert to refer to something that “seems like the truth.”


Over the past decade, we’ve started saying things like “photobomb” and “manspreading.”

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images‘Photobomb’ was popularised in 2013 and 2014.

Since 2008, we’ve been saying “photobomb” and “hate-watch.” Words such as “bingeable” and “manspreading” were respectively popularised in 2013 and 2014.

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