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Twentieth Century Words [Hardcover]

John Ayto
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 2, 1999 0198602308 978-0198602309 First Edition
In Twentieth Century Words, lexicographer John Ayto takes us on an exhilarating tour of our century, charting it decade by decade by way of the words we've coined to mark our passage through time.
Ayto looks at some 5,000 words and meanings, from "flapper" to "flower power" to "road rage." We learn the birth dates of words such as "movie" (1910s), "barbecue" (1930s), Beatlemania (1960s), and "foodie" (1980s). Ayto also treats us to many surprises as well. Did you know, for instance, that "atomic energy" was coined in the 1900s, "rocket ship" in the 1920s, "hologram" in the '40s, and "modem" in the '50s? And in addition to the main alphabetic sequence of entries, the book also offers boxed features on topics of special interest, such as words arising from World War II ("bazooka," "jeep," "bikini").
With a thoughtful essay to introduce each decade, and thousands of evocative words and phrases, Twentieth Century Words will enthrall all word lovers as it opens a unique window on the last one hundred years.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Ayto, the author of The Longman Register of New Words and The Oxford Dictionary of Slang, presents "the most salient" new English (British and U.S.) words and word meanings from the 20th century. Based on The Oxford English Dictionary and its supplements, entries include the date of the word's earliest appearance in the OED, a definition, and examples of usage. Words are arranged by decade, which is fine in theory but problematic in practice: had Ayto traced linguistic developments thematically, this volume would have been much easier to navigate. As it is, readers will have to rely heavily on the index. More importantly, a thematic structure would have given readers a sense of the issues that have dominated linguistic developments throughout the century. The brief essays that introduce each decade, situating new words in their historical context, aren't enough. Indeed, it would appear that Ayto has a poor grip on the issues and themes that shaped 20th-century English. For example, in his introduction to the 1990s (a decade marked, among other things, by high visibility of gay and lesbian culture), he makes the following, puzzling statement: "The gay community, meanwhile, had to face the new threat of outing." Despite its flaws, this book encapsulates 20th-century developments and will appeal to scholars and readers. For larger public and academic libraries.AAnna Youssefi, Univ. of Houston Lib.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.


'The virtues of the diachronic approach to linguistics are splendidly exemplified by John Ayto's unpretentious gold mine of a book.'Paul Dean, TLS, 1.10.99

'Fascinating.' - Dot Wordsworth, Daily Telegraph, 18.9.99

'Endlessly fascinating book' - Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday, 26.12.99

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (December 2, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198602308
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198602309
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #458,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good (with some scholarly notes added here) November 27, 1999
This is a good book. Author John Ayto knows words. I'll add some reservations/corrections that must be mentioned....I'm a member of the scholarly, nonprofit, 100+-year-old American Dialect Society. The ADS publishes American Speech, and each issue features Among The New Words. ATNW has been around for most of the 20th century. Ayto never mentions ATNW!...Ayto has _supermodel_ on the back cover--a word I've antedated on the ADS online list....The 1909 _jazz_ citation was taken from the OED, but they've admitted a mistake and it should not be cited....But that's nitpicking! The book has LOTS of words! Novelists, playwrights, and screenwriters who are writing about a particular time period will find the list of words very useful....TWENTIETH CENTURY WORDS should be read with Ayto's most recent slang book, which covers slang by topic (and not by year)....Some of my colleagues (Word Detective Evan Morris) have already endorsed TWENTIETH CENTURY WORDS. I'll add my endorsement (despite reservations/corrections, which surely must apply to all books) and give it four stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History as told through word coinages August 5, 2000
Lexicographer John Ayto of the Oxford English Dictionary, that august authority on the English language, wrote this interesting book on neologisms for the Oxford University Press. As such there is a notable Brit bias to the text featuring many words and phrases never current in the States or anywhere outside of England. One of my favorites is "train-spotter" (1989) which incidentally explains the meaning of the title of the British cult movie, Trainspotting (1996). However the vast majority of the entries-there are about four thousand of them-will be recognized by most native speakers (and especially readers) of English. There is an excellent introduction to begin the book explaining how words come into the language, how meanings change, and how one can read history through etymology. This is followed by the entries themselves arranged according to the decade of the twentieth century in which they entered the language. Ayto has written a short introduction to each decade, emphasizing the scientific, political, artistic, etc. developments that led to the new coinages. Each entry is tagged with the date it first appeared in print as recorded in the files of the OED. As with a usage dictionary, the entry includes examples of the use of the word or phrase, especially early usages.
There are many surprises, at least for me. For example, "enthuse" as a verb is not listed because it actually came into use in the 19th Century. "Ska," referring to a kind of popular music of Jamaican origin, first made its appearance in 1964. I would have guessed the eighties as the earliest. "Atomic bomb" amazingly enough first appeared in 1914 (anticipating the Manhattan Project by about thirty years!) in something from H.G. Wells, and in 1917 there was this bit of irony from S.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Incomparable! September 26, 2007
I have always been fascinated with words, and the coded information of our civilization that they contain. Tracing the history of a word, or breaking it up into its components can help deepen our understanding of a topic. For instance, 'inflation', to my mind, does not occur because someone is charging more - it occurs because someone has 'inflated' the money supply. The `Bible' is so called, because it is a set of books (biblios). And the Gita is a poem, hence the name gita (which means a song in Sanskrit).

This book, which I picked up 4-5 years ago, is another outstanding book by John Ayto, whose 'Word Origins' I have used for many years. But Word Origins is highly condensed, with limited information - this one is much better, going into an explanation of the word, and also the context in which the word was coined. Mr. Ayto also provides an extract of the passage where the word is first known to have been used. In some cases, he also adds some unique information about the word or his own insight.

You can dip into this book at random (entries are arranged alphabetically within the ten separate chapters for ten decades), or locate something more specific, using the common index at the end. I personally would have preferred the book to give all the word alphabetically, and provided a decade-wise index at the end. This would have made browsing easier, especially as there is a limited connection between the decade and the coining of a particular word.

The book also includes words that have fallen out of use. Sometimes this fading away is mentioned - at other times it is not. Overall, there are about 5,000 entries over 626 pages. So you get about a tenth of a page, on an average, for each entry.
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