X factor, and 8 other words that are older than you think
We’ve looked a few times at words that are older than you think, and the series continues apace: here are nine further words that you might think are recent additions to the language, but have actually been spoken and written for rather longer than you may imagine.
X factor (1930)
The TV show didn’t invent the phrase, of course, but what you might not expect is how long people have been talking about the X factor (‘an indefinable but important element’). It’s found as far back as 1930, appearing in the New York Times.
The word celebrity was actually around several centuries ago, meaning a ceremony, or the observance of a ceremony – but in its most common current sense (a famous or talked-about person) it’s still not very new: people have been called celebrities since the mid-19th century.
Made famous by a Budweiser commercial in the late 90s and early 2000s, wassup (or whassup) as a colloquial pronunciation of what’s up has written evidence from around a century earlier, in a 1902 novel by Arthur Morrison.
Holla, as an interjection, is popular in some circles today – but you’d also have been understood back in the 16th century, where holla was used as an exclamation meaning ‘stop’ or, as seen in Love’s Labour’s Lost, a shout to excite attention.
Standing for Oh my God, and used to express astonishment, this initialism predates textspeak by many decades. It is first found, indeed, in a letter to Winston Churchill (later Prime Minister) from 1917.
The earliest use of this abbreviation for Christmas should stem any concerns about falling standards of English when stood in front of greetings cards stands this December: it dates back as far as the mid-16th century. The X represents the first letter (‘chi’) of the Greek Khristos, ‘Christ’.
A handy tool, particularly if packing lightly for a picnic, the spork isn’t a latter-day invention. Indeed, the term dates back over a century, as far as 1909.
The process of getting ready in the morning is no 21st-century invention. You might be surprised to learn that the term hair-dryer was first used as early as 1895, according to current research, with hair straightener following three years later.
This might just be one for the Brits reading this – but if you call your best friend your bezzie mate, don’t worry that you’re using modern slang: though it’s certainly seen more traction in recent years, the earliest bezzie has been found is right back in 1865.