Like most people with an internet connection, I spent a few distracted moments this week perusing Merriam-Webster’s excellent Time Traveler feature, in which users can discover which words entered the English lexicon by year. (Merriam-Webster explains date are “first known use,” meaning while certain words may have older histories, the dates represent the first time words were recorded in print.)
Naturally, I gravitated to words related to food and drink, and I’ve spent the last hour rounding those words back to 1960 (the feature goes as far back to pre-12th century; Papa Bear’s got other things to do). Take a look below, but a number of points jumped out:
I’m surprised by how late and how early certain words entered the English lexicon. “Panettone” in 1994?! “Umami” in 1963?! I suppose appearing in print is different from becoming part of everyday vernacular.
The 1970s was the golden age of new food words appearing in the English language. “Veggie burger” entered in 1972. “String cheese” in 1974. “Fork-tender” in 1973. “Food court” in 1979! The one unfortunate byproduct came in 1970, with the appearance of the shorthand for pizza: “za.”
There’s so much to extrapolate. It seems like an obvious point, but it’s utterly fascinating to me seeing how certain food words and when it entered the language reflected the culture of the moment. “Chinese restaurant syndrome” ushered in the MSG scare that continues today. The 1970s saw Asian dishes entering the mainstream. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, words such as “bad cholesterol,” “canola,” “glycemic index,” and “sucralose” were ushered in around the same time diet foods started taking off.