What ever did we do before 1907, when cornflakes first appeared?

As mentioned in an earlier blog, I’ve been mining the OED to see what new words each year of the twentieth century produced and then choosing a few to tweet.

Every year produced several hundred: rarely fewer than 400 and often more than 500. While reviewing them, I wondered what they would illustrate about how “new words” come into English.

The list below may be revealing, even if not statistically rigorous: the most common recourse is compounding, followed by loanwords, and then by derivation. This probably mirrors the three most common routes for “new” words into English. There follows a list categorizing them according to the process by which they became part of English. This is not, by the way, exhaustive, because it doesn’t include creation by mistake, nonce words, or back formation (e.g. edit from editor).

Then there’s a list year by year. And, finally, I post again the criteria according to which I chose them in the first place.

Could this be the elusive “Man on the Clapham omnibus” (1903)? To me he looks more like a toff from first class, but never judge a book, etc.

Type of creation, in descending order of frequency.

Note that certain words could fall into two categories, but for simplicity have been kept in one. For example, psychoanalysis was formed “within English” by compounding of psycho + analysis. The way the OED categorizes words in this way disguises to an extent that the words “within English” were loan elements in the first place.

Combination of words already existing in English, i.e. “compounding”, or phrasal verbs:

As one word: television, hillbilly, airport, telecommunication, psychoanalysis, cornflakes, crossword, lifestyle, bullshit, ponytail, motherfucker, teenage, sleepwalk, photocopy, stereophonic.

Two separate words: number two, teddy bear, boy scout piggy bank, America Firstm, red giant, quantum mechanics, comic strip, pecking order, f*** off.

Two hyphenated words: neo-cortex, post-Impressionism, T-shirt,  hitch-hike

Three or more: man on the Clapham omnibus, pie in the sky, legend in one’s lifetime, rhythm and blues.

Loanword or loan translation: Art Nouveau, brassiere, u-boat, Soviet, Dada, bagel, Suprematism, al dente, dunk, robot, gigolo, quiche, kitsch, Syrah, Nazi – and, possibly, polysemy.

Formed by derivation, i.e. by adding prefix or suffix: eatery, racism, Tantric, suffragette, Freudian, tweedy, broadcaster, privatize, shitless, freebie, holistic.

Abbreviations: truncated or clipped formsdemo, taxi, cinema, deb, sax, fridge, hood;
initialisms: OMG, BBC.

New meaning grafted on to existing form: tank, rocket, Commonwealth, verb (v.), Lesbian, crisp, Odeon.

Named after someone, i.e. eponyms: pavlova, leotard, Stanislawsky, Levis.

Blends or portmanteaus: Ms., smog, motel

From Latin: vitamin(e), penicillin

Other: Kleenex

Year-by-year list

Key: bold = first cited in US source; sloped bold = first cited in Brit source; roman – other source (as shown in brackets)

1900 television, hillbilly

1901 Ms., eatery

1902 number two, airport

1903 racism, man on the Clapham omnibus

1904 hip, demo (Australian), telecommunication (unidentified)

1905 Tantric, smog

1906 suffragette, teddy bear, psychoanalysis

1907 taxi, cornflakes

1908 art nouveau, boy scout

1909 neo-cortex, cinema

1910 Freudian, post-Impressionism

Things firmed up after 1911.

1911 pie in the sky, pavlova (New Zealand), brassiere (Canadian)

1912 tweedy, vitamine (named thus by a Polish scientist)

1913 comic strip, piggy bank

1914 u-boat, crossword

1915 lifestyle, bullshit, America First

1916 ponytail, red giant, tank

1917 Soviet, Commonwealth, OMG

1918 Dada, motherfucker, legend in one’s lifetime

1919 bagel, dunk, rocket

1920 T-shirt, deb(bie), leotard (unidentified)

Where would civilisation be without these? (1919)

1921 teenage (Canada), Suprematism, al dente

1922 broadcaster, robot, gigolo, quantum mechanics

1923 BBC, privatize, sax, hitch-hike, sleepwalk

1924 photocopy, Stanislawsky, rhythm and blues, shitless

1925 motel, freebie, Lesbian, quiche, kleenex

1926 fridge, Levis, kitsch, holistic (South African)

1927 stereophonic, oestrogen, pecking order

1928 polysemy, verb, Syrah

1929 penicillin, crisp, fuck off

1930 Nazi, Odeon, hood

Art Nouveau first became an “English word” in 1908.


  • Does the word have some currency or resonance now? (racism, privatize, robot)
  • Did it historically? (suffragette, deb, Nazi)
  • Has it some cultural heritage/baggage/clout/oomph, etc? [“Cultural” in its widest sense] (Art Nouveau, psychoanalysis)
  • Is it so much part of everyday language that it’s almost impossible to conceive of its being “invented”? (motel, kitsch)
  • Was it a (major) discovery/invention? (television, penicillin)
  • Wow! Was it really coined that long ago? (Ms., kleenex)
  • Wow! You mean it didn’t exist before! No way! (pecking order, cornflakes, smog)
  • Did sex come into it? [I’m only human – allegedly – after all.] (Tantric)
  • Was/is it slangy? (OMG, shitless, bullshit, f*** off)




  1. Fabulous, thanks. I shall have to print out (if you tell me your stuff is copyrighted, I shall ignore you) and study in detail. Lots of words seem to become one word after a short hyphenation larval stage. It’s the Murican way, with the Brits not far behind, e.g. desktop, airbag. Some words change their meaning to an extent, too, it seems to me, because of emailing (see how I didn’t write e-mailing?)… I mean, cc doesn’t REALLY mean carbon copy, similarly copy and paste, computer virus and a slew of others. Can’t stop progress.
    Some of the new acronyms in emails seem to be gaining traction; there’s all those annoying LOLs, LMAO, ROTFL, IMO, but I do love OMG and ffs.

    Actually, ignorant question, please, Jeremy…is it right to say acronym when the letters are pronounced separately? NASA is pronounced nasa, but not the examples I gave.


    1. Hi, Margaret,

      Thanks for your comment, and for being such a loyal reader. (That sounds almost insincere, but it really isn’t meant to be.) Mmmm. Abbreviations, and what people call them, is a moot (or, as some say, ‘mute’, point). I can’t do a tree here, but just imagine a node with three branches. The top node is ‘abbreviation’. Its three branches are a) ‘truncated form, clipping’ etc., e.g. deb (debutante), ad(vertisement), etc.; b) its middle branch is ‘acronyms’, e.g. NASA, Nato, etc.; c) its third branch is ‘initialisms’, e.g. BBC, NBC, NPR, UN – can’t think of any others off the top of my noggin. The difference between b) and c) is purely one of pronunciation, making a normal ‘word’ with the letters, or saying them one by one.

      Now, problems: 1. people refer to any of a), b) and c) as ‘abbreviations’, but in particular, a) which makes it a hyponym of itself – forget the terminolgy, but it’s just plain confusing; people use b) to refer to c) and sometimes, I believe, even a); and LOLs, IMNHOs, etc. are new forms, so people aren’t sure what to call them (and neither am I; I’ll have to look it up!). But, the distinction between b) and c) is what you wanted to know, so the word to dazzle your friends with is ‘intialism.’ Enjoy your evening, :-).


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