Top 10 New Words for Old Things

Can you name the Top 10 Favorite Definitions of Merriam-Webster editors?

Old WordNew WordWhat Changed
Disposables soaked up most of the market. Centuries ago, the word diaper had nothing to do with bottoms. It referred to a fabric with a distinctive geometric pattern. This kind of fabric was used in the garment for babies; that garment came to be known as a diaper. These days diaper generally means the disposable kind – an invention that first appeared after World War II.

Music. The electric guitar was developed in the 1920s (when it was first adopted by jazz musicians), and popularized in the late 1940s by the legendary Fender Company. The two instruments once represented more of a culture clash than they do now. For example, when Bob Dylan famously plugged in his electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he alarmed some folk music fans and, as Rolling Stone magazine put it, 'unveiled his rock & roll heart.'

Technology and military strategy. This type of warfare pits one military force against another, each armed with traditional guns and explosives. The alternative type of warfare, spawned during the last century, features biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons; it's also applied to counterinsurgency and guerrilla fighting.

Medicalized childbirth became an option. During the second half of the twentieth century, with the growing popularity of Caesarean sections, labor inducing drugs, and epidural anesthesia, this type of childbirth was conceived to describe labor and delivery without surgery and with minimal or no use of drugs or anesthetics.

Paperbacks found their way into pockets everywhere. The Great Depression created a market for inexpensive literature, and the first major paperback publisher, Penguin, stepped in to serve it. (Its early bestsellers included titles by Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway.) With the rise of paperbacks, readers and publishers needed to identify these books as such, and that term appeared in 1949.

E-mail rushed in, followed by texting, social network messaging, etc. This mail is not only slower, but also much rarer. In the United States, for example, about 175 billion letters are sent each year, compared with many trillions of e-mails (and a heaping portion of spam).

Cell phones became indispensable. The term itself goes back a long way. Originally the 'new' term referred to a wire carrying telegraph signals over land rather than under water. However, the word wasn't used much until cell phones entered the conversation. At that point, it came to describe the immobile, newly old-fashioned telephone.

Starting in the 1970s, new TV channels started pouring into American homes via new technologies. The old-fashioned kind of TV, transmitted over the airwaves – became distinct from the cable and satellite options.

Copy, Text, Paper
Reading on a screen – became a standard way to get information. These days, this term refers to paper versions of textual or graphic information. But when the term first appeared, the alternative wasn't digital: it originally referred to printouts of microfilm.

Title cards quietly disappeared. In the 1920s, the new kind of movies with built-in soundtracks were called talkies. Once it became obvious that sound was here to stay, talkie was supplanted by movie, and this designated the old-fashioned style.

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More Info:
  • HINT: The vast majority of New "Words" is the Old Word with an adjective added.
Classic: Type in answers that appear in a list
Last Updated: Feb 16, 2017

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