I recently turned 64 and as part of the festivities my daughter checked the Meriam-Webster website’s Time Traveler feature to find out which words were first used in print in 1955, the year I was born. I quickly realized that many of the people in the room had no idea what some of these words meant or alternatively that there was a time when these concepts hadn’t yet been invented, so I thought I’d give some historical perspective (which is pretty much the only perspective I now have to offer.)
Artificial Intelligence — Before I was born there was only real intelligence, which was simply known as “intelligence.” The opposite of this was known as “stupidity.” Nowadays most intelligence has disappeared and we live in a world concerned primarily with artificial intelligence and it’s close counterpart artificial stupidity (sometimes known as Fox News).
Big Bang Theory — Many people once genuinely believed that their existence on Earth had something to do with birds and bees, or possibly a stork. The big bang theory provided a much more exciting and satisfying conclusion.
Box Cutter — Boxes were once one of the most difficult problems faced by a growing population. After they were transported to their final destination the most common way to open a box was to pound on it with a sledgehammer. Although this was an effective way to break the seal it often led to substantial damage to the box’s contents, particularly for items like glass bottles, mirrors, and TV sets. Box cutters led to a huge increase in the survival rates of shipped items, greatly lowered insurance costs, and provided a new weapon in the arsenal of angry young men intent on scarring one another.
Consultancy — As hard as it is to imagine there were no consultants before 1955. I’m not sure what management did back then when they needed to solve a problem or come up with a new strategy. Maybe they just asked their moms.
Weirdo — There were no weirdos until I was born. Enough said.
Stress Test — 1955 was the first year that running as fast as you could on a treadmill until you almost had a heart attack was considered a medically necessary test. However this didn’t stop 4 out of 5 doctors from recommending Camel cigarettes for a “smoother smoke” (although pregnant women preferred Phillip Morris’ “gentle unfiltered flavor”).
Litterbag — “Back in my day we just threw our trash out the window,” said Gramps. Unlike nowadays when we carefully bag it up and throw it into the back of the car until we finally get around to visiting the recycling station or graveyard for dead candy bar wrappers.
New Left — If the New Left is now 64 years old, how old is the Old Left?
Mind Boggling — Not sure who the first person was to have his mind boggled, but I’d really like to know more about this pioneer of confused amazement and exactly what it was that triggered the first boggling.
Idiot Box — Until I was born TV was considered a major breakthrough in communication for an enlightened citizenry. Afterwards not so much. And this was years before My Mother The Car, Home Boys From Outer Space, or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo ever aired.
Durham Rule — The legal hypothesis under which a person is not judged responsible for a criminal act that is attributed to a mental disease or defect. Especially if he has a lawyer named Rudy.
Empty Calories — This concept was originally created by diet pioneer Bob Borowsky. The idea was that if you ate enough empty calories they would counteract and neutralize all previously consumed full calories and allow you to slim down. The basic idea of losing weight by eating more food continues to be a popular principal of many best-selling diet books. Meanwhile entire chains of stores, sometimes known as Quickie Marts, now exist entirely with an inventory of Bob’s original Empty Calorie diet products.
Fallout Shelter — The 50s brought the naive notion that we could somehow survive an all out nuclear war with the Russians by hiding in a shelter until the cloud of radiation disappeared. Although this might take weeks, months, or possibly centuries (nobody was quite sure), our neighborhood fallout shelter was in the basement of the elementary school, next to where Mrs. Sullivan stored the gym mats, and where the janitor went to take his smoke breaks. I think we practiced a nuclear drill once when I was in first grade but the principal quickly called it off when Todd Sherman threw up which set off a chain reaction among some of the other third graders and made the already dank smelling basement completely intolerable, fallout or no fallout.
Microwave Oven — The first commercial microwave oven, called a “Radarange” was made by defense contractor Raytheon. It stood nearly 6 feet tall, weighed about 750 pounds, and cost the equivalent of $12,000. The tubes in the magnetron that generated the microwaves had to be water cooled, so it required plumbing. The device did not immediately catch on as something that every family needed to reheat leftovers and pop their popcorn.