The 1910s have yet a lot more terminology to explore, as one would expect from such a turbulent era. It is the decade of Charlie Chaplin, World War I, the Titanic, and the beginning of radio and film production. Granted all those dramatic world affairs, it is utterly natural that the English language mold itself new slang words and colloquialisms.
World War itself spawned new vocabulary that is not necessary slang, but was definitely new to that generation. Words like “home front,” “war effort,” “munitioneers / munitionettes,” became a part of everyday language during the 1910s, as well as the eventual “ceasefire” and “armistice.” The war terminology that is still so well known today demonstrates that WWI was remarkable in how much civilian lives it changed around the world; there was an unprecedented level of involvement in just about every social group, and this also led to the creation of the “assembly line,” both as a mode of production and new jargon. And as theUSwatched the Bolshevik Revolution happen across the world, the slang term “bolshie” came about, eventually leading to further political strife as the word was later used for anyone who was rebellious or aggressive.
Areas of study also bestowed new jargon onto the language, especially with popular scientists like Albert Einstein, who gave us the word “space-time,” or Sigmund Freud, whom we have to thank for new definitions of “denial,” “repression,” and “unconscious,” amongst other words. In addition, Swiss psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler invented the term “schizophrenia” to describe the mental illness. With the fact that these words are hardly strangers in the 21st century, it is clear that there is a direct correlation between how big an effect words have on a population and how long they remain in use.
Yet as always, there are some words that do not retain enough vitality to transcend the decades, and amongst them is the phrase “stuffed shirt.” It refers to a person who has an inflated sense of self-importance and is rather inflexible. The phrase was possible derived from the way scarecrows wore stuffed shirts to intimidate scavengers when really they are quite empty inside. Another origin for the term could have come from the way a starched, stuffed shirt—fashionable for men in the 1910s— rose up, giving the impression of false superiority and pride. The phrase could have fallen out of style along with the clothing, though that brand of personality is still quite prevalent. Thankfully, however, this early 20th century decade brought about many new concepts and words that stayed until modern times, still giving us a sense of the vibrancy of the 1910s.
By Maria Peltekova
The Phrase Finder: http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/8/messages/84.html
Writer’s Dream Tools: http://www.writersdreamtools.com/view/decades/default.asp?Decade=1910#slang
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