Language evolves like a biological creature, but linguistic progression occurs more rapidly than natural development. The vernacular of our parents' generation is already greatly removed from today's slang words, and texts from a few years ago could be considered "fossil records" by etymologists who study the origin of words to gain cultural insight.
Examining the history of our language uncovers the hidden meanings behind words we all hear on a regular basis. Many popular sayings have surprisingly interesting roots and some of the best old timey slang fell out of vogue far too soon.
Every year, new words, phrases, and slang terms enter the global dialogue. While some popular sayings come and go without much fuss, certain buzzwords manage to capture public attention and the general zeitgeist of an era.
The current political climate has given birth to countless notable buzzwords, but many seemingly modern idioms have surprisingly lengthy backstories.
People Have Been Called "Social Justice Warriors" For Decades
Despite the seemingly positive connotations of fighting for social justice, the term “social justice warrior” is often used as a pejorative in the 2018 political climate. Oxford Dictionaries defines the phrase as “a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views,” but that’s not the definition the Alt-right ascribes to.
In certain corners of the internet, the term social justice warrior – commonly abbreviated to “SJW” – denotes people who allegedly seek out reasons to be offended so they can be a part of “victim culture,” and who support causes only so they can “virtue signal," or demonstrate their inherent moral goodness.
The criticisms made against SJWs are subjective to say the least, but the term undoubtedly started out as a compliment. The first documented appearance came in 1991 when it was used to describe a popular Quebecois union activist.
The term wasn't considered a pejorative until the mid-2010s when Alt-right internet activists decided social justice had gone too far.
People Have Been Staying "Woke" For More Than 50 Years
In 2018, the word "woke" is commonly seen in hashtags, and even received a reference in Childish Gambino’s “Redbone." While these modern applications might lead some to believe the term is a recent invention, being woke has held the same meaning in some circles for more than 50 years.
A 1962 New York Times article by William Melvin Kelley entitled “If You’re Woke, You Dig It” included a glossary of African-American slang, which defined woke as “well informed, up-to-date.” In 2018, it's used in more-or-less the same way, albeit often ironically.
People Were Called "Snowflakes" Because Of Their Political Beliefs Way Back In 1860
The derogatory use of the term “snowflake” has traditionally been employed by the political right to describe the apparent easily-offended nature of those who lean politically left. However, it has recently been reclaimed by liberals in the wake of Trump era politics.
Regardless of who is being insulted, the term's wielders would probably be surprised to learn the practice of calling someone a “snowflake” because of their political beliefs dates back to Civil War era America.
The saying originated in 1860s Missouri, where people who opposed the abolition of slavery were dubbed snowflakes as a reference to their apparent preference for white skin. However, the modern iteration of the jab appears to have been inspired by a line from Fight Club.
Political Pundits Have Talked Of "Draining The Swamp" Since 1903
One of President Trump's main catch-phrases on the 2016 election trail was his promise to "drain the swamp." Trump actually explained his introduction to the phrase, recalling:
They had this expression ‘drain the swamp.’ And I hated it, I thought it was so hokey. I said, ‘that is the hokiest, give me a break, I am embarrassed to say it.’ And I was in Florida where 25,000 people were going wild, and I said, ‘and we will drain the swamp’ — the place went crazy... every time I said it I got the biggest applause. And after four or give times I said, boy what a great expression, I love saying it, it’s amazing.
Unsurprisingly – given the frequently repeated untruth that Washington is built on a swamp – politicians have been using swamp-draining metaphors for more than a century.
The first documented usage belongs to Winfield E. Gaylord, who wrote in 1903, “Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capitalist swamp, they want to drain the swamp.”