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.
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.
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.
In the modern discourse, calling someone salty means they’re easily annoyed or looking for a reason to become irritated. The word has been used to describe angry individuals since at least 1938, and the term was most likely first being applied to sailors, who have a reputation for both irritation and literal saltiness.
Few could have predicted the term's longevity, or its contemporary status as a go-to message board buzzword.
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.