Weird History
173 voters

Common Things That Aren't Actually As Old As We Assumed

May 21, 2021 1.1k votes 173 voters 7.7k views12 items

List RulesVote up the stuff you're surprised isn't older.

Many ideas, practices, and items in our everyday lives feel natural, as though they have always existed. We often take for granted things that are newer than we originally thought, from everyday items like underwear and paper, to scientific facts that seem obvious, like plate tectonics.

It might be argued that innovations are at their most effective when they become naturalized by humans, and if that is the case, then items on this list might shock some readers. It's hard to imagine ourselves living without some of these basic necessities and standard concepts, yet until recently, we did! Read on to discover commonplace items and ideas that aren't actually that old. 

  • 1

    High Fives Weren't A Common Gesture Until 1977

    While it's impossible to say that no human ever slapped hands up high prior to the 1970s, it's true that the gesture did not become common practice until then. The high five has several origin stories, but all of them begin with sports, even though Black musicians had long practiced the "low five" by "slapping skin" in jazz clubs around the country.

    The first public high five was recorded in 1977 when L.A. Dodgers outfielder Glenn Burke high fived his teammate, Dusty Baker, after hitting his first home run. Burke's energetic celebration became a symbol for the Dodgers and Burke himself. A gay Black professional baseball player who came out in 1982, when Burke moved to San Francisco, he could frequently be seen outside gay clubs in the Castro District, enthusiastically high fiving anyone who walked by.

    Another origin story credits Kentucky's University of Louisville basketball team with creating the high five craze. Later an origin story was apparently invented by National High Five Day cofounder Conor Lastowka that claimed Murray State University (also in Kentucky) basketball player Lamont Sleets began the high five trend.

    It is Burke's story, however, that ran from professional sports to LGBTQ+ culture, that shows how a gesture expressing joy and celebrating any of life's achievements could not be limited just to sports. 

    Surprisingly new?
  • Photo: Johann Nepomuk Mayer / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Word Sibling Has Only Been Used For A Little More Than 100 Years

    "Siblings" may be commonly used today, but it was not part of colloquial language until the early 1900s. Prior to 1903, most people used the terms family, kin, relations, or blood to refer to their collective family members, including siblings. For individuals, one would state either sister or brother rather than the singular "sibling."

    Interestingly, the word itself was not new, but derived from the Old English sibling, a more general term for any relative or kin. The modern usage of the term began in anthropological texts, and eventually transitioned into the common vernacular to specifically refer to brothers and sisters. 

    Surprisingly new?
  • 3

    The Theory Of Plate Tectonics Was Only Accepted In The 1960s

    The theory of plate tectonics originated with German meterologist Alfred Wegener, who noticed when looking at a world map that the continents appeared as though they could have been pushed together like a puzzle. In 1912, combining his visual idea with evidence of fossil similarities in continents separated by thousands of miles, Wegener offered up his idea of continental drift.

    He claimed that the earth originally had a single land mass he called Pangaea, which divided into separate continents that eventually drifted away from each other. Wegener was unable to account for how this drift would have occured, was widely ridiculed, and his theory was forgotten. 

    However, by the 1960s, seismic technology revealed that earthquakes and shifting plates occured in specific places around the world. Using new calculations and technologies, geologists discovered that the earth comprises 20 plates that shift and bump against each other. The science behind plate tectonics supported Wegener's first theory of continental drift, providing the evidence behind how and why those drifts occur. 

    Surprisingly new?
  • 4

    Boxer Briefs Are Only About 30 Years Old

    Underwear innovation might be one of the greatest triumphs of the 20th century for both men and women. Women in particular benefited from new materials and production techniques that made bras more comfortable and supportive. It was only in the 1990s that an innovation in men's underwear bridged the gap between comfort and fashion. 

    In the early 20th century, men's underwear significantly evolved as union suits and long johns, both of which traditionally featured ankle-length pants, were exchanged for short pants. Boxer shorts, based on the designs worn by actual boxers in a ring, lacked the support provided by the newly invented jock strap. Y-front briefs entered the fray in 1935, and for a while, the two vastly different underpants - boxers and briefs - battled for market supremacy. 

    In 1990, the boxer brief made its debut, combining the length of the boxer, the form fit of the Y-front, and stretch knit fabric that provided comfort and support. After thousands of years of uncomfortable or unflattering undergarments, men finally had underwear that fits.

    Surprisingly new?