500 Years of New Words


312 pages
ISBN 1-55002-525-2
DDC 422






Reviewed by Chris Knight

Chris Knight is the senior movie reviewer at the National Post.


Many readers will look first at the end of this perusable book to find
out what words are newest to the language. They will be disappointed,
for the author has hijacked most of the last 10 years for words of his
own coinage, unlikely to enter wide usage in spite of their being in

But this still leaves 490 enjoyable years, and you can easily slide
through 50 or 60 of these 100-word descriptions (one new word per year)
before recalling that you picked up the book only to glance at it. There
are words that have managed to survive the centuries (skinflint is from
1700 and sounds it), words far older than you might suspect (skyscraper,
originally meaning a ship’s top sail, came about in 1794, while
astronaut predated the first man in space by 80 years), and odd clusters
of neologisms (condom appeared in 1665, penis in 1668, and vagina in

Best of all are Sherk’s concise, sometimes meandering, always
intriguing explanations of how these words entered the language. He
notes that beatnik (1958) took its form from the Russian Sputnik
satellite, launched the previous year, and that sincere (1533) comes
from the Latin sine cera (“without wax”) and originally referred to
marble statues that had not been touched up with wax filler and were
hence in sincerely good condition. This book provides fine browsing for
lovers of language.


Sherk, Bill., “500 Years of New Words,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/16463.