59 words Maclean's invented: from allophone to zap

The magazine has 59 first-usage awards, including sasquatch and 'split the atom'


For more than 125 years, the Oxford English Dictionary has exhaustively tracked the origins, evolution and meanings of words and phrases. It rightly boasts of being “the definitive record of the English language.” As of July 2014, Maclean’s has 59 first-usage titles in the OED’s digital records. While some were completely new words—sasquatch (1929) and toaster (1913)—or phrases, such as “to split the atom” (1909), others are new meanings of existing words, such as the verb “end,” which Maclean’s used in 1911 to describe the action of someone committing suicide.

Then there is the Great War. While it’s been previously used to describe the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, it was Maclean’s that first used it as a title for the First World War. The reference appeared in the October 1914 issue of the magazine, in a small, unsigned blurb on page 53. After other wars that name themselves, including the Crimean War and the Thirty Days War, it says, “This is the Great War. It names itself.” According to Katherine Martin, head of Oxford’s U.S. dictionaries program, the war had previously been described as “great,” but the Maclean’s “Great War” reference is “the earliest found that is clearly intended to be a name for the war, rather than a description of it. The author had posterity in mind.”

The OED keeps scanning sources, including diaries, books and databases, to refine its entries and update its etymologies. Here are Maclean’s firsts from the Oxford English Dictionary, in alphabetical order, including how they were originally used in the magazine:

1. Allophone, n.: Esp. in Quebec: a non-native Canadian whose first language is neither French nor English.

1977: “A whole generation of kids is growing up . . . They’ve learned such buzzwords as anglophone, francophone, allophone (people who speak neither French nor English).”

2. Ambassador-at-large, n.: (U.S.) an ambassador appointed to perform special duties, and not accredited to any one government or sovereign.

1908: If he ever does get his deserts, he will be designated as ambassador-at-large for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

3. Back-bencher, n.: a member who occupies a seat on the back benches on either side of the House of Commons.

1910: Some of the best men in Parliament are back-benchers.

4. Canola, n.: Oilseed rape of a variety developed in Canada and grown in North America, which yields a culinary oil and animal feed low in certain undesirable compounds. A proprietary name in Canada.

1979: The producers . . . would prefer that their produce henceforth be referred to as . . . Canola.

5. censor, n: A mental power or force which represses certain elements in the unconscious and prevents them from emerging into the conscious mind.

1912: But the ‘censor,’ to use the Freudian terminology, is easily deceived.

6. droid, n.: orig. and chiefly U.S. A person thought to resemble an android in some way; esp. one perceived as lacking in personality or individuality, or whose behaviour is considered mindless or mechanical.

1980: The Nader droids are reading through the real-life Nader’s Raiders files looking for ‘anything of social significance.’

7.  to eat out (in the term “eat”) v.: intr. To take a meal elsewhere than at one’s residence

1933: They had planned to ‘eat out,’ but presently Norma’s chances of being ‘discovered’ in some smart café became completely nil.

8. ecumaniac, n.: A zealous supporter of the ecumenical movement.

1963: The ‘ecumaniacs’—as hostile religious separatists like to call them—have come to believe that it is their religious duty to break down the barriers between denominations.

9. end, v.: Colloq. phr. to end it (all), to commit suicide.

1911: Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth while; sometimes I’m half inclined to end it.

10. felix culpa, n.: Allusively, the Fall of Man or the sin of Adam as resulting in the blessedness of the Redemption. Freq. transf., an apparent error or tragedy which has happy consequences.

1913: Shall we call it a culpa felix that brought you to me?

11. fiscal engineering n.: N. Amer. the management of large amounts of money so as to take maximum advantage of tax exemptions, credit arrangements, etc.

1982: The famous ‘fiscal engineering,’ which has allowed Dome to flourish without paying out any significant dividends or taxes, will almost certainly save the energy empire one more time.

12. found, adj. transf.: Of poetry: formed by taking a passage of prose, etc., and reinterpreting its structure rhythmically.

1966: ‘Found poems’ aren’t a new idea: William Butler Yeats produced one 30 years ago from the prose of essayist Walter Pater.

13. Francophonia, n.: The speaking of French; (also) French-speaking places collectively.

1969: The man behind this sudden surge of Francophonia is the paper’s new editor-in-chief, Frank Walker.

14. -gram, comb. Form: In various (often humorous) combinations based on telegram, denoting a message delivered by a representative of a commercial greetings company, esp. one outrageously dressed to amuse or embarrass the recipient, in the manner indicated by the first element, as Gorillagram (proprietary in the U.S.), Rambogram, strippergram, etc.

1979: For singing-telegram junkies bored by the same old song and dance, Cookie climbs into a furry suit to deliver Gorillagrams.

15. guest actress n. compound: found in guest.

1910: Miss George has abandoned her regular season to become ‘guest actress’ at the New Theatre.

16. high-five, n.: A gesture of celebration or greeting in which two people slap each other’s palms, usu. with their arms extended over their heads. Freq. in phrases to lay (down), slap high fives.

1980: They used to slap palms (‘Gimme five, man’), but what they do now is reach high and bang hands up there (‘The high five, man’).

17. instant replay, n.: action replay

1973: TV instant replay multiplies analysis and assigns error: in the press boxes, after a goal has been scored, sports writers and sportscasters rush to the TV screen for the instant replay, usually shown in slow motion.

18. line, n.: U.S. Betting. The odds quoted by a bookmaker, esp. on a non-racing event.

1964: A line of ‘Ottawa eight’ for an Ottawa-Edmonton football game means that Ottawa must win by eight points or more or its backers lose.

19. live-in, adj. and n.: Of or relating to the action of deliberately living in as a form of protest.

1966: The ‘live-in’ principles used by civil rights workers in the southern United States.

20. mainstreet, v.: N. Amer (chiefly Canad.). intr. To campaign in main streets to win electoral support.

1966: Though she [sc. Olive Diefenbaker] refuses to speak in public, she mainstreets better than The Chief [sc. John Diefenbaker].

21. mamenchisaur, n.: A dinosaur of the genus Mamenchisaurus.

1988: An estimated 90-foot-long mamenchisaur, which lived 160 million years ago, was found buried in sandstone.

22. man-on-man, adv.: found in man, n.: A human being (irrespective of sex or age).

1963: ‘He’s always at the outer edge of the rulebook anyway,’ says Eric Nesberenko of the Chicago Black Hawks, who has played frequently against Howe man-on-man.

23. matrimonial, adj. and n.: found in pl. Marriage celebrations; nuptials.

1986: This has turned out to be a bust of a summer, what with the Statue of Liberty shindig and the latest royal matrimonials posing as events of substance.

24. mau-mauer, n., N. Amer.: A person who employs intimidating or menacing tactics.

1974: It’s no accident that the most successful mau-mauer, Harold Cardinal, runs one of the strongest Indian organizations in Canada.

25. megaproject, n., in mega-, comb. form: Used as a prefix to denote something of great size, quantity, importance, or excellence.

1983: The forestry industry is still reeling after a year of record losses and Bennett’s $2.5-billion northeast coal megaproject is running into problems in its initial development.

26. Metro, n. and adj.: Chiefly Canad. The metropolitan area of Toronto; the local government administrative body responsible for the provision of certain public services in this area. Subsequently also: any metropolitan city or area, or its local administration. Metro Toronto ceased to exist as an entity on 31 December 1997, and the constituent cities have been merged into the City of Toronto.

1957: Metro chairman said a Bloor Street subway would be a mistake; Metro would study others.

27. Mexican brown n. slang (chiefly U.S.): a crude form of heroin from Mexico; (also) a type of marijuana from Mexico.

1976: The U.S. attorney in Arizona says his state has become perhaps the most important conduit for heroin entering the country. So-called ‘Mexican brown’ cascades across the Nogales frontier.

28. microwave, n. and adj.: b. Telecomm.: Microwave radiation as a medium for communication or broadcasting; the transmission and reception of microwaves for this purpose.

1968: Signals from the satellite will be received by ground stations and relayed by microwave or cable to home receivers.

29. mimeo mag n.: a magazine produced by means of a mimeograph.

1967: Why Sandra Peredo’s patronizing attitude toward the little magazines? She states, for instance, that the mimeo mags are interested in dirty words and anti-Establishment statements as their main themes.

30. mo, n.: U.S., chiefly Polit., A continuing favourable state of affairs, esp. in a political campaign, derived from prevailing public opinion, favourable press coverage, etc.

1980: The central figure in this quickening American presidential campaign is a character called Mo. Everyone wants Mo on his side, but Mo’s loyalties are fickle.

31. mouth-breather, n.N. Amer. slang. A stupid person.

1985: One wonders . . . if some nervous vice-Presidents at the CBC are not looking over their shoulders at some of the mouth-breathers and wall-climbers in the new Conservative caucus.

32. mud pup, n. Canad. slang: a young Englishman sent to western Canada to learn farming; a student of agriculture.

1955: When the war [of 1914–18] started, the Mud Pups joined up to the last man and the bachelor population of Duncan vanished overnight.

33. neo-con, adj. and n., neoconservative n.

1979: This tends to make neocons very keen on liberty in the economic sense and a little less sensitive to it in manners and mores.

34. parvovirus, n.: Veterinary Med. An often fatal disease of dogs caused by canine parvovirus, characterized by severe gastro-enteritis with diarrhoea and vomiting, and sometimes myocarditis.

1979: Jim Henry is one of a handful of Canadian pathologists who have been working with canine parvovirus, the lethal disease that killed Kipp.

35. pit-lamp, v. trans.: To blind (an animal) temporarily by shining a strong light so that it freezes in its tracks, allowing the hunter an easy shot.

1948: (in R. Haig-Brown, Ghost Cat) We tried to pit-lamp him, but even from a hundred yards away he would only turn his great eyes to the light for a fraction of a second and there was never time to put sights on him.

36. playlist, v.trans.: To place (a song, album, etc.) on a radio playlist.

1979: Most of the concerts are sellouts, the album is ‘playlisted’ on all of the country’s FM radio stations.

37. randonnée, n.: A long-distance cycling event of a type originating in France, in which participants must navigate a particular route within a specified period of time.

1987: Despite the fact that P-B-P [i.e. Paris-Brest-Paris] is a randonnee . . . and not a race, it is impossible to gather together 2,700 people, keep track of their time . . . and not inspire some sense of competition.

38. rollerblading, n.: The sport or pastime of roller skating on Rollerblades.

1988: Sessions of ‘roller blading,’ in which skaters tackle hilly roads on modified roller skates.

39. rubby, n.: Rubbing alcohol, sometimes mixed with wine, etc., used as an intoxicant.

1961: A gallon of wine and two bottles of rubby and you can throw a party in the jungles that’ll last all night.

40. sambo: A type of judo wrestling which originated in the Soviet Union.

1964: The Russians have, for generations, been practising something called sambo wrestling, which is so close to judo that . . . a team of sambo wrestlers . . . held the best of the Tokyo University men to a draw.

41. sasquatch, n.: A name for a huge, hairy, man-like monster supposedly inhabiting the northwest of the U.S. and Canada.

1929: The strange people, of whom there are but few now—rarely seen and seldom met—. . . are known by the name of Sasquatch, or, ‘the hairy mountain men.’

42. sell, v.: To make (someone) enthusiastic about, or convinced of the worth of, something.

1918: The writer believes it is possible to finally ‘sell’ the Teutons on the advantages of peace as compared with war.

43. slot car, n.: a miniature racing car, powered by electricity, which travels in a slot in a track.

1966: The track on which slot cars race is a tabletop affair.

44. smash, n.: An alcoholic drink, esp. wine. N. Amer.

1959: So I had a couple of smashes and marched in.

45. sovereigntist, n. and adj.: Chiefly Canad. Of or relating to the advocacy or advocates of governmental independence for Quebec.

1986: Although such sovereigntist Balladeers as Gilles Vigneault and Félix Leclerc prospered during the 1970s, currrent chart toppers throughout the province are such imported favourites as the British band Eurythmics and rock ‘n’ rollers Huey Lewis and the News.

46. spine-thriller, n.: in spine: attrib. and Comb.

1912: Producing spine thrillers. How successful melodramas are furnished—some confessions about art of capitalizing spines.

47. to split the atom, v.: to cause atomic nuclei to undergo fission.

1909: He [sc. Professor J. J. Thomson] is known both as ‘The Man of Ion,’ and as the man ‘who split the atom,’

48. stone age, n.: fig. esp. as the type of an outmoded or unsophisticated era.

1927: (by R. Kipling) The old lady . . . was primitive Stone-Age—bless her! She looked on us as a couple of magicians.

49. teenspeak, n.: The language or way of speaking characteristic of teenagers; teenage jargon.

1982: A pitch with teenspeak.

50. toaster, n.: An electric appliance for toasting bread.

1913: Electric cooking appliances—the shining nickel-plated or aluminum utensils, including coffee percolators, toasters, chafing dishes, each with its long connecting cord and plug for attachment to the electric light socket.

51. toot | tout, n.: Cocaine; a ‘snort’ of cocaine. U.S. slang.

1977: They slink into some of the finer furnished bathrooms of the city for a quick toot.

52. triplex, adj. (and n.): A building containing three self-contained residences or suites of rooms; also, one of the dwellings in such a building.

1962: They wanted to build three triplexes. ‘Definitely not,’ Reeve Fred Hall told Norman.

53. Utilidor, n.: The proprietary name of a system of enclosed conduits used esp. for carrying water and sewerage in regions of permafrost.

1957: At many outposts such as Churchill, Norman Wells and Frobisher, ingenious insulated conduit boxes called ‘utilidors’ are used to convey water, sewage and heating pipes to their destinations. The idea is that the warmth from the heating pipes is just enough to keep the other two pipes from freezing.

54. wall bed, n.: a bed which can be folded up against a wall when not in use.

1913: The Pacific Wall Bed is sanitary in every respect.

55. waltz king n.: [German Walzerkönig] an epithet applied to the Viennese composer Johann Strauss (1825–99), famous for his waltzes.

1908: Johann Strauss, ‘the waltz king.’

56. window-envelope, n.: an envelope with an opening or transparent ‘panel’ in the front through which the address is visible.

1914: Use B-E window envelopes.

57. woopie, n.: A well-off older person; a jocular term (esp. in marketing) for a member of a socio-economic group comprising affluent retired people who pursue an active lifestyle.

1986: A generation of aging consumers can look forward to new labels. David Currah . . . calls them well-off older people—or ‘woopies’ for short.

58. zap, v.: To move quickly and with vigour.

1968: Nothing is quite as sad as watching Lynn watching Lightfoot zap off out of a parking lot.

59. zonked, adj.: Exhausted, tired out.

1972: This portrait of his wife . . . zonked out on a floating sofa.