24 words that aren't as old as you think

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The English language is constantly growing. English speakers have always readily borrowed terms from other languages, and sometimes we create new words altogether to express new concepts in everyday life. Modern English speakers are connected to global influences more than ever before, and the pace of change in our language has increased in the last few decades, meaning we use words every day that were only invented recently.

Linguists and lexicographers try to track the language to learn when new words and meanings emerge. Dictionaries can sometimes identify the first time a word appeared in print, but official inclusion in the lexicon often lags well behind a word's origins in popular speech, and different dictionaries might add the same word years apart. 

While some English words are "totes obvi" modern slang like "woke" or internet speak like "lol," "meme" or "gif," you might be surprised to learn how recently some other phrases we use every day were invented or first found their way into the dictionary.

Here are 24 modern words that aren't actually as old as you might think that they are.

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Nerd

While slang like "loser" has been around for hundreds of years, there are plenty of modern iterations of insults that might surprise you with how recently they became popular. "Geek" first appeared in American English in 1912 as slang for a carnival performer. "Nerd" came into usage in 1951.

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Red velvet

Red velvet, the combination of chocolatey red cake with cream cheese frosting, has inspired everything from ice cream flavors to cosmetics, but it's a fairly recent creation. There are several stories about the cake's origin, but it gained widespread popularity and made its way into cookbooks in the 1950s, and the term was later added to dictionaries.

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Fact-check

In the modern era of misinformation, myths and "fake news," fact-checking, or the process of verifying that information is correct, is vital. You might think the word has been around since the rise of newspapers in the 19th century, but its first recorded use was in 1973.

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Yeehaw

If you felt certain that this exclamation dated back to the American Wild West, you shouldn't be so sure, buckaroo. Though this expression of enthusiasm is associated with cowboys, it might actually be a modern invention. It was first recorded in the 1970s and was popularized in films and television.

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Pop quiz

Though the first American public schools opened in the 17th century, it took until 1931 for teachers to come up with the concept of surprising students with an unexpected test, known as a "pop quiz."

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Cinephile

Hollywood is a global, multibillion-dollar business, but the American movie industry is still fairly young. The first talking picture came out in 1927 and the first color blockbusters, "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind," were filmed in 1939. So it's really no surprise that the term "cinephile," meaning a devoted movie fan, didn't emerge until the late 1920s and was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006.

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Elderflower

The white flowers of an elderberry tree have been used as an ingredient in drinks and desserts in Europe for centuries, and the term "elderflower" has been used in England since the 16th century. Elderflower has only become popular in the United States in recent years, however, and Merriam Webster only added the word to its dictionary in 2017.

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Barista

The Italian word "barista" actually refers to a bartender, but once the word hopped across the pond into the English language, it came to mean someone who makes and serves coffee at a coffee bar. Popularized by Starbucks, the word barista appeared in English in 1982.

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Ginger

Ginger (the spice) has been around for more than 1,000 years. But the term took on the meaning in the U.K. of a redhead or a person with red hair. Years after Spice Girls' member Ginger Spice used the term in her stage name, Merriam Webster officially adopted this meaning to its dictionary in 2017.

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Airball

Roughly two decades after the NBA was formed, a term was coined to describe a sheer and utter miss: an airball. And after decades of players at all levels in the sport throwing up airballs, the term was finally added to Merriam-Webster's dictionary in 2017.

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Cherry-pick

Cherries were brought to North America by settlers as early as the 1600s, but it wasn't until 1965 that we coined this phrase involving them. To "cherry-pick" is to "select the best or most desirable."

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Chaise lounge

"Chaise lounge" might seem like some baroque word that English speakers borrowed from a longstanding French furniture name. That's only partially correct, because the actual French name for the chair is "chaise longue," which means "long chair." The word was misused, misspelled and mispronounced starting from around the beginning of the 20th century, and the "incorrect" version has prevailed in English ever since, to the extent that it's been added to dictionaries alongside the original spelling.

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Passive-aggressive

Though the behavior is not a modern invention, 20th century English finally coined the term "passive-aggressive." Meaning "a type of behaviour or personality characterized by indirect resistance and an avoidance of direct confrontation," the term showed up in American English in 1945.

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Name-drop

The practice of name-dropping, mentioning the names of famous people you know or claim to know to impress others, has been used by social climbers and politicians for hundreds of years - yet the term for it only emerged in 1945.

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Mentor

The concept of being someone's "mentor," meaning counselor, tutor or coach, emerged in ancient Greece after Mentor, a trusted friend of Odysseus in the epic poem "The Odyssey." However, the verb form of the word - as in "to mentor someone" - didn't appear until 1918 and wasn't added to the Oxford English Dictionary until 2001.

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Earworm

In 2011, Oxford English Dictionaries finally added the word "earworm," meaning a catchy song or tune that gets stuck in your head - or worms its way into your head, so to speak.

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Train wreck

While "train wreck" has been used in a literal sense since the creation of train transportation, it morphed in North America to describe a mess or disaster of a person or situation. It only gained entry into the Merriam Webster Dictionary in 2017, two years after the release of Amy Schumer's comedy movie "Trainwreck."

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Exoticize

While the practice of exocitizing people is as old as time, it wasn't until the 1960s that critics of the practice were able to put a name on it. To "exoticize" is to "regard or represent as foreign or exotic, especially in a stereotypic or superficial way." The word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2005.

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No-brainer

Meaning something so easy it requires no use of your brain to think about it, a "no-brainer" first entered the English language around 1959 and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001.

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Unibrow

"Unibrow," a term for when the hair of two eyebrows seemingly grows together to form a single brow, was first recorded in 1988, and wasn't added to the Oxford English Dictionary until 2005.

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Perfect storm

The phrase "a perfect storm," meaning "an especially bad situation caused by a combination of unfavourable circumstances" per Oxford English Dictionaries, only emerged in our lexicon in 1998. Two years later, a movie titled "The Perfect Storm" - starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg and featuring a literal storm created by a combination of rare meteorological factors - was released, helping to solidify the phrase in English.

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Crash and burn

While many things from cars to carts to airplanes have literally been crashing and burning for hundreds of years of human history, it's only recently that the phrase "crash and burn" came to generally mean "fail spectacularly." The slang phrase emerged in the 1970s and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2002.

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Bucket list

The term "bucket list" is thrown around a lot on travel websites, blogs and social media, but the term was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Meaning "a list of things you want to do before you die," bucket list is derived from the phrase "kick the bucket" and first appeared around 2006.

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T-bone

While the term "T-bone" first emerged in the 1930s to describe a type of steak, according to Merriam Webster, it wasn't until 1968 that it first appeared as a slang term for hitting the broad side of something, as in a car wreck. This verb usage finally made it into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016. Considering all these new words that have entered the language, it's surprising that there are some we still lack. Here are some words we don't have in English, but could really use.

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