We here at Mental Floss have loved words and word origins since we were founded in 2001. As part of our ongoing 20th anniversary celebration, check out a few excellent words coined in the last 20 years.
This word built off the 1989 term weak sauce, which referred to something that “lacks power, substance, or credibility; pathetic, worthless; stupid.” Awesomesauce, on the other hand, means “extremely good; excellent,” and first popped up in the alt.tv.kids-in-hall Usenet group in September 2001.
This combination of brine and icicle refers to “A long, tapering tube of ice formed around a plume of very cold, hypersaline seawater, typically descending from a developing ice sheet towards the sea floor.” The term dates back to a November 2011 episode of Frozen Planet, which was first to film the phenomenon. Discovered in the 1960s (when they were called ice stalactites), brinicles are beautiful, but deadly: Creatures on the seafloor that encounter them are encased in their ice, which has caused people to dub them “icicles of death.”
This portmanteau of bro and romance can be traced back to the April 2001 issue of Transworld Surf magazine. “We pioneered a lot and had so many firsts over the years,” editor Chris Cote said when Transworld Surf closed its print publication in 2013. “We were the first to use flash light surf photography. We invented what we called ‘broisms’ like Bromance, which is now very common in pop culture. We took a skate mag approach to humor.”
It wasn’t long after Rachel Dratch debuted this iconic character in a May 2004 episode of Saturday Night Live that Debbie Downer entered the vernacular to mean “a person who is habitually pessimistic, negative, gloomy, etc.” According to the OED, Gwyneth Paltrow described herself in an August 2004 episode of Oprah as “a Debbie Downer over here.”
Once used to refer to an actual fire in a dumpster, the term dumpster fire took on a less literal meaning in 2008, when was it was used for the first time to refer to “a chaotic or disastrously mishandled situation; an embarrassing spectacle; a debacle, a shambles, a mess” in a pro-wrestling Usenet group to describe the animated movie Shrek the Third: “Shrek 3 was a dumpster fire, don’t get me started.”
This term, which means “an alteration of a word or phrase through the mishearing or reinterpretation of one or more of its elements as a similar-sounding word” and first popped up 2003, is a nod to the 18th-century “folk-etymological alteration” word for acorn.
Fatbergs have been around since we invented sewers, but they were only named in January 2008, when globs of cooking grease washed up on a beach in the UK. Given the fact that these sewer-clogging masses of fats, oils, and greases (or FOG) are huge—they can be as big as double-decker buses or airplanes—the name, which blends fat with iceberg, is appropriate. For more fun and disgusting facts about fatbergs, read our list here.
The OED dates the first usage of this phrase for “a protruding stomach caused by eating a large quantity of food” to the April 24, 2002, issue of California’s Contra Costa Times. In the article—a running column called “The Pizza Guys”—writer Bob Larson and his friend Vinny meet at a Pizzeria Uno in Oakland and eat both a thin crust and a deep dish pizza. At the end of the meal, Vinny declares, “I got a food baby working here … Yeah, I’m eight months right now.” It wasn’t the last time he’d use the phrase, either.
“A form of camping that involves accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping,” this blend of glamour or glamorous and camping debuted in 2005. Ransom Riggs covered the phenomenon for us in 2008.
A cousin of facepalm, headdesk—“An act or instance of striking one’s head, often repeatedly, against a desk or table at which one is sitting, typically as an ostentatious or dramatic gesture of frustration, exasperation, dismay, etc.”—was first used in the alt.drunken.bastards Usenet group in January 2002. As the OED notes, it’s not often meant literally, but rather “humorously or hypothetically, in the context of writing or communicating online.”
The OED can’t pinpoint an exact origin for this word—meaning “Extremely rowdy, excited, or energetic”—but it could derive from hype or hyper. (“The rap artist ‘Keak da Sneak’ is sometimes cited as having coined the term in the 1990s,” the OED notes, “but no documentary evidence has been found to substantiate this.”) It popped up in the title of a 2002 Lil Jordan song.
Much like hyphy, no one is quite sure what this British slang term—“a general term of approval: good, excellent, cool”—derives from, but it first appeared on the BBC’s website in 2002.
Combining no with the mo in mobile and phobia, nomophobia is all about the anxiety associated with not having access to your phone. It first appeared in print in The Daily Mail in 2008.
These days, this British term—which combines omni, “in all ways,” with shambles, a figurative “stool or footstool”—is usually used to refer to a political situation “that has been comprehensively mismanaged, or is characterized by a series of blunders and miscalculations.” When it was coined by In the Thick of It writer Tony Roche in 2009, it referred to “a person or group held to be responsible for such a situation.” (As Malcolm Tucker says to another character, “Jesus Christ, you’re like a f***ing Omnishambles, you are. You’re like that coffee machine, you know? From bean to cup, you f*** up.”) According to the OED, omnishambles really took off after it was used by Labour leader Ed Miliband in the House of Commons to deliver a sick burn on then-Prime Minister David Cameron. “So, Mr. Speaker,” Miliband said, “we’re all keen to hear the prime minister’s view as to why he thinks, four weeks on from the budget, even people within Downing Street are calling it an ‘omnishambles’ budget.” Ouch!
In theory, photobombing has been around for a long time, but the term itself didn’t come about until 2008, when it popped up on a blog in the UK.
“MP3 players, like Apple’s iPod, in many pockets, audio production software cheap or free, and weblogging an established part of the internet; all the ingredients are there for a new boom in amateur radio. But what to call it?” Ben Hammersley of The Guardian mused in 2004. “Audioblogging? Podcasting? GuerillaMedia?” Podcasting—which got its name by combining the pod in iPod with casting from broadcasting—stuck, and millions of episodes later, podcasting is much less of an amateur thing. By the way, you can read transcripts and listen to episodes of Mental Floss’s podcasts here.
Showrooms, of course, are rooms where things you can purchase are displayed; we typically think of them in terms of things like cars or appliances. That usage dates back to 1616. In 2009, a clever soul on Twitter added -ing to showroom to give us showrooming, or going to a store to check out merch before buying it online, where the price is usually lower.
This abbreviation for “too long; didn’t read” is used mostly online and according to the OED is “a dismissive response to an account, narrative, etc., considered excessively or unnecessarily long, or to introduce a summary of a longer piece of text; (b) adj. designating a short summary of a longer text.” It first popped up in response to a post in the rec.games.video.nintendo Usenet group titled “My Thoughts on Metroid Prime (Long).” Too long, apparently.
OK, yes, technically the first use of the word unfriend dates back to Thomas Fuller’s 1659 book The Appeal of Injured Innocence (“I Hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Un-friended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us”). It wouldn’t be used again until 2003, after a member of a Usenet group used it to mean “To remove (a person) from a list of friends or contacts on a social networking website,” according to the OED. Defriend, meanwhile, came in 2004.
Yarn bombing—sometimes also called yarn storming—refers to “the action or practice of covering or decorating public objects or monuments with colorful knitted or crocheted items and motifs, as a form of street art.” The OED has the first citation in a January 2009 Daily Mail article, but it seems as though the practice itself may have before that: “The phenomenon, called Yarnbombing, is thought to have originated in the U.S. but knitters are now beginning to cover British streets in woolen ‘tags.’” (In Australia and the UK it seems to sometimes also be called graffiti knitting.) You can check out some of our favorite yarn bombing projects here.