Before 1958, There Was No Way to Say That Something Was Stackable

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

While I wait for someone to deliver a bomb to my door,¹ I have been distracted once again by somebody pointing me to Merriam Webster’s list of words that first appeared in a given year. I’ve looked at this before, but it must have been a while ago because I didn’t notice one word in particular that’s been living in my head rent-free for the past four years:

dexamethasone: a synthetic glucocorticoid C22H29FO5 used especially as an anti-inflammatory agent

The evil dex turned 60 this year, just like me! Well, 61, anyway, according to Wikipedia. But nobody wrote about it until 1958.

Merriam Webster also claims that 1958 was the first time that several mathematical terms were seen in print: Cartesian product, linear regression, multiplicative identity, multiplicative inverse, percentage point, and two’s complement. I can buy the last one, but the others seem unlikely to have first been written down in 1958.

Allegedly, my birth year also lays claim to sex kitten, software, tesla, prequel, and stackable. I wonder what prequel was written in 1958 that gave rise to this neologism? I suppose that these days it takes less time to look it up than it does to actually ask the question. And here it is:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word “prequel” first appeared in print in 1958 in an article by Anthony Boucher in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, used to describe James Blish’s 1956 story They Shall Have Stars, which expanded on the story introduced in his earlier 1955 work, Earthman Come Home.

And there you have it.

¹Marian does not appreciate this joke, by the way.

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate