The Top 10: Words That Died And Were Reborn

John Rentoul
The term 'wireless' used to have a very different meaning

Andrew Denny ‏suggested this list and nominated the first. At the risk of taking up too much of your time, I do recommend the Google Books Ngram Viewer, which searches a vast database of digitised books from 1800, and produces a graph like that below, showing how usage has waxed and waned over the decades.

1. Dude. Became popular in the United States in the 1880s, meaning a dandy. The Oxford Dictionary says it may have come from “Yankee Doodle”, the song popular during the War of Independence. It declined after the Second World War but revived as a hippie-ish synonym for bloke in the late 1960s, before a recent surge of popularity from the late 1980s.

2. Cyber. An abbreviation of cybernetics (itself invented in the 1940s) that became popular in the late 1970s. According to Omer Lev, it was resurrected by the military establishment (cybersecurity, and so on) from the mid-1990s. ‏

3. Wireless. “The uses are different but the underlying technology is basically the same,” said Russell Smith. “The term is now used more than the old synonym for radio ever was.”

4. Vamp. A 1920s word for a seductress, revived in the 1970s. Nominated by Rich Greenhill‏.

5. Punk. “Originally an Elizabethan word for prostitute, later applied to a younger male partner of an older man; came to mean ‘a person of no account’ before being reborn in the 1970s,” said Allan Holloway.

6. Hipster. Popular in the 1960s and then again after 1999. Thanks to Berlaymonster and Tom Papworth.

7. Gay. “For obvious reasons,” said Arthur Spirling‏. Could also feature in next week’s euphemisms.

8. Queer. Peaked in its original sense in the 1920s; it had been used as an insult for homosexual since the late 19th century, and became popular again from the 1990s after it was reclaimed by LGBT people in the 1980s. David Boothroyd.

9. Twitter. Enid Driscoe.

10. Redux. Excellent nomination from Steve, who pointed out that it was popularised by John Updike. Rabbit Redux, 1971, was the second of his Rabbit series. Mostly used in fairly upmarket US commentary, it means brought back, revived, and dates from the late 19th century, from Latin, reducere “bring back”.

Next week: Euphemisms, in honour of “re-accommodate”, United Airlines for “violently removed from plane”

Coming soon: Results that were misannounced, in honour of the Oscars and looking forward to 8 June

The e-book of Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop is just £3.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to

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