The Surprisingly Long Histories of Expressions Commonly Used in the Modern Lexicon

For their incredibly informative etymological whiteboard series for Mental Floss , linguist Arika Okrent and illustrator Sean O’Neill verbally and visually explain the surprising historical roots of slang expressions, such as “hipster”, “unfriend” and “fanboy”, that are commonly used in the modern lexicon.

Since when did friend become a verb?! he answer is: Sometime in the 1400s, long before Facebook. In the earliest examples of the verb to friend, it means to make friends. It also had the meaning of help someone out, be a friend to them. If you could friend someone, it was only natural, according to the productive rules of English word formation, that you could unfriend them too.The word unfriended shows up as early as 1659. The application of fanboy to comics and science fiction had to wait until the ’70s, but before that, there were sports fans who as early 7as 1919 were being referred to as fanboys, and theater fans, who were fangirls as early as 1934. The words hip and hep had been around since the early 1900s with the meaning of being up on the latest and knowing what’s what. But hipster? It shows up in a 1941 dictionary of hash house lingo, meaning a know-it-all.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails. Lori can be found posting on Threads and sharing photos on Instagram.