Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

Ever wonder when ‘teenage’ was first used by writers? You can find out

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I’ve always been interested in word origins, first usages of a word, all that historical stuff related to language. (It’s called etymology.) One of the first words I recall checking out was for a story I was writing that involved references to “teenagers.” I assumed people in that age group were pretty much always called “teens” or “teenagers.”

Nope. “Teenage” was first used in 1921, derived from “teen” plus “age.” And “teenager” came about in 1941. Previous usage was “teener,” according to an 1894 source.

Do you find word origins and word history (etymology) interesting at all? My wife, Shirley, is big on crossword puzzles, but I prefer these sort of historical puzzles of researching word origins. If etymology is of interest to you, go to dictionary.com and you’ll find some great resources there. More specifically, you need to look around the Online Etymology Dictionary. It’s a fascinating resource for writers.

Think of this, too: You can save yourself some potential anachronism difficulties by looking up the origin and history of a word when you’re writing. You really wouldn’t want to be writing about World War I and make reference to all the teenagers who volunteered for Army service, would you?
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