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Wow! Some words are, like, really old!

Even words bearing the stamp of one particular era often go back surprisingly deep into earlier times.

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I have an etymological nugget I've been saving, like a special chocolate bar, until the occasion is right. Here it is: The interjection Wow, as "a natural expression of amazement," goes back to the 1510s. Yes, you read that right – early in the 16th century.

Wow! That is pretty amazing, isn't it? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, wow was originally "a Scottish interjection." The verb sense ("We really wowed 'em") was first recorded in 1924, a mere four centuries later. The noun sense ("His last show was a real wow") stems likewise from the 1920s. The Dictionary of American Slang notes, "This old interjection had a new popularity in the early 1900s and again during the 1960s and later."

Speaking of Scotland (warning – the connection I'm about to make is a very loose-knit one): I recall once upon a time seeing my father in an argyle sweater vest I didn't recognize. It was shortly after the 1974 Robert Redford/Mia Farrow film "The Great Gatsby" had come out, with some notable effect on that season's fashions. And so when I saw the sweater, it crossed my mind, however briefly, that I was perhaps seeing Mr. Redford's influence on the attire of my very own, not exactly fashion-­forward father. And so I had to ask: "Hmm, Dad, when did you get that sweater?"


"Oh, probably about 1935."

It turned out that after some weight loss, he'd found himself able to get back into threads he'd acquired as a very young man – items that he'd frugally kept in storage over many of the intervening years.


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