Nine Words Clawing Their Way Back from Extinction | Phactual

Nine Words Clawing Their Way Back from Extinction

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Nine Words Clawing Their Way Back from Extinction

It’s always news when a new word makes its way into the dictionary (the yet-unborn archeologist who digs up the first Webster’s to contain “selfie” is in for an exciting day at work) but let’s have some applause for the terms gaining a stay of execution, shall we?  These were all in danger of falling out of the English language, but are battling their way back into the lexicon:

Splashdown:  What was once a household word in the ’60s and 70’s fell out of favor with the decline of the space shuttle.  In the early days of the space program, astronauts returned to Earth in command modules that landed in the nearest convenient ocean. Shuttle orbiters landed on (really, really long) runways, and the Russian Soyuz capsules that currently ferry crews to the International Space Station plop down in Kazakhstan.

With the unveiling of the Orion spacecraft, which made its return on its first test flight in the Pacific Ocean, the word “splashdown” has burst back into glorious usage. May it herald the return of NASA skinny ties and pocket protectors.

Dirt Track: Horseracing is experiencing its very own Astroturf controversy.  Some tracks–most notably top notch Keeneland in Kentucky and Santa Anita Park in California–replaced traditional dirt tracks with a synthetic surface under the theory that it was safer for both horse and rider.

But just as Astroturf came and went, so too, perhaps, has the day of the non-dirt dirt track. After a seven-year experiment, both Santa Anita and Keeneland are raking out the silt once more. Other tracks have un-switched as well.

Victory roll: If you’ve seen tinted pictures from the ’40s of gorgeous ladies with their hair somehow simultaneously fluffy and ratcheted, you are beholding a victory roll. The burgeoning popularity of rockabilly and pin-up looks means that the towering hair comes with the garters and the crinoline.

The etymology is a bit misty, but the twirly curls are thought to share a name with the maneuver performed by fighter planes after a successful mission. Women in this era didn’t have a wealth of products at their disposal, so they made do with, apparently, backcombing. These days, victory rolls are assisted by hair spray, gel, and YouTube tutorials shared to dedicated Pinterest boards.


Layaway: Once a staple of Christmas shopping, layaway has made a somewhat depressing return to the lexicon. The Depression-era practice of reserving an item and paying for it over time faded as credit cards became the coin of every possible realm. But with a nation of wrecked credit scores and lending companies tightening approvals, the practice of layaway has returned. These days, however, online layaway is a thing, and so is automatic payments from bank apps.

It’s a quiet, low-risk endeavor for the business owner:  If you don’t pay for the item, you don’t get it, and back on the shelf that Madden game goes. Delayed gratification, kids. It’s back.

Artisanal: This one is such a throwback it’s sometimes thought of as a completely new term, possibly invented by a bearded person tooling to his organic microbrew workshop on a bicycle fashioned entirely out of tofu, burlap, and pretentiousness. But “artisanal” dates from the 1500’s and refers to a tradesman who labored in handicrafts.  Now, however, it’s morphed into referring to goods made by non-mechanical or traditional methodology:  artisanal bread, artisanal glass, artisanal Jazzercise.

Watch: The wristwatch, once an essential aspect of every wardrobe, seemed to be rapidly going the way of the landline and the fountain pen, with sales dropping anywhere between 5 and 20 percent in the past decade. But the trend is reversing: High schoolers and college students are moving from buying “throwaway” watches for everyday use to purchasing pricey Omega fashion statements as they become young professionals. Sales are projected to continue to rise as the Apple watch and fitness trackers become the new– well, wristwatch.

Backsplash: “Backsplash” came into use in suburban boom of the 50’s, although what it describes (a tiled area behind a sink) has been a staple of homes for longer than that. After its introduction, “backsplash” faded into the domain of interior decorators, remodelers, and the occasional person who watches HGTV.  Thanks in part to Pinterest, backsplashery is the new black, especially if it comes in weensey little tiles instead of the original adult-sized squares.


Pluto: Pluto was consigned to non-planetary status in 2006, much to the furor of pretty much everyone. The downgrade doomed it to history books and an astronomical curiosity rather than grade school science books and telescope timetables.

In late 2014, however, the question was cracked open once more by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. While the International Astronomical Union–which has the final say–is still of the opinion that Pluto shouldn’t receive an invite to the planet party, the issue is at least under discussion.


Elsa: Try to search out the popularity of the name “Elsa” at the Social Security Administration within the last century:  You won’t find much. It was last all the rage in the 1890’s, when 252 per million baby girls entered the world as Elsa.

Elsa is a long-lost form of Elizabeth in English-speaking countries. But thanks to the Disney queen who insists upon wearing terribly weather-inappropriate shoes, “Elsa” has popped into the top 100 names in the United States.

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