Before 1958, There Was No Way to Say That Something Was Stackable

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

While I wait for someone to deliver a bomb to my door,¹ I have been distracted once again by somebody pointing me to Merriam Webster’s list of words that first appeared in a given year. I’ve looked at this before, but it must have been a while ago because I didn’t notice one word in particular that’s been living in my head rent-free for the past four years:

dexamethasone: a synthetic glucocorticoid C22H29FO5 used especially as an anti-inflammatory agent

The evil dex turned 60 this year, just like me! Well, 61, anyway, according to Wikipedia. But nobody wrote about it until 1958.

Merriam Webster also claims that 1958 was the first time that several mathematical terms were seen in print: Cartesian product, linear regression, multiplicative identity, multiplicative inverse, percentage point, and two’s complement. I can buy the last one, but the others seem unlikely to have first been written down in 1958.

Allegedly, my birth year also lays claim to sex kitten, software, tesla, prequel, and stackable. I wonder what prequel was written in 1958 that gave rise to this neologism? I suppose that these days it takes less time to look it up than it does to actually ask the question. And here it is:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word “prequel” first appeared in print in 1958 in an article by Anthony Boucher in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, used to describe James Blish’s 1956 story They Shall Have Stars, which expanded on the story introduced in his earlier 1955 work, Earthman Come Home.

And there you have it.

¹Marian does not appreciate this joke, by the way.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest