A few weeks ago I finished reading Bill Bryson’s 1994 book following the history of the United States and the development of American English – Made in America. At almost 600 pages it has taken me around six months to get through the entire book, but it is a fantastic read.
One of the last chapters of the book focuses on language from the time of the Space Race. In particular, the following excerpt about words from the 1970s is just as true today:
In 1959, in one of those delving into the future that magazines found so satisfying at the time, Newsweek presented this confident scenario for the lucky housewife of 1979: ‘Waking to cool 1970-style music from a tiny phonograph built into her pillow, the housewife yawned, flicked a bedside switch to turn on the electronic recipe-maker, then rose and stepped into her ultrasonic shower.’
Among the many things Newsweek’s soothsayer failed to foresee was that by 1979 the housewife would be an endangered species. What the world got instead were words like workaholic, drive-by shootings, crack cocaine, AIDS, repetitive stress injury, gridlock and serial killer. We’re still waiting for the ultrasonic shower.
Personally, I am still waiting for my jetpack.