Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Search for ideas from long ago

Over the past weekend I was doing an obvious search, and not having ANY luck whatsoever.  What was going ON?  

In my case, I was just trying to look up what had happened in Ethiopia during the Jazz Age (roughly 1910 - 1920, don't ask why.. it's a long story).  But I was having very little luck.  It was as though all records of Ethiopia had vanished for dates before 1930.

And then I read the Wikipedia article on Ethiopia (trying to read a little history about the country as general background).... and noticed a really interesting thing.  Ethiopia used to be called Abyssinia!  

Armed with this knowledge, I popped back to my Google News Archive search and found many references to Abyssinia that predate 1930.  Voila!  

And after thinking about it, I realized this must happen a lot with historic searches.  Consider the following list of "retro terms" I found on the HWWilson site.  

For the original content, see:   http://www.hwwilson.com/Databases/rdgretro.htm

What terms do YOU find have undergone a significant change?  Any experiences from readers? 

Abandoned towns                                                                                     Ghost towns
Abyssinia                                                                                                            Ethiopia
Boers                                                                                                                  Afrikaners
Bombs, Flying                                                                                         Aerial bombing
Brontosaurus                                                                                              Apatosaurus
Chemistry, Legal                                                                              Forensic chemistry
Drunkards; Drunkenness                                                       Alcohol and alcoholism
European War, 1914-                                                            World War I, 1914-1918
Feeble-minded                                                                             Mentally handicapped
Game protection                                                                         Wildlife conservation
Gases in warfare                                                              Chemical and biological weapons
Glacial period                                                                                                  Ice age
Hashish                                                                                                        Marijuana
India-rubber                                                                                                  Rubber
Insane                                                                                                              Mentally ill
Lodging houses, Municipal                                                                    Flophouses
Ministers of the gospel                                                                                  Clergy
Mohammedans                                                                                             Muslims
Moros                                                                                                    Muslims/Philippines
Monitors                                                                                                        Turret ships
Negro-English dialects                                                                         Black English
Outdoor relief                                                                                        Public welfare
Physiological chemistry                                                                     Biochemistry
Sportsmen                                                                                                        Hunters
Stock exchange/Crisis, October 1929                      Business depression, 1929-1939
Trade unions                                                                                             Labor unions
Wireless telegraphy                                                                         Radio telegraph

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dan,

    Great topic!

    Actually the Abyssinia/Ethiopia difference is not just between old and new. It's not even like Peking/Beijing. It's more like:


    The country has never been called Abyssinia officially. It's been Ethiopia for a long time, at least since the 3rd or 4th century AD (I think... maybe earlier). Abyssinia was an informal name for the country, which became popular for a while from the 17th to the 20th century in Europe (never in Ethiopia itself). Even during the period when "Abyssinia" was in vogue, officially (e.g. in treaties) the Europeans called it Ethiopia.

    The term Abyssinia comes from "Abesha", which is how Ethiopians (and Eritreans) refer to themselves. But it's also a historically loaded term. Some think it only applies to people from the parts that have dominated in recent times. Basically it's very similar to "Yankee" in America.

    Abesha became Abashi in Arabic, and Europeans added the "-nia" and made it a country name.

    So when an English-speaking person calls Ethiopia "Abyssinia" it's kind of like a Spanish-speaker calling the USA "El Pais de los Yanquis". It makes sense within a certain historical and geographical window, but it's not actually a straightforward evolution of language over time.