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06 Oct

Cuisine and geopolitics were cosmopolitan and knowing (“carpaccio,” “chai,” “gulag,” “Moonie”), finance affected to be straight-shooting and square-jawed (“direct deposit,” “junk bond,” “sweat equity”), and fashion invoked comparisons to things that were practical or military (“cargo pocket,” “string bikini”).Workplace lingo was relentlessly jocular (“gotcha,” “wake-up call,” “wimp out”).So if you ever get ghosted, you can take comfort in the fact that you're not alone — it's happened to enough people to warrant an official dictionary definition.Distributives are determiners that are used to talk about how something is shared out or divided. like to think that I know a lot of words, but I definitely don’t know all of them.The other day I came across a new one, on page 2 of Michael Robbins’s new book, “Equipment for Living,” in a quote from the critic Kenneth Burke: “Surely the most highly alembicated and sophisticated work of art, arising in complex civilizations, could be considered as designed to organize and command the army of one’s thoughts and images.” I did not feel, at first, that I had to look up “alembicated,” because it was clear from the context that the word basically meant “sophisticated,” and also because I knew that an alembic was some kind of glassware, and this seemed, at the time, like enough knowledge.I took a childish delight in seeing that “outgoing,” “marshmallow,” and “weird” predate the twelfth century, and that “hamster” and “housecat” both date to 1607.

The year-by-year lists start with 1500, the rich vintage that gave us “backside,” “brownie,” “cadaver,” “civil law,” and “haircloth.” The fifteenth, fourteenth, thirteenth, and twelfth centuries each have their own lists, as does the catchall “before 12th century,” notable for its outmoded Anglo-Saxon administrative vocabulary—“wapentake,” “witenagemot”—and for a charming, antiquated term for vocabulary itself: “word-hoard.” Time Traveler comes to a stop in the arids of 2010, a year with only two entries: “Arab Spring” and “gamification.”One pleasure of searching the lists, I discovered, is to look for apparent anachronisms.

The feature is called Time Traveler, and it has indeed enabled me to travel in time, because once I start looking at it I find that hours have passed.

What could be more bewitching than to see, under a given year, all the words that it birthed, like a squirming litter of word-kittens?

It may be serious or casual, straight or gay, committed or open, short-term or long-term.

We use the gender-neutral term “partners” to refer to people in an intimate relationship, but you might use a different word (and that’s okay)!