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

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.


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.