Worldbuilding Through Language, Part 1

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary has a “Time Traveler” function, which allows you to see what words first saw print in a given year.

Which means if you have a campaign set in a real-world year, you can create a list of words that were first used in print that year. This becomes a list of the cutting edge of new discussions in various fields. If ‘antibiotic’ is first used as a word in 1891, and that’s the year of your campaign, that tells you something about the state of medicine and awareness of it as a concept. It also means you may want to look at the history of the word and see how it was being used. (Antibiotics, for example, were being explored as a concept in 1891, not yet available).

As an example of what I mean, here is a list of words first used in English in print in 1891, the year of my Really Wild West campaign.

(Art by Digital Storm)

addictive

antibiotic

anti-gang

antimicrobial

appendectomy

atmospherics

AWOL

balloon tire

batting cage

bipartisan

bodywash

collective bargaining

compass rose

diving board

domestic violence

electromagnetic radiation

electron

exhibitionism

eyedropper

fair catch

fair market value

fellatio

fine print

fingerprinting

flea market

frenemy

handheld

house detective

leatherneck

legwork

motion picture

multimillion

mystique

nationwide

neuron

prosciutto

reinforced concrete

secondhand smoke

seismogram

skeletonizer

slot machine

stinking smut

supersecret

supraliminal

synesthesia

table tennis

tabloid

Tasmanian tiger

tattersall

time card

torpedo tube

trade in

transpacific

traveler’s check

tuberculous

ultrarich

vaccination

wasabi

water cannon

wiretapper

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About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on September 29, 2020, in Game Design, Microsetting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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