March 7, 2012

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: When Was a Teenager Not a Teenager?

I write books for teens/young adults – ergo books for teenagers. This got me to thinking:  I don’t recall ever running across the word teenager in anything I’ve read about life in the 1800’s.  There’s a reason for this.  The word teenager did not exist at that time. 
The origin of “teen” is obvious:  thir – teen, four – teen. You get the picture.  “Teenage” first appeared in written language in the 1920’s when topics were discussed about boys and girls in their teen years while still assigning them to childhood.  Indeed, prior to the 1920’s there were only two divisions of folks:  adults and children.  In the period between childhood and adulthood, teens were called kids, boys and girls, young people, adolescents, and youths.

It wasn’t until around World War II that the word teenager appeared, first in America.  Originally it was hyphenated (teen-ager), then as the usage increased, the hyphen was dropped.  It gained ground as teenagers became a culture all their own.  This quote from Romany writing on the website The Free paints the perfect picture: 
Until the beginning of the Sixties, teenagers were considered a uniquely American construct with James Dean – leather jacket, brooding eyes, fags tucked in the t-shirt sleeve – the epitome of this image.

Next Topic:  Where Did Teens Live?

For  references and additional reading click on the Extras tab.

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