Midcentury Modern: My Contribution to the Lexicon


AT LONG LAST…a data tool that provides nearly incontrovertible proof that I — me, your friendly blogger — coined the much-used, oft-misused term “mid-century modern.” Today on eBay, for instance, 7,974 items are described as mid-century (or midcentury, no hyphen) modern. But you can’t copyright a word or a phrase.

As explained in an article last week in The New York Times, two Harvard researchers invented a way of measuring the number of times a given word or phrase has been used in print and digital media, and tracking its use over time.

I didn’t need the proof, but it’s gratifying to see the graph, above. Inserting ‘midcentury modern’ into this simple Google tool shows no use of the term prior to 1984. As I thought. I came up with the phrase for the title of my book, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s, published by Harmony Books (now part of Random House) in 1984. (My editor, Harriet Bell, who originated the idea for the book upon seeing an article I’d written about 1950s furniture in Metropolitan Home magazine, claims ‘mid-century modern’ was on her list of possible titles, too, and I believe her.)

The book has been in print all these years; only very recently was the American paperback edition discontinued. But it’s not dead yet. Mid-Century Modern is coming out as an e-book in May 2011. (There are other come-lately books with MCM in the title. Don’t be fooled!)

Fascinating. Now if only I had a nickel for each time someone used the term.

About cara

I blog for fun here at casaCARA, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here: https://casacara.wordpress.com/recent-articles/
This entry was posted in MISCELLANEOUS and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Midcentury Modern: My Contribution to the Lexicon

  1. Astor C says:

    At long last, recognition.

  2. cara says:

    Yes, by me, but I’ll take it;-)

  3. Harriet says:

    Still remains one of my favorite books I worked on! xoh

  4. coppermaven says:

    And to all you readers of Cara’s blog, I strongly encourage you to read the book! It’s still the seminal book on the subject.

  5. lexi says:

    fun stuff. check out Google books, pre-1984. there are a few mentions, but only a few relevant ones. they include 1957 “Guide to Interior Decoration” and 1967’s “Modern Civilization,” and a 1978 AIA Journal.


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