The Importance of Being Thrilled

During the Roaring Twenties, a 1922 New York Times Magazine article discussed how many more people were using variations of the word “thrill” in conversation.

The stats say people wouldn’t do so at that level again until the mid-2010s.

Per the 1922 article:

Thrills are in vogue in the younger set. It is quite the thing these days to ecstatically twirl a new twisted turban upon a forefinger before other admiring feminine eyes and cry:

“I’m just thrilled to death about it, aren’t you?”

Or to comment volubly upon a friend’s engagement, burbling, “Isn’t it perfectly thrilling about Mary and John?”

Everything in life is supposed to contribute its own particular palpitation to the heart of the modern girl, from a jaunty little fur coat to a “Samson and Delia” aria or a fascinating man. And if some phenomenon fails to provide the expected flutter it is audibly criticized.

“I bought an evening dress today, but I’m not a bit thrilled with it,” says the slender débutante petulantly.

“The play was pretty good, but I didn’t get a thrill out of it,” remarks another.

According to Google Books Ngram Viewer, in 1923, the year after that article was published, the word thrill appeared in books with the highest frequency it ever had up to that point. Then it broke that record in 1924, again in 1926, and again in 1927.

But then the word began a decades-long decline, bottoming out in 1978. Starting in 1979, it began to pick up slightly, truly surging in the 2000s. In 2014, the word’s frequency finally exceeded that prior 1927 peak to set a new record after 87 years. It’s remained at or around that new level ever since.

Why, exactly? Honestly, I don’t have a great explanation for this. Perhaps it has something to do with the rise of the term “thrill ride” in the 1990s, particularly as it relates to theme parks? But that alone can’t explain it. If anybody has a better explanation, please post it in the comments.


The Importance of Being Thrilled

Published: Sunday, December 17, 1922

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