Barely a day goes by without some journalist mentioning “baby boomer.” Following is an example from the August 24 edition of the Free Press. Lifted from the Los Angeles Times and entitled, Baby Boomers Dooming Stocks, the story uses the term six times in a nine-inch article. And that doesn’t count its occurrence in the headline.
This particular piece concerns itself with the negative affect boomers are sure to have on the stock market as they retire and sell off their investments. Previous articles have lamented the anticipated cost when baby boomers begin to claim pensions, and have decried the drain on our medical system once they age and become ill. In past years, media worried about crowded classrooms and lack of teachers once boomers began to go to school.
In fact, boomers have been making headlines their entire lives.
Many sources trace the term baby boom to a 1941 headline in Life magazine. But Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, a British publication, claims that both baby boom and bulge were used after the First World War.
Nevertheless, Cassell’s acknowledges that baby boom originated in the U.S. and didn’t truly enter common vocabulary until the 1960s. Baby boomer came 10 years later.
Cassell’s tells us that the equivalent phrases in Britain are “post-war bulge” and “bulge,” and also says baby boomer was barely known in Britain until the arrival of the Baby Boomer edition of Trivial Pursuit in 1986.
Everyone agrees that a baby boomer is a person born during the temporary escalation of the birth rate after the Second World War. The dates for this boom are generally accepted as 1947 to 1961.
Related expressions have popped up. A baby boomlet is a small population explosion and was used during the 1980s when grown-up boomers began to have families of their own. Conversely, a baby bust is a temporary but marked decrease in the birth rate.
Naturally, the post-war birth-rate rose in other countries touched by the Second World War. So, the Japanese coined an equivalent term — dankai no sedai (the cluster generation).
We have all heard about efforts in both France and Germany to “cleanse” their languages. That is, there is a move in both countries to get rid of foreign words — usually English ones that we’d label “loanwords.” We even hear of “Franglais,” a mish-mash of both French and English.
Still, it’s no wonder many French are concerned. Their term for baby boomer is l’enfant du baby-boom. The German term is equally anglicised. It’s das Baby Boomer.
Boom is an echoic (imitative) word — an imitation of a cannon’s sound. It is thought its use as a descriptive for some activity which explodes probably originated in the 1860s in the U.S. during the presidential campaign of General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885).
The likely genesis of boom is the Dutch word bomme (drum). Scholarly opinions differ as to whether or not boom, in this sense, is slang.
Baby is Celtic in origin — from the Irish baban and the Gaelic bab (child; infant).