Alex Cwalinski brings the production qualities of This American Life and the curiosity of The Smithsonian Magazine to his podcast about travel, Go. For his latest episode, Cwalinksi looked at how millennials are changing the travel industry—including, flatteringly, interviewing me.
I spoke to Cwalinski about how the word millennial itself has changed. Head over to his website or download his show wherever you get your podcasts to check it out, and be sure to get lost in some of his other, excellent episodes while you’re there. In the meantime, here’s a little teaser about the origin of millennial:
Millennial, and its slightly older variant, millenarian, first appears in the early 1600s as an adjective referring to the belief, derived from a cryptic package in the Book of Revelations, that the second coming of Christ would usher in a 1,000 year period of peace.
As a general term for a period of 1,000 years, the word millenary is the oldest, first instanced in the 1550s; millennium is recorded by the 1630s. They all ultimately come from the Latin mille, thousand, and annus, year.
Besides its numerical descriptions, millennial went on to describe a future, often fearful moment of a transformative consequence—in recent times, the year 2000 as a milestone in human history.
As a general term, millennial was first used by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe in their 1987 work, Generations. They called children who were entering preschool millennials—as they would come of age around the new millennium—and felt it was overprotective parenting that made them distinct. It’s only in the 2010s or so that millennial became the widespread term for this generation (remember Generation Y?) born between the early 1980s and 1990s, loosely defined by their facility with technology, liberal social and political viewpoints, delayed traditional rites of passage like marriage and homeownership, and prizing of meaningful, creative, and life-balanced work in a non-hierarchical environment. Now, millennial has become a shorthand—often used critically or humorously—for a kind of tech-obsessed, entitled young adult or lifestyle. Many articles online joke of “millennials killing” everything from napkins to bank accounts thanks to their love of things like avocado toast.
Speaking of traveling, I’m back in the States for about the next two weeks. I’ll be doing my best to keep up with my regular Tuesday and Friday posts, but expect my Etymologies of the Day to be lighter.