“…And her workin’ in a saloon like any hussy.”
“Oh, that’s not fair, Ma. We’re living in modern times. – … Don’t forget, things have changed since you were a girl. This is 1870.“
— In Old Chicago (1937)
Speaking of clichés, how about that obligatory line in costume dramas, “But, Ma, these are modern times – [fill in the comically ancient year]”? How long have we been patting ourselves on the back for being enlightened enough to live in modern times? Since the dawn of history, I’m guessing. After all, there were always prehistoric times to look down on.
The use of the word “modern” in English dates to at least 1456. The quotation cited by the Oxford English Dictionary, from Book Law of Armys [sic] by Sir Gilbert Hay, looks anything but modern to us: “Bot be the opynioun of the doctouris oure maisteris modernis‥he suld say he traistis fermly jt be sa.”
“Modern” came into English from Middle French moderne (from Late Latin modernus). Modernus is from modo ‘just now’ (adverbial form of modus ‘mode’ n.) + -ernus.
Now, here’s a shortened version of what the OED says about the origin of “mode”:
In branch I. < classical Latin modus measure, size, limit of quantity, manner, method, musical ‘mode’ In branch II. < French mode, feminine (c1393 in Middle French denoting a collective manner of living or thinking proper to a country or age, 1452 in sense ‘way, manner’ …1480 in sense ‘way of dressing.’
Trust the French, even in 1480, to be absolutely à la mode: modern and up-to-date, especially when it comes to fashion.