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40 Words Turning 40 in 2017

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If you're turning 40 this year, you have something in common with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Saturday Night Fever, and the Chia Pet. You also got to grow up with these words, dated by first citation to 1977 in the Oxford English Dictionary.

1. SHAPEWEAR

By 1977, girdles were on the way out—but we got shapewear to take their place.

2. NIP AND TUCK

There was an older, 19th century sense of nip and tuck that referred to a close “neck and neck” competition, but by 1977, the phrase was claimed for minor cosmetic surgery.

3. PARTY ANIMAL

The first citation for party animal is from Bill Murray in an episode of Saturday Night Live.

4. BREWSKI

Another Saturday Night Live contribution. Also from Bill Murray, this time complaining to the coneheads that they put brewskis in the kids' trick-or-treat bags.

5. YOOPER

In 1977, the Escanaba Daily Press had a contest to come up with a name for residents of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, also know as the U.P. The finalists included U.P.ite, which didn’t stick, and Yooper, which did.

6. MICROWAVEABLE

Once we had microwaves, we needed a term to describe the type of packaging that was suitable to put into the microwave. At the same time we got microwaveable, we also got ovenable, for packaging that could, by contrast, go into a more traditional oven—but that word didn’t last as long.

7. WORK-LIFE

“Work-life balance” became an ideal to shoot for in the '70s, and as a result we got this adjective.

8. NO-NAME

There was a heyday 40 years ago for generics, or non-branded products, at the supermarket. As Time pointed out at the time, “No name groceries have become hot items.”

9. NANOCOMPUTER

We had microcomputer in the '50s. In the '70s, we started looking toward the even smaller nanocomputer.

10. MURDOCHIAN

We did see the word Murdochian as early as 1963, but then it referred to the philosophy of the writer Iris Murdoch. In 1977, it was first applied to the sensationalist tabloid style of publisher Rupert Murdoch.

11. PHALLOCRACY

Since 1965, the French had the word phallocratie for a male-dominated society (etymologically, “government run by penises”). In 1977, we made an English version.

12. MOORE’S LAW

In 1965, microchip manufacturer Gordon Earle Moore expressed the idea that the number of components that could fit on a chip would double every year. In 1977, the idea was called Moore’s Law and eventually came to stand for the idea that computers will keep getting better and faster while they also get smaller.

13. A-LISTER

We’ve been talking about the A-list, the most popular, exclusive, and sought-after folks, since the 1930s, but 40 years ago, an article about the band Kiss first applied the term A-listers to the members of this list: “it is snubbed by A-listers, since it panders to 14-year-olds.”

14. AT SIGN

The @ symbol itself has been around for hundreds of years, but we only have evidence for it being called the at sign since 1977. Before that, it was sometimes called the commercial at.

15. BIBIMBAP

In Korean, this dish of mixed rice and vegetables is pronounced more like pibimbap, but 40 years ago, when American culture started getting to know it, it came into English as bibimbap.

16. BRITPOP

The first citation for Britpop, in a 1977 issue of New Musical Express, refers to a band you might not expect: “At home The Sex Pistols are public enemies. In Sweden, they're an important visiting Britpop group.”

17. POST-PUNK

Punk had barely gotten started in 1977, but already there was a cited mention of a “post-punk disco” where a "new wave" band was to play.

18. STREET CREDIBILITY

A couple of years later, this term for "acceptability among, or popularity with, ordinary people, especially fashionable young urban people" was shortened to street cred. Which definitely has more street cred.

19. ‘BURB

Suburb is a very old word, going all the way back to the Middle Ages. Even suburbia goes back to the 19th century. But the 'burbs is now a young 40 years old.

20. CATFIGHT (VERB)

Cats have been fighting for a long time, but the verb to catfight or “fight in a vicious, cat-like manner, esp. by scratching, pulling hair and biting” dates to 1977.

21. CRINGEWORTHY

If what is praiseworthy is worthy of praise, then it makes sense that what is worthy of cringing at should be cringeworthy.

22. NEKKID

The pronunciation nekkid had long been a regional variant of naked, but 40 years ago it became its own word with a slightly different meaning: a purposely humorous, eyebrow wagging, sexually suggestive idea of nakedness.

23. FAST-TRACK

The term fast track originally comes from horse racing. By 1977, it had become a verb for doing things on an accelerated schedule.

24. FRO-YO

Calling frozen yogurt fro-yo made it sound a little more fun, but still didn’t make it ice cream.

25. GUILT-TRIP (VERB)

The noun guilt trip goes back to 1972, but by 1977 we had cut back the lengthy “lay a guilt trip on” to the simple verb, to guilt-trip.

26. INCENTIVIZATION

In the 1940s and '50s, people started talking about the concept of "incentive pay" or bonuses to encourage workers to be more productive. By 1968, we had the verb incentivize, and 1977 brought us incentivization.

27. KARAOKE

Karaoke (from a Japanese compound meaning “empty orchestra”) started in Japan in the 1970s. Though it didn’t really hit big in the English-speaking world until the '90s, we had already borrowed the word for it by 1977.

28. PLUS-ONE

Plus-one, for a guest brought to a party by someone else who was invited, got its start with the backstage music scene.

29. LOOSE CANNON

If a cannon is not tied down on a storm-tossed ship, it’s liable to do a lot of damage. People had long used this image as a metaphor for dangerously unpredictable behavior, but loose cannon became a set phrase for that metaphor 40 years ago.

30. SHOPAHOLIC

We got this word just in time for the dawn of mall culture.

31. UPSELLING

The idea of getting customers to buy something more expensive than they intended was already old 40 years ago, but this abstract noun for the idea was new.

32. SICKO

Pinkos, weirdos, and winos had already been around for a while by the time we came up with sicko.

33. STEADICAM

The patent for the Steadicam, an actively stabilized video camera, was granted to filmmaker Garrett W. Brown in 1977.

34. STEP-PARENTING

A 1977 article in the Washington Post referred to “step-parenting” problems.

35. STRAPPY

Strappy is 40 in the sartorial sense of strappy sandals and strappy sundresses.

36. SUPERSIZE (VERB)

Supersize as an adjective goes back to 1876, but the verb, to supersize something, shows up in 1977. It was popularized in the fast food sense after 1994.

37. TEXT MESSAGE

This phrase was introduced with the publication of “Standard for Format of ARPA Network Text Messages” from the Internet Engineering Task Force.

38. THINSULATE

This proprietary name for an insulating synthetic fabric has been with us for 40 years.

39. TRANSCRIPTIONIST

In the '70s audio recording had become easy and portable enough to be relied upon in many fields. This created the requirement for a new type of job: transcribing from audio. The first citation for transcriptionist is from a job ad for a medical transcriptionist.

40. WEDGIE

The OED dictionary definition for this word is delightfully thorough: “An act of pulling the cloth of a person's underwear, trousers, etc., tightly between the buttocks, esp. as a practical joke; any positioning of a person's underwear, pants, etc., resembling the result of such a pulling.”

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
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Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


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By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


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Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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