40 Words Turning 40 in 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Work-life balance” became an ideal to shoot for in the '70s, and as a result we got this adjective.
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.”
We had microcomputer in the '50s. In the '70s, we started looking toward the even smaller nanocomputer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
If what is praiseworthy is worthy of praise, then it makes sense that what is worthy of cringing at should be cringeworthy.
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.
The term fast track originally comes from horse racing. By 1977, it had become a verb for doing things on an accelerated schedule.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We got this word just in time for the dawn of mall culture.
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.
Pinkos, weirdos, and winos had already been around for a while by the time we came up with sicko.
The patent for the Steadicam, an actively stabilized video camera, was granted to filmmaker Garrett W. Brown in 1977.
A 1977 article in the Washington Post referred to “step-parenting” problems.
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.
This proprietary name for an insulating synthetic fabric has been with us for 40 years.
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.
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.”