The Oxford English Dictionary has 466 words with first citations from 1932. In that year, blamed for the dismal state of the economy, Herbert Hoover and the Republicans proved to be unelectable. One could eat Pablum, biryani, marinara, gelato, and stroganoff, although one might have to burp and use Alka-Seltzer afterward. The adventurous could take an Intourist trip through the stans. Scientists were drooling over their new electron microscopes and mass spectrometers. And shouts of both yowzer and eek, along with more subdued okey-dokeys, were heard across the U. S. when people received news of Franklin Roosevelt’s election.
Events of 1932:
- January: Hattie Carraway of Arkansas becomes the first woman elected to the U. S. Senate; China and Japan go to war again in the January 28 Incident; Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World is published; French politician Andre Maginot dies, never having completed the defensive fortifications that bore his name.
- February: Lake Placid, New York hosts the Winter Olympics; Clara, Lu, & Em, the first daytime soap opera, debuts on NBC Radio; Japan declares the “independent” state of Manchukuo (Manchuria).
- March: Infant Charles Lindbergh, Jr. is kidnapped; the January 28 incident ends; the Sydney Harbor Bridge opens; Tarzan the Ape Man, starring Olympic swimmer Johnny Weismuller, premieres; George Eastman, founder of Kodak, commits suicide; band leader John Philip Sousa dies.
- May: Jack Benny’s radio show premieres; the Lindbergh baby is found dead; the Bonus Army of WWI veterans marches on Washington, D. C., demanding payment of the military bonuses promised them; Irish dramatist Augusta, Lady Gregory dies.
- June: the U. S. imposes its first tax on gasoline; Germany lifts the ban on the Nazi SS and SA organizations.
- July: the Dow Jones Industrial Average reaches its nadir at 41.22; troops forcibly disperse the Bonus Army; Los Angeles hosts the Summer Olympics; writer Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, and showman Florenz Ziegfeld die.
- August: Carl Anderson discovers the positron, confirming Paul Dirac’s prediction that it existed.
- September: the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd becomes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
- October: Babe Ruth makes his famous “called shot” in game three of the World Series; Britain grants Iraq independence; the “unsinkable” Titanic survivor Molly Brown dies.
- November: Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected president of the United States; Buck Rogers in the 25th Century debuts on radio; German President von Hindenburg almost asks Hitler to form a government, but opts for Kurt Schleicher instead; the Poles break the German Enigma cipher.
- December: the BBC Empire Service, later known as BBC World Service, begins broadcasting; Radio City Music Hall in New York City opens it doors.
The words of 1932:
Alka-Seltzer, n. According to its maker, Bayer, Alka-Seltzer hit the market in 1931, but the first citation in the OED is from an advertisement in the Oakland Tribune (California) on 8 February 1932.
Amerasian, adj. and n. Originally, Amerasian was an adjective denoting something related to both America and Asia, the first citation in the OED is from an advertisement for “Amerasian rugs.” But in the 1950s it started being used as a noun to refer to a person with one Asian and one American parent, especially a U. S. serviceman stationed in Asia.
asymptomatic, adj. Symptomatic dates to the late seventeenth century, but its antonym isn’t attested to until 1932.
baud, n. Today we associate baud with computing networks, but the term is originally from telegraphy. The term defines transmission speed and is defined as the units per second. (In computing one baud is usually defined as one bit per second.) It’s named for French engineer Jean-Maurice-Émile Baudot, inventor of a telegraphic printing system and the Baudot code, a character set that preceded EBCDIC and ASCII. Baud appears in French in 1929 and makes its way into English by 1932.
biryani, n. The Indian dish makes its English-language debut.
bring-and-buy, adj. A bring-and-buy sale is a type of charity sale where patrons bring items to sell, buy others, and give the proceeds to charity.
burp, n. and v. The journal American Speech records both the noun and verb for the first time in 1932. They were found in the slang of students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
caffeinated, adj. This adjective is recorded in 1932, although decaffeinization is recorded in 1927.
cojones, n. The OED’s first citation for this plural noun, from the Spanish, is in Hemingway’s 1932 Death in the Afternoon.
crapper, n. This word for a toilet is another of the slang terms found among the students at Johns Hopkins. They also used crappery.
de-icer, n. Today, aircraft de-icers are mainly chemical, but in 1932 mechanical heaters were also used as de-icers on aircraft and cars.
Durex, n. The brand name was trademarked in the U. K. in 1932. But I’m not sure whether this early use of Durex was for condoms or just a general name for a line of rubber goods. The trademark registration reads, “instruments, apparatus, and contrivances, not medicated, for surgical or curative purposes, or in relation to the health of men or animals, but not including surgical adhesive tape.” This could be a circumlocution to avoid the unmentionable “condom,” or it could refer to a broader range of products.
eek, int. The OED records this, often mock, expression of alarm from this year. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it was only in 1932 that people started emitting high-pitched squeals when surprised, but just that this particular echoic spelling of such a shriek began to appear about then. (The number of e’s in eek is variable, by the way.)
eight ball, n. This term is my surprise for 1932. Each year seems to turn up a word that appears much later than I would have thought. Eight ball has number of different senses, none of which is attested to in the OED prior to this year: the black ball, numbered eight, in the game of pool; a variety of the game of pool; in the phrase behind the eight ball, meaning at a disadvantage; a derogatory term for a black person; a stupid person; a type of microphone; and an eighth of an ounce of an illicit drug.
electron microscope, n. German physicist Ernst Ruska and engineer Max Knoll built the first of these devices in 1931, dubbing it the Elecktronenmikroskop. The following the year the calque electron microscope started appearing in English-language science journals.
fixer-upper, n. As used in 1932, a fixer-upper is a repairman or handyman. It wasn’t until after World War II that the word was applied to the thing, especially a home, which needed repair.
Fortean, adj. and n. Charles Fort (1874–1932) was an American writer and researcher of the occult and paranormal. Fort’s investigations into unexplained phenomenon were a mix of skepticism and credulity, and groups that have taken his name tend to have the same dissonant mix of scientific rigor and unswerving faith in the existence of the paranormal. The first meeting of the Fortean Society, a group that promoted his ideas, was held in New York City in January 1931. The first published mention of the society, and the adjective, is in the New York Times obituary for Fort in May 1932. The original society faded from existence in 1959, but other groups have used the Fortean name since.
Freon, n. The name for the refrigerant and aerosol propellant is attested as early as 1932. The name was trademarked in 1959 by Du Pont.
gelato, n. This name for the Italian style of ice cream is recorded in 1932 in clearly English-language contexts. Although there are older appearances of gelato in English-language travel literature making reference to Italian use of the word, as in this 1868 use in a Baedeker guide to Northern Italy: “Ices (gelato) of every possible variety are supplied at the cafes.”
hair-do, n. This U. S. term for a hair setting or style is attested in 1932.
Intourist, n. The Soviet travel and tourism bureau was established in 1929, and its name was appearing in English by 1932. Intourist was privatized in 1992.
iron lung, n. An iron lung is a form of negative-pressure, artificial ventilator that was widely used by polio patients from the 1930s into the 1950s. An iron lung is an air-tight chamber around the patient’s torso that uses variations air pressure to force the patient’s chest cavity to expand and contract, forcing air into and out of the lungs. The first practical iron lung, the Drinker respirator, was introduced in 1929. In 1931, John Haven Emerson produced an improved and less-expensive version, which sparked both the device’s use in hospitals and its name. The use of iron lungs today is very rare, having been replaced starting in 1952 with positive-pressure ventilators that force air directly into the lungs.
job sharing, n. Also known as job splitting, which the OED cites from 1939, this term denotes the practice of using two part-time workers instead of one full-time one. It is a way to alleviate the worst effects of unemployment.
karabiner, n. Also spelled carabiner, the word denotes an oval or D-shaped coupling device with a hinged gate to prevent accidental opening used by mountaineers.
kickback, n. This word for a refund or rebate, often illegal or at least unethical, is first cited in 1932.
layabout, n. A colloquial term for someone who refuses to work.
marinara, adj. and n. Determining when a borrowed word ceases to be “foreign” and becomes an “English word” can be tricky and subjective. The OED includes a citation from artist Al Hirschfeld’s 1932 book Manhattan Oases as the earliest clearly English usage of the name of this Italian sauce. But earlier citations can be found in references to Italian cookery.
mass spectrometer, n. This name for the scientific device is first cited in a 1932 article in The Physical Review. The term mass spectrograph dates to 1920, and a distinction is usually drawn between the two in that a mass spectrometer detects ions electrically while a mass spectrograph detects them photographically.
mobile, n.4 This name for a hanging sculpture was first used by French artist Marcel Duchamp to describe the work of U. S. sculptor Alexander Calder. The name stems from a February 1932 showing of Calder’s work in Paris.
mutual fund, n. The concept a collective investment dates to the eighteenth century, but this name for them appears by 1932.
newsworthy, adj. Not much to say about this one, other than here it is.
no-risk, adj. In 1932 those stung by the crash wanted no-risk investments for what money they had left.
okey-dokey, int. and adj. Another term first captured by American Speech in 1932.
Pablum, n. The easily digested cereal was patented in 1932.
pricey, adj. The OED first records this adjective meaning “expensive” in this year.
scissors paper stone, n. The game goes by other names as well. The synonym Roshambo is found as early as 1936, and rock paper scissors from 1954.
shit-faced, adj. The adjective, a general term of abuse, is first recorded in a 1932 letter by Ernest Hemingway. American Speech records the sense of being intoxicated, but not until the 1960s. The noun shitface is a bit older, however, with the OED recording it from 1923. The noun refers to a contemptible person.
skivvy, n.2 This U. S. naval jargon word for underclothes is first recorded in 1932.
stan, n. A stan is a country in Central Asia whose name ends in -stan, as in Afghanistan or Tajikistan. Of course, in 1932 most of these stans were part of the Soviet Union.
stroganoff, n. The English name for this originally Russian dish comes via France. Named after someone in the elite Stroganov family (usually Pavel Stroganov (1774–1817), although other candidates have been suggested), the dish gained popularity in the West with the emigration of Russians following the 1917 revolution.
Tampax, n. The name for the brand of tampon dates to 1932.
technocrat, n. (and technocratic, adj.) The word technocracy, “government by technical experts,” is older, being cited as early as 1895, but the name for the individual who takes part in that government and the associated adjective are recorded in 1932.
telecommunication, n. This term is coined in 1932 by the Madrid Convention Internationale des Télécommunications (despite being held in Spain, the language of the conference was French, as is typical of diplomatic meetings of the time).
Telex, n. A blend of teleprinter and exchange, this term for a system of sending documents over telecommunications lines is first noted in 1932.
unelectable, adj. This is another surprise late-appearance for a word formed from quite unremarkable roots.
viewscreen, n. This one makes its appearance in science fiction first, and it remains a word chiefly found in that genre even though it has since become a technical reality.
write-in, n. and v. The practice of allowing voters to write-in the name of a candidate not on the official ballot is chiefly an American one. The word dates to 1932, although the practice is somewhat older.
yowzer, int. The interjection of approval and enthusiasm is recorded as of 1932.
These words are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, based on that dictionary’s earliest citation for that word. Of course, that does not necessarily mean the word was coined in the given year; it only means that is the earliest date the big dictionary has for the word. In many cases, these words can and have been antedated. For each year, I try to select twenty-six words, one for each letter of the alphabet. But in some cases I’ve got more than one for a particular letter, in others none. My selection is not scientific or systematic; it is based on what I think is interesting; sometimes they are words that appear earlier or later than I would have thought; others have a particular historical affiliation for that year or represent some historical trend; and others are just odd words. I’m avoiding back-formations and variations on existing words. Again, be warned that the coining of a word does not necessarily coincide with the invention of a concept. Often, there will be older words that express the same sense.
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton