1937 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 513 words with first citations from 1937. In that year, skiers could enjoy after-ski libations following a schuss down the mountain on the giant slalom course. Caplets, top-siders, fiberglass, and Spam hit the market, and Dupont had a banner year with Lucite and neoprene. Musicians who wanted to noodle on the radio had to shell out moolah in the form of payola to get on the air. And all the heiling on the Continent prompted British arms makers to start churning out Brens and bomblets.

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Events of 1937:

  • January: Anastasio Somoza becomes president of Nicaragua; the first issue of Look magazine hits the newsstands.
  • February: Franklin Roosevelt attempts to pack the U. S. Supreme Court; General Motors recognizes the United Automobile Workers union.
  • March: Detective Comics, the longest-running U. S. comic book series, debuts; writer H. P. Lovecraft dies.
  • April: Daffy Duck makes his screen debut; Guernica is bombed by German and Italian aircraft under the command of Spanish Nationalists.
  • May: The German airship Hindenburg crashes at Lakehurst, New Jersey; the Golden Gate Bridge opens for traffic; oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and psychologist Alfred Adler die.
  • June: Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, wed; Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana premieres in Frankfurt, Germany; the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is established in the U. S.; Picasso completes his painting Guernica; actress Jean Harlow and writer J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, die.
  • July: The Gestapo arrests anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller; aviators Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan disappear over the Pacific Ocean; Japan invades China; the U. S. Senate votes down Roosevelt’s court-packing plan; composer George Gershwin dies.
  • August: Japan occupies Beijing; writer Edith Wharton and banker and philanthropist Andrew Mellon die.
  • September: J. R. R. Tolkien publishes The Hobbit; blues singer Bessie Smith dies.
  • October: The Marihuana Tax Act places the first restrictions on the sale of the drug in the U. S.; Roosevelt calls for the “quarantine of aggressor nations,” deepening the isolationist debate in the U. S.; J. Bruce Ismay, former chairman of the White Star Line and Titanic survivor, and physicist Ernest Rutherford die.
  • November: Hitler puts forward a plan to his advisors for acquiring “Lebensraum” for the German people; Italy signs the Anti-Comintern Pact, creating the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis; Japanese forces take Shanghai; physicist Jagdish Chandra Bose dies.
  • December: Italy withdraws from the League of Nations over its invasion of Ethiopia; Japanese planes sink the U. S. S. Panay on the Yangtze River in China; Japanese forces take Nanjing and massacre over 300,000 people in the coming months; Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated feature film, premieres; Arturo Toscanini, age 70, begins conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra on radio, beginning a seventeen-year run; the Irish Free State is abolished and the Republic of Ireland is created; German general Erich Ludendorff and composer Maurice Ravel die.

The words of 1937:

4×4, n. This expression denoting a vehicle with four-wheel drive, usually pronounced as four-by-four, appears in 1937.

999, n. The emergency telephone number in the United Kingdom and other countries is three nines. The system went into place in Britain in June 1937. It would take more than thirty years for the U. S. and Canada to introduce their 911 emergency telephone number.

after-ski, adj. This adjective originally described clothing to be worn after a day on the slopes. Later it extended to include anything related to evenings at the lodge. The French après-ski appears about the same time, so it’s not certain which came first. Use of the French phrase in English begins in the 1950s.

babysitter, n. This noun came first, with the verb to babysit being a backformation that appears in the 1940s. Babyminder is an older synonym, dating to the mid-nineteenth century.

bomblet, n. By 1937 it was becoming clear that another European war was on the horizon, and armaments manufacturers started planning for it. One result was the bomblet, a small explosive device that was a part of a larger weapon.

Bren, n. Also in 1937, the British Army adopted the Bren light machine gun. The name of the Czech-designed weapon is an acronym of Brno, the city where the design was first manufactured, and Enfield, the arsenal where the guns were manufactured in Britain.

bupkis, n. This one is from the Yiddish bobkes “nonsense, rubbish, nothing.” There are a variety of alternative spellings.

Caplet, n. A blend of capsule and tablet, this started life as a proprietary name.

cliff-hanger, n. This word for the suspenseful ending of an episode of a serial first graced the pages of Variety in 1937.

crewman, n. This is actually a surprisingly late addition to the language. It’s an obvious compound, but the OED has no record of it prior to 1937. [Note: Shortly after I posted this, Languagehat identified uses going back to at least 1883, and it’s likely even older. —dw]

cube, n.3 Long before the comic strip Dilbert, small, partitioned workspaces were being dubbed cubes, short for cubicle.

cut-and-paste, adj. and n. Back in 1937, editors literally did cut-and-paste jobs when putting together the layout of their publications. The verb, to cut and paste, dates to the eighteenth century.

defrost, v. This is a rather unremarkable compound, except that it required freezers to become common before there was a need for it.

Dopp kit, n. A Dopp kit is a travel case for men’s toiletries, a shaving kit. It’s from Doppelt & Co., an early manufacturer of them in the United States.

falsifiability, n. The adjective falsifiable stretches back to the early seventeenth century and the verb to falsify to the beginning of the sixteenth, but this noun’s appearance in 1937 is undoubtedly due to the 1935 publication of Karl Popper’s Logik der Forschung (The Logic of Scientific Discovery) which put forward the notion that the difference between a scientific idea and a non-scientific one is that a scientific idea can be tested and has the potential for being proven wrong.

fiberglass, n. This versatile material made from glass filaments hit the market in 1937. The name started life as a proprietary term.

fluorocarbon, n. This class of chemical compounds, made as the name suggests from fluorine and carbon, was isolated in 1937.

fricking, adj. and n. This euphemism is recorded in the 1937 first edition of Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. (Jesse Sheidlower’s The F Word gives the publication date of Partridge’s book as 1936, but it doesn’t really matter as fricking had obviously been in use for some time prior.)

giant slalom, n. The name of the skiing event is recorded as early as 1937. The basic slalom dates to at least 1921. It’s classified as an “Alpine” event, but the name is Nordic, coming from the Norwegian sla “sloping” + låm “track.”

heil, int. Due to the ubiquitous greeting of Heil Hitler! that could be heard throughout Germany, the German word for “hail” crept into English by 1937. From the citations, it appears that the English usage of heil was mainly derisive in nature.

hobbit, n. J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was published in 1937.

hydroponics, n. Another scientific term which we can pinpoint the coinage with exactitude. This name for the process of growing plants without soil appears in a 1937 article in the journal Science and was suggested by botanist William A. Setchell of the University of California, Berkeley.

iffy, adj. U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt had a fondness for this word, using a number of times during the course of his long presidency, which is probably one of the factors that helped cement it into the lexicon.

lederhosen, n. I’m fairly certain this one can be antedated. But for now, the OED lists its English use as beginning by 1937.

Link Trainer, n. Edwin Link produced his first flight simulator in 1934, and his products became perhaps the most widely used of all aviation training tools. By 1937 the term Link Trainer was firmly established in the aviation lexicon.

Lucite, n. E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company rolled out this product in 1937.

mammogram, n. (also mammography, n. and mammographic, adj.) The use of x-rays for detection of cancer and other abnormalities in the breast started in the late 1930s.

moolah, n. This U. S. slang term for “money” is recorded this year. The origin is unknown.

neoprene, n. This synthetic rubber is another Dupont product of 1937.

noodle, v.5 To noodle is a jazz verb meaning to perform improvisationally and playfully. It appears in the pages of the New York Times in 1937, although musicians were certainly using it earlier. And indeed, the noun noodle “an instrumental trill or improvisation” is found in 1926. Its origin is unknown, but there are some possibilities. Nudeln is a German dialect verb, from the Leipzig region, meaning to play music in a low undertone, and to noodle in Shetland Scots means the same thing only with singing. The jazz verb is also probably influenced by the written doodle.

oomph, n. This word for excitement, energy, sexual attraction is found by 1937.

particle physics, n. This branch of the science is differentiated in this year.

payola, n. The big payola scandals were in the 1950s, but the term goes back to at least 1937. Payola is bribery in order to promote a product, chiefly and originally music.

pro-am, n. and adj. This clipping of professional-amateur is originally, and still chiefly, used in golf.

raunchy, adj. The original sense of this adjective was “slovenly, dirty, inept.” It gets its start in U. S. military aviation. The now more common sense of “sexually explicit, lewd” is in place by 1943. The origin is unknown, but there is an English dialect verb to raunch “to eat greedily, devour” and an adjective used for vegetables “green, uncooked.” What the connection is between the U. S. slang and the English dialect words, if any, is unknown.

ring tone, n. Ring tones did not come into existence with mobiles. This clipping of the older, 1922, ringing tone has been a telecommunications jargon term since the thirties.

saltimbocca, n. The name for the Italian veal and ham dish starts appearing in English-language cookbooks in 1937.

schuss, n. and v. A schuss, from the German for “shot,” is skiing jargon for a straight, downhill slope, a run made on such a slope, and to make a run down such a slope.

segue, n. This musical term has existed as a verb since the mid-eighteenth century, but in 1937 it starts being recorded as a noun.

shag, n.6 This is another eighteenth-century verb that was nouned in 1937. The British slang verb meaning to copulate is recorded in Eric Partridge’s slang dictionary as a noun as well.

sit-in, adj. and n. While we associate sit-in protests with the civil rights and anti-war protests of the 1960s, the compound first appears in 1937. The -in suffix, however, doesn’t start to become productive until the sixties with the creation of teach-ins, be-ins, love-ins, and John and Yoko’s bed-in.

Spam, n. The Hormel company launched its infamous product in 1937.

telecast, n. This term for a television broadcast was in use by 1937, even if there was no one with a television set to watch.

Top-sider, n. This name for the rubber-soled shoe was trademarked in 1937.

Turing machine, n. Alan Turing published his paper outlining his notional computer in 1937.

upfront, adv. and adj. In 1937, this term was used to literally denote something that was further forward than something else. By 1960 it was being used in the sense “open, forthright, frank” and by 1972 to mean “in advance,” as in payment.

whoops, int. The first citation of this interjection in the OED is from a 1937 letter by Ezra Pound. It’s a variant of the 1922 oops and the 1925 whoopsie daisy.

zaftig, adj. From the Yiddish-German saftig “juicy,” this adjective describing a curvy woman appears in English by 1937.

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.

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