1962 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 420 words with first citations from 1962. In that year, miniskirts and Nehru jackets were all the rage; in Hong Kong, soldiers on R&R from the Nam might consort with Suzie Wong; engineers at the Skunk Works might slap together a kludge and hope they didn’t find a glitch; peaceniks protested for nonproliferation; and some feared the newly announced Apollo program would turn out to be a huge government moondoggle.

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Events of 1962:

  • January: The first U. S. Navy SEAL teams are formed; the New York City subway introduces a driverless train; television comedian Ernie Kovacs dies.
  • February: The United States embargoes Cuba; French President de Gaulle calls for Algerian independence; John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the earth.
  • March: The S. S. Kresge Company opens the first Kmart discount store; Wilt Chamberlain scores one hundred points in an N. B. A. game;.
  • April: Film director Michael Curtiz and former Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe die.
  • May: The Incredible Hulk #1 comic is published; Nazi Adolf Eichmann is executed.
  • June: Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin escape from Alcatraz prison never to be seen again—it is not clear whether or not they survived the attempt; the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) issue the Port Huron Statement.
  • July: France grants Algeria independence; the first Walmart store opens; artist Andy Warhol opens his Campbell’s Soup Cans exhibit; the United States conducts its last atmospheric nuclear test; the Rolling Stones perform for the first time; the Telstar satellite relays the first transatlantic television signal.
  • August: Spiderman starts swinging in Amazing Fantasy #15; actor Marilyn Monroe and writer Hermann Hesse die.
  • September: Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring, launching the environmental movement; Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson battle it out for the heavyweight boxing championship; the Canada launches the Alouette 1 satellite, the first non-U. S./non-Soviet satellite from Vandenberg AFB, California.
  • October: The first black student at the University of Mississippi, James Meredith, is escorted onto campus by U. S. marshals; Johnny Carson becomes permanent host of The Tonight Show; the first James Bond film, Dr. No, premieres; The Beatles release their first single, Love Me Do; Pope John XXIII convenes the Vatican II conference; Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf opens on Broadway; the Cuban Missile Crisis takes the world perilously close to nuclear Armageddon.
  • November: Richard Nixon loses the California governor’s race, declaring “you don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore;” Britain and France agree to jointly develop the Concorde supersonic airliner; former U. S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and physicist Niels Bohr die.
  • December: David Lean’s film Lawrence of Arabia premieres; U. S. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield tours Vietnam, making non-optimistic, public statements about the war’s progress.

The words of 1962:

anti-locking, adj. The first cars outfitted with anti-locking brakes were built in 1962. By 1963 the term had been clipped to just anti-lock brakes.

auteur, n. and adj. The film term, from the French word for “author,” was popularized in French by François Truffaut in the 1950s. By the 1960s auteur had made the translation into English-speaking cinema jargon.

bait and switch, n. This form of the name of the fraudulent advertising technique is recorded in 1962, although the OED has a citation of bait ‘em and switch ‘em from 1953.

bossa nova, n. The Brazilian musical style makes its way northward in this year. Bossa Nova is from the Portuguese, literally meaning “new tendency.”

comsat, n. An acronym for communications satellite, the Comsat Corporation was founded in 1962.

cryosurgery, n. In cryosurgery, an area of tissue, often cancerous, is frozen and destroyed.

deorbit, v. What goes up must come down. With all the satellites being launched, engineers began putting some thought into what to do with them once they were no longer needed.

droog, n. Anthony Burgess took this word from the Russian drug “friend,” and used it in his 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange.

drop-dead, adj. and adv. The U. S. colloquial term for “stunning, exceptional” makes its appearance, as in drop-dead gorgeous. In what is probably an independent coinage, drop dead becomes business-speak for a deadline by 1966, as in the drop-dead date.

expat, n. I became an expat in 2010, but the clipping goes back to 1962. The full expatriate dates to the early nineteenth century.

filmography, n. This one is coined after bibliography. The OED doesn’t have an entry for it yet, but urbandictionary.com records webliography from 2004.

get-go, n. This African-American term for “the outset, start” goes mainstream in 1962.

glitch, n. Originating in electronics jargon, glitch is another term popularized by the space program.

Instamatic, n. Kodak launched its Instamatic camera in this year, blending instant with automatic.

kludge, n. The computing slang term is slapped together in 1962.

lase, v. Lasers had only been around a couple of years when they were verbed.

miniskirt, n. One of the better inventions of the 1960s.

misfeed, n. The first citation in the OED refers to punch cards passing through a scanner, but I wonder if an older use in automatic weapons can’t be found.

moondoggle, n. After President Kennedy announced the Apollo program the year before, this word was a pretty much inevitable reaction by his political opponents. The only surprise is that it took over a year for them to think of it.

Nam, n. Like the miniskirt, this word would come to symbolize the decade.

Nehru, adj. and n. A politician inspired a fashion trend. That doesn’t happen very often.

non-proliferation, n. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty wouldn’t be signed until 1968, but talks began years earlier.

peacenik, n. Another sixties icon.

porn, n.2 This clipping of pornography makes its publication appearance in this year. I’m sure antedates will be found.

preborn, adj. and n. When coined, preborn had no political implications, but the word meaning “fetus” quickly became a favorite of anti-abortion activists.

ramen, n. The staple of the grad student diet crosses the Pacific from Japan.

right justification, n. (also right-justified, adj. and right-justify, v.) This term is now familiar to most thanks to the ubiquity of word-processing, but in 1962 right justification was a jargon term known only to those in the typesetting business.

skunk works, n. One could write a book on the influence Al Capp’s comic strip L’il Abner has had on the language. In the comic strip, the Skonk Works was a dilapidated and malodorous factory just outside the town of Dogpatch. When Lockheed started its Advanced Development Projects division in 1943, the original facility in Burbank, California was located next to a similarly run-down and smelly plastics factory, and the Lockheed employees began calling their workplace the Skonk Works, a name that was later changed to Skunk Works when Capp objected to Lockheed’s using his term officially. Lockheed’s Skunk Works is known for both its secrecy and the ability to produce incredibly sophisticated aircraft, such as the U-2 and SR-71 reconnaissance planes, the F-117 stealth fighter, and F-22 Raptor. The OED also has a single 1956 citation of skunk works referring to a perfume factory.

smart-ass, adj. and n. The OED has this term for a sassy know-it-all from 1962, but Green’s Dictionary of Slang antedates it by a year.

Snopes, n. The family name from William Faulkner’s novels had become a slang term for a cruel or heartless person by 1962.

Suzie Wong, n. Richard Mason’s novel The World of Suzie Wong, about a Hong Kong prostitute, was published in 1957. Within five years, the title character’s name had become a military slang term for an Asian prostitute.

T-ball, n. The variant of baseball for young children, where they hit a ball off a tee instead of having it pitched to them, got its start in this year.

tokenism, n. The practice of hiring one person from a minority in order to create a facade of racial diversity gets its name.

Wasp, n.2 The OED has the acronym for white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant from 1962, but it can be antedated to at least 1957, when Andrew Hacker records the sociologist’s jargon term in an article in The American Political Science Review. [Fred Shapiro has dated it to 1948.]

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. 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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