1969 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 365 words with first citations from 1968. In that year, the first North American case of a strange, new immunodeficiency disease is reported; techies were hands-on using new microchips, debuggers, and telnet; homophobia and ageism were new names for old bigotries; Imax films made the silver screen even bigger; and Neil Armstrong moonwalked fifteen years before Michael Jackson.

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Events of 1969:

  • January: Rupert Murdoch purchases his first British newspaper, The News of the World; The Beatles give their last public performance, an impromptu rooftop concert atop Apple Records in London.
  • February: Yasser Arafat is elected chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization; The Saturday Evening Post ceases publication; the Boeing 747 takes to the air; actor Boris Karloff and King Saud of Saudi Arabia die.
  • March: The Concorde makes its first flight; Sirhan Sirhan tries to plead guilty to killing Robert F. Kennedy to avoid the death penalty, but the plea is denied; James Earl Ray pleads guilty to killing Martin Luther King, Jr., but will later withdraw the plea; former U. S. president and army general Dwight Eisenhower dies.
  • April: The Hawker Siddeley Harrier VTOL jet enters service with the Royal Air Force; members of the Students for a Democratic Society seize the Harvard University administration building; British troops enter Northern Ireland to reinforce the Royal Ulster Constabulary; Charles de Gaulle steps down as president of France.
  • May: The first known case of what will later be known as AIDS is recorded in North America; John Lennon and Yoko Ono conduct their “bed-in” in a Montreal hotel.
  • June: The Stonewall riots occur in response to a New York City police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay nightclub; entertainer Judy Garland dies.
  • July: War breaks out between Honduras and El Salvador over a football match; Senator Edward Kennedy kills Mary Jo Kopechne in an automobile accident on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts; the halfpenny ceases to be legal tender in the United Kingdom; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.
  • August: Secret peace talks between the United States and North Vietnam begin, but quickly fall apart; followers of Charles Manson murder actor Sharon Tate.
  • September: Muammar al-Ghaddafi seizes power in Libya; the first automatic teller machine enters operation; the cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! [sic] debuts on CBS-TV, as does The Brady Bunch on ABC-TV; Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh dies.
  • October: Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuts on BBC One; the “miracle” New York Mets win the World Series; the first message is sent over Arpanet, the predecessor to the internet; writer Jack Kerouac dies.
  • November: U. S. President Richard Nixon calls on the “silent majority” of Americans to support the war in Vietnam; U. S. Vice President Spiro Agnew denounces the critics of the president as “nattering nabobs of negativism,” a lined penned by William Safire; Dave Thomas opens the first Wendy’s restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.
  • December: The Rolling Stones headline a concert at Altamont Speedway in northern California, where violence breaks out when the Hells Angels, hired to provide security, become drunk, stoned, and violent, an event many dub “the end of the sixties.”

The words of 1969:

ageism, n. The civil rights movement resulted in various forms of bigotry being recognized.

Amerika, n. The Students for the Democratic Society and other left-leaning organizations began using this alternative spelling of America, evoking totalitarian states in Germany and Russia, to highlight aspects of American culture and policy they viewed as oppressive.

autosave, n. Computer programmers started incorporating this feature into their applications.

Bill, n.5 In 1958 the use of the British slang term Old Bill to refer to a police officer is recorded. Where the name comes from is uncertain, but it may be a reference to the Bruce Bairnsfather cartoon character Old Bill, typically depicted as a walrus mustachioed Cockney soldier, but who also appeared on police recruitment and security posters during the two world wars. Other suggestions are that it refers to the billy clubs carried by police, or to the registration letters BYL used on cars of the Metropolitan Police’s flying squad. By 1969, the term had been shortened to simply The Bill.

blahs, n. Depression and low spirits were the blahs in 1969, a term that was perhaps influenced by the blues.

computeracy, n. (also computer literacy) With the printing press came a need for widespread literacy. With the digital age dawning, there was a corresponding need for widespread computeracy. The more successful computer literacy also appears in 1969.

dashiki, n. The West African style of shirt became a fashion trend among African-Americans wishing to emphasize their African roots.

debugger, n. The usual pattern is for a term denoting a person to be applied to a computer program. Even the word computer originally applied to people, usually low-paid women, employed to do calculations. But a debugger has always been a computer program that facilitates the finding of errors in another computer program. Only rarely is the term applied to people.

dink, n.3 War generates numerous ethnic slurs, and Vietnam was no exception.

Finlandization, n. I would have thought this term would have appeared earlier, shortly after the Second World War. Finlandization refers to the process whereby a small nation is cowed into acquiescing to the foreign policy of a larger, more aggressive neighbor, as Finland was by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

hands-on, adj. Somewhat surprisingly given that we now normally associate computers with virtual and unreal environments, hands-on is another computer term, first found in reference to training people how to use high-tech machinery.

hang time, n. This term, denoting the length of time a ball remains in the air, comes of course from sports. But frustratingly, the OED’s citation from the 28 November 1969 Los Angeles Times does not specify what sport is being referred to. Given the November date, it’s probably American football, but I can’t be sure. (And I don’t have access to the Los Angeles Times archives from prior to the mid-80s.)

hard-wired, adj. But it’s no surprise that hard-wired originally refers to computers. The metaphorical use in reference to the human brain is found as early as 1971.

homophobia, n.2 This one can probably be antedated somewhat, but the OED dates the sense meaning “hatred of or bigotry toward gays” to 1969. The OED’s first citation is from Time magazine, which began using the term in the wake of the Stonewall riot. There is an earlier sense of homophobia, meaning a fear or hatred of humans in general, dating to 1920.

hood, n.3 The clipping of neighborhood is recorded in African-American slang in 1969. Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary gives a date, but no citation, from 1967.

Imax, n. The wide screen film format lights up the silver screen for the first time, in Hamilton, Ontario of all places. Imax is an acronym for image maximum.

immunodeficiency, n. Doctors coined immunodeficiency in 1969 to denote a wide variety of ailments affecting the immune system.

interoperable, adj. More Cold War military jargon. The OED’s first citation of interoperable is in reference to Britain’s Skynet military satellite system, which went into operation in 1969. (But which has not yet become self-aware, at least as far as we know.)

JAP, n.2 The derogatory acronym for Jewish American Princess is first recorded.

megastar, n. Even bigger than a superstar.

microchip, n. The integrated circuit gets another name in 1969.

middleware, n. This isn’t a term that laypeople are much familiar with. Middleware is a layer of software that bridges the operating system and applications.

moonwalk, v. Neil Armstrong did this for the first time on 20 July 1969, although the noun moonwalk appears in science fiction as early as 1952. The sense of the verb meaning “to dance as if on the moon” appears in 1970 in Jamaican reggae circles, although it is chiefly associated with Michael Jackson and his 1984 Thriller tour and videos.

neocolonialism, n. Dislodging vested interests from power is difficult.

nunchaku, n. The name of the type of flail, two sticks joined by a chain, is from the Okinawan and probably ultimately comes from a Chinese word for a farm implement, with roots meaning something like “double plow.”

pixel, n. The building block of a digital image gets its name in 1969. It’s from pix ("picture") + el[ement].

Red Army Faction, n. This name was taken by two distinct left-wing terrorist groups in the late-60s and early-70s, one in Japan and the other in West Germany. Both take their name from the Soviet Red Army. The use of Red Army in English to denote the Japanese terrorist group Sekihunha (Sekigun “Red Army” + ha “party, faction") is in 1969. The German group, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, began calling itself the Rote Armee Fraktion in 1970, and the English calque for that group was in place by 1971.

remix, n. This music industry term originally applied to the final version of a recording that combined the separate instrumental and vocal tracks. The sense of remix meaning a new version of a song created from old recordings dates to the mid-1980s.

right to choose, n. This one now usually goes by the moniker pro-choice.

ro-ro, adj. and n. This shipping industry acronym stands for roll-on, roll-off. The full version of the term dates to 1954.

schlong, n. The term for the penis is, of course, from the Yiddish shlang, and ultimately from the Middle High German slange “serpent.”

Sigint, n. Another military acronym, Sigint stands for signal intelligence, or in common parlance the information gleaned from eavesdropping on electronic communications.

Smokey Bear, n. The name of the wide-brimmed hats word by many state policemen and army drill sergeants gets its name from the U. S. fire prevention mascot Smokey the Bear, who is depicted as wearing the style of hat in many drawings. By the mid-70s, the term had become CB radio slang for a state policeman.

techie, n. The term techie is first recorded as university slang for a student at a technical college or school, but by 1970 was in use to mean someone versed in computer technology.

telnet, n. Still in use, but largely forgotten, telnet is a protocol used on TCP/IP networks for logging into another computer remotely.

tenured, adj. One thing that has surprised me in this exploration of when words came into use is the relatively recent development of the university tenure system, which I had assumed was older. The noun tenure, as applied to university employment only dates to 1957, and the adjective tenured to 1969.

tight-ass, n. (and adj.) The adjective tight-assed is recorded in Farmer and Henley’s 1903 slang dictionary with the sense of a chaste woman, and gradually expanded in meaning to refer to any strait-laced or inhibited person. The noun tight-ass dates to 1969 and Philip Roth’s novel Portnoy’s Complaint.

tokamak, n. The type of nuclear fusion reactor, originally developed at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, gets its name from a Russian acronym, but exactly what tokamak stands for is up for debate. Not surprisingly, since the original project was top secret, there isn’t a lot of documentation available. The OED says tokamak stands for toroidalnaya kamera s magnitnym polem “toroidal chamber with magnetic field,” but this expansion doesn’t take into account the final -ak.  The Russian Wikipedia gives it as toroidalnaya kamera s magnitnymi katushkami “toroidal chamber with magnetic coils,” and Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage Dictionary give toroidalnaya kamera s aksial’nym magnitnym polem “toroidal chamber with axial magnetic field.”

trenchless, adj. The first systems for installing underground pipes without first digging a trench went into use in 1969.

underwired, adj. Underwired bras had been on the market for decades, but manufacturers started advertising the fact in 1969.

windsurf, v. (also windsurfer, n.) The water sport caught a wave in 1969.

women’s lib, n. The full term women’s liberation goes back to 1898, but the clipping comes much later.

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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