The Oxford English Dictionary has 264 words with first citations from 1973. In that year, Derridean critics were deconstructing literature through intertextual readings; a lot of people were weirded out by est; members of the Symbionese Liberation Army and other cultic groups were deprogrammed; techies were playing with diskettes, Unix, grep, and FTPing; and linguists started talking about Ebonics.
Events of 1973:
- January: George Steinbrenner buys the New York Yankees; Ferdinand Marcos becomes president-for-life of the Philippines; the Paris Peace Accords end U. S. involvement in the Vietnam War; in Roe v. Wade, the U. S. Supreme Court overturns state bans on abortion; former President Lyndon Johnson dies.
- February: Construction of the CN Tower in Toronto begins; the American Indian Movement occupies the Pine Ridge Reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota; Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is published.
- March: Pink Floyd’s album The Dark Side of the Moon is released; the new London Bridge is opened for traffic; writer Pearl Buck dies.
- April: The LexisNexis electronic research database debuts; the World Trade Center in New York City opens for business; Federal Express delivers its first package; the first handheld cellular phone call is made; artist Pablo Picasso dies.
- May: Construction of the Sears Tower in Chicago is complete, making it the tallest building in the world; Secretariat wins the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes; televised hearings of the Congressional investigation into Watergate begin.
- June: The military government of Greece abolishes the monarchy; Secretariat wins the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown; the U. S. patent for the automated teller machine is granted.
- July: The U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency is founded; the existence of tapes of Oval Office conversations about the Watergate scandal is publicly revealed; actors Betty Grable, Veronica Lake, Robert Ryan, Lon Chaney, Jr., Jack Hawkins, and Bruce Lee die.
- August: U. S. bombing of Cambodia ends and with it U. S. military operations in Southeast Asia; the Norrmalmstorg bank robbery and hostage crisis takes place, giving rise to the term Stockholm syndrome; film director John Ford dies.
- September: A military coup in Chile results in the death of President Salvador Allende and the coming to power of General Augusto Pinochet; West and East Germany are admitted to the United Nations; Billie Jean King defeats Bobby Riggs in the “battle of the sexes” tennis match; writers J. R. R. Tolkien and W. H. Auden and musicians Gram Parsons and Jim Croce die.
- October: The Yom Kippur War is fought; the Arab oil embargo of states that supported Israel in the war begins; U. S. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigns over charges of income tax evasion; in the “Saturday Night Massacre,” U. S. President Richard Nixon orders Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox, resulting in Richardson’s refusal and resignation, at which point Richardson’s deputy William Ruckelshaus also refuses and resigns, and Solicitor General Robert Bork, now acting attorney general, fires Cox; the Sydney Opera House opens; athlete Paavo Nurmi and musician Pablo Cassals die.
- November: President Nixon declares, “I am not a crook.”
- December: Gerald Ford is confirmed as U. S. vice president; the American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from the list of disorders in the DSM-II; N. F. L. running back O. J. Simpson becomes the first to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season; President Nixon signs the Endangered Species Act into law; Israeli politician David Ben-Gurion and entertainer Bobby Darin die.
The words of 1973:
aerobrake, n. A U. S. patent for flaps to increase aerodynamic drag and slow down an aircraft or a spacecraft in the upper levels of a planet’s atmosphere was issued in 1973. But while the name is new, the concept is old—a British patent for a similar device that used aerodynamic braking was issued in 1931
aspartame, n. The artificial sweetener debuts. The name comes from aspartic acid, an amino acid that was originally derived from asparagus.
biomarker, n. A biomarker is a substance that indicates the presence of a biological material or condition.
Cal-Mex, n. The style of Mexican food served in California gets its distinctive name in 1973. Tex-Mex is a decade older, appearing in 1963.
date-rape, n. The distinction between date-rape and stranger-rape begins to be made.
deconstruct, v. The literary term comes from translations of Jacques Derrida’s works.
deprogram, v. Religious cults and how to separate adherents from them were big news in the 70s.
Derridian, adj. and n. Those who attempted to deconstruct literary narratives were engaged in a Derridean exercise.
diskette, n. These are largely gone now, but not forgotten. They survive as the icon for the “save” button on your computer.
Ebonics, n. The blend of ebony and phonics begins to be used to refer to the dialects of African-American English.
est, n. Werner Erhard began his alternative philosophy and life-coaching seminars in 1971, and the Erhard Seminars Training or est had hit the big time by 1973.
factoid, n. The -oid suffix should denote a factoid as a “quasi-truth; something with the appearance of a fact,” but I’m not sure that is how it is usually used nowadays. It seems that just as often factoid is used to mean “trivial fact.” The first citation in the OED is from Norman Mailer’s 1973 book Marilyn.
FTPing, n. The abbreviation for File Transfer Protocol appears by 1971, but its gerund form appears a few years later.
grep, n. Grep is a Unix search command, Globally search Regular Expression Print.
intertextual, adj. (also intertextuality, n.) Another literary theory term. This one refers to the practice of reading a text in light of its relationships with other texts.
Likud, n. The bloc of Israeli conservative parties was formed in 1973. The name is from the Hebrew for “union, coalition.”
maglev, n. This clipping of magnetic levitation, referring to transportation systems that use magnets to keep the vehicle out of contact with the track, enabling high speeds with relatively low energy input.
mainstream, v. Originally a U. S. educational term, to mainstream is to place a child with special needs in an ordinary classroom. Beginning in the early 1980s, the verb began to be used more generically for purposes outside of educational circles.
mouthfeel, n. A favorite term of food critics makes its appearance. [Sobiest has antedated mouthfeel to 1957.]
newsfeed, n. The term for the product of a professional news service appears in 1973. Its use to refer to Usenet discussion groups is in place by 1989.
NSAID, n. The acronym for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug debuts.
octothorp, n. The name for the hash or pound or number sign was an in-house term used by Bell Laboratories from the early 1960s, but the octothorp escaped the lab in 1973 when it appears in a patent application. The origin was never recorded, and multiple explanations for the term have appeared. One states that the octo- refers to the eight points of the lines and thorp is in honor of athlete Jim Thorpe. (Bell Labs engineer Don Macpherson, a claimant for coining the word, was active in the effort to get Thorpe’s Olympic medals reinstated.) Another takes the -thorp from the Old English word for village, with the eight outside squares resembling fields around such a village. The knowledge of which of these is correct, or if another explanation is the true reason, is probably lost to the ages.
orgasm, v. The noun goes back to the seventeenth century, but it took the sexual revolution to verb it.
petrodollar, n. The Arab oil embargo brought about this term for national income derived from petroleum extraction.
refusenik, n. The original refuseniks were Soviet Jews who were refused permission to emigrate to Israel. By the 1980s a second and somewhat antonymic definition, “one who refuses to do something as a means of protest,” had appeared.
Symbionese, adj. The term was coined by the urban, militant Symbionese Liberation Army, that would gain fame the following year with the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.
televangelist, n. In 1952, preacher Rex Humbard made the move from radio to television, and by 1973 he was being dubbed a televangelist.
time-coded, adj. A U. S. patent was issued in 1973 for inserted time-coded data into a video signal.
triathlon, n. The term for a three-event athletic competition appears in 1973. While triathlons most often combine running, swimming, and biking, the 1973 OED citation refers to a competition in shooting, fly fishing, and horse-jumping.
Unix, n. Like the octothorp, Unix was also a 1973 product of Bell Labs, but one that was much more successful.
weirded out, adj. The term appears in university slang by 1973.
workshop, v. Originally a theatrical verbing of the noun, referring to the practice of working out production problems through actual performance, to workshop has since expanded into other fields.
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.
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton