1977 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 240 words with first citations from 1977. In that year, white bread American men could drink brewskis, while their high-maintenance girlfriends sipped kir royales; one could dine on bibimbap in Koreatown; minifloppies made a brief appearance, while text messages were here to stay; and many considered the verb to incent a cringeworthy neologism.

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Events of 1977:

  • January: Murderer Gary Gilmore is executed by firing squad in Utah; U. S. President Gerald Ford pardons Iva Toguri D’Aquino, a. k. a. Tokyo Rose, in his final day in office; the miniseries Roots airs on ABC-TV; former U. K. Prime Minister Anthony Eden, writer Anais Nin, and comedian Freddie Prinze die.
  • February: Fleetwood Mac releases the album Rumours.
  • March: The rings around Uranus are discovered; Luciano Pavarotti and the PBS television series Live at the Met make their U. S. television debut; James Dobson founds the social conservative lobbying group Focus on the Family; two Boeing 747s collide on the runway at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, killing 583 people, the worst aviation accident in history.
  • April: The punk group The Clash release their first, eponymous album; the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners play their first Major League Baseball games.
  • May: Menachem Begin’s Likud party wins the Israeli elections for the first time; George Lucas’s film Star Wars opens; George Willig climbs the south tower of the World Trade Center; A. J. Foyt wins his fourth Indianapolis 500 title.
  • June: Elizabeth II celebrates twenty-five years on the throne; Apple II computers hit the market; Larry Ellison founds the Oracle Corporation; U. S. Park Ranger Roy Sullivan is struck by lightning for the seventh time;.
  • July: New York City suffers a twenty-five hour blackout; Deng Xiaoping is restored to power in China; the Trans-Alaska pipeline pumps its first oil; writer Vladimir Nabokov dies.
  • August: Tandy launches the TRS-80 personal computer; serial killer David Berkowitz, a. k. a. the Son of Sam, is arrested; entertainers Elvis Presley and Groucho Marx die.
  • September: The first Commodore PET computer is sold; the United States and Panama sign the Panama Canal Treaty, ceding the canal to Panama; Ted Turner skippers Courageous to victory in the America’s Cup; Fonzie jumps the shark on the TV series Happy Days; the first nations sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; activist Stephen Biko dies in South African police custody; actor Zero Mostel and conductor Leopold Stokowski die.
  • October: Pele plays his final professional soccer game; three members of the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd die in a plane crash; smallpox is eradicated with the last natural case of smallpox occurring in Somalia; entertainer Bing Crosby dies.
  • November: Harvey Milk is elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors; the Bee Gees release the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever; Egyptian President Anwar Sadat makes an official visit to Israel; bandleader Guy Lombardo dies.
  • December: The NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers win their first football game, after twenty-six consecutive losses; actor Charlie Chaplin dies.

The words of 1977:

900 number, n. The first time a 900 number was used on the North American telephone system was for a call-in interview of President Jimmy Carter hosted by Walter Cronkite. That 900 number was toll free and was used to prevent the volume of expected calls from jamming the normal 800 toll-free exchange. Later the 900 area code was designated as a special toll number, where callers would pay a premium to hear news and entertainment (often pornographic) services.

allophone, n.2 No, this word is in no way related to Cockneys answering the telephone. Allophone is a Canadian term for someone whose first language is something other than English or French, in contrast to Anglophones and Francophones. Allophone appears in Canadian French by 1972, and migrates to English within five years.

AOR, n. This initialism stands for either album-oriented rock, and referring to popular music written as longer tracks from an LP record as opposed to hit singles, or adult-oriented rock. [Zythophile has antedated the abbreviation AOR to 1976.]

at sign, n. This name for @ symbol doesn’t appear until the symbol is used in hierarchical addresses on Arpanet, the forerunner to the internet. Previous it was known as either the commercial A, a name that dates to the late nineteenth century, so-called for its use in listing prices of goods and products, or as the commercial at, which is in place by 1969.

bibimbap, n. The Korean dish appears on American menus.

brewski, n. The first citation in the OED for this university slang term for a beer appears in a transcript from the television show Saturday Night Live.

Brit-, comb. form (as in Britcom, n. and Britpop, adj. and n.) Two 1977 words, Britcom, meaning “a British sitcom,” and Britpop, relating to British popular music, pave the way for a plethora of terms that use Brit- as an opening element.

channel-hop, v. As remote controls became more and more prevalent, so did this activity. In the 1980s the hopping would become surfing.

chemo, n. The clipping of chemotherapy makes its debut.

cringeworthy, adj. This adjective has predecessors. Cringe-making dates to 1969. And the comic strip character Cuthbert Cringeworthy makes his appearance in The Bash Street Kids in the British comic Beano in 1972.

Doctor Martens, n. The boots had been on the market for decades, but the British trademark was filed in 1977.

FTP, v. The initialism for file transfer protocol appears as a noun in 1971 and as a verb six years later.

heptathlon, n. The seven-event athletic contest, usually contested by women, makes its debut. The heptathlon wouldn’t be contested at the Olympic level until 1984.

high-maintenance, adj. The adjective low-maintenance appears in 1916 as a descriptor of machinery, but since being high-maintenance is not a selling point, the antonym didn’t catch on until the 1970s when it began to be used figuratively for a thing or person that requires a lot of attention.

homevid, n. Home video first appears in 1948 as a term for a television broadcast, and in 1970 the term began to be used for a video recorder or VCR used in the home. In 1977 it was clipped to homevid.

incent, v. (and incentivization, n.) This verb which drives some prescriptivists up a wall makes its appearance, as does the noun form. The verb to incentivize dates to 1968.

just-in-time, adj. and n. In 1977 businessmen began talking about just-in-time manufacturing, a system where components arrive at the factory as they are needed, reducing warehousing and inventory costs.

kanban, n. This term, a synonym for just-in-time, is more obscure. It’s Japanese, literally meaning “poster, sign,” and a kanban system places cards in supply bins which workers can use to reorder parts as the supply runs low.

kir royale, n. The name of the drink, made from champagne and cassis, debuts.

Koreatown, n. Modeled after Chinatown, Koreatown is a neighborhood in a Western city populated by Korean immigrants.

looky-loo, n. This California dialect term for a gawker or rubbernecker appears.

loose cannon, n. The metaphor is much older than the stand-alone term; Theodore Roosevelt allegedly referred to an “old cannon loose on the deck in a the storm.” But the use of the short-hand loose cannon without an accompanying metaphoric description dates to the late 1970s. [There are newspaper accounts of Richard Nixon referring to John Dean as a “loose cannon” in 1973, but as far as I know, ironically, his exact words were not recorded and exactly how he used the metaphor is not known.]

mellow, n.3 The noun meaning “a state of relaxation or comfort” makes its appearance.

microwaveable, adj. The popularity of the kitchen appliance created a need for an adjective to describe things suitable for using or cooking in a microwave oven.

minifloppy, n. Not all neologisms survive for long. Minifloppies started out as 5.25-inch disks, were reduced in size to 3.5-inch disks, and eventually disappeared altogether. (Actually, there are a few still around.)

Moore’s law, n. Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, formulated his “law” in 1965, which states that the density of integrated circuits that can be placed on a chip doubles every year. Or more broadly, the cost of computing power halves every year. (The pace has subsequently slowed to doubling every eighteen to twenty-four months.) In 1977 someone first referred to this observation as Moore’s law.

nanocomputer, n. In 1977, a nanocomputer was simply a very small computer. It wouldn’t be until the 1980s that the term would be used for computing devices based on molecular-scale structures.

nip and tuck, n. The euphemism for cosmetic surgery appears.

no-name, adj. and n. The term for a generic product, one with no brand name, appears.

non-scene, adj. This adjective is gay and lesbian slang referring to a homosexual person who does not participate in the wider gay culture.

plus-one, n. The escort of an invited guest gets a name.

Reagan Democrat, n. In the 1976 U. S. presidential election, Ronald Reagan demonstrated cross-party appeal, even though he did not win the Republican nomination. The following year journalists started to refer to Democrats who admired Reagan by this term.

s/he, pron. This rather awkward attempt to resolve the problem of English lacking a gender-neutral, singular, personal pronoun appears in print.

Steadicam, n. A U. S. patent for the camera stabilization system was granted in 1977. Steadicam would go on to revolutionize movie-making.

temp to perm, n. and adj. A temporary employee eventually being brought on as a permanent employee is a old practice, but in 1977 it started to become formalized.

text message, n. In 1977 this was a more generic term, referring to any sort of short textual message sent over a computer network.

wacko, adj. and n. Green’s Dictionary of Slang has this one dating to 1974. I suspect it’s even older.

wedgie, n.2 Schoolboys have been pulling one another’s underwear up for a very long time. But this name starts to be recorded in print in 1977.

white bread, adj. This slang term recognizes the blandness of mainstream, bourgeois, American culture.

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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