1978 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 188 words with first citations from 1978. In that year, POSSLQs were joining in coupledom, perhaps using bustiers and crotchless panties when things got boring in the bedroom; kids took to BMX and hacky sack; if you wanted to overwhelm someone you could give them a gazillion bytes in an info-dump; and the Laffer curve started to become a political favorite of the right.

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Events of 1978:

  • January: Soviet satellite Kosmos-954 disintegrates upon reentry, scattering nuclear waste across Canada’s Northwest Territories; former U. S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, athlete Harold Abrahams, and mathematician Kurt Gödel die.
  • February: Film director Roman Polanski pleads guilty to having sex with an underage girl, then skips bail and flees the United States; serial killer Ted Bundy is arrested in Florida; the first computerized bulletin board system goes online.
  • March: Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt is shot and paralyzed; former Italian premier Aldo Moro is kidnapped by the Red Brigades; Pakistani premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is sentenced to death; tight-rope artist Karl Wallenda falls to his death.
  • April: A military coup in Afghanistan installs a socialist government.
  • May: Baseball player Pete Rose gets his 3,000th hit; the corpse of Aldo Moro is discovered; the Unabomber claims his first victim, a security guard at Northwestern University who is wounded in a bombing; the first casino opens in Atlantic City, New Jersey
  • June: California voters approve Proposition 13, slashing property taxes; the Mormon church allows African-Americans full membership in the church; in University of California Regents v. Bakke, the U. S. Supreme Court upholds affirmative action, but bars the use of quotas to achieve racial diversity in university admissions; actor Bob Crane dies.
  • July: Louise Brown, the first “test-tube baby,” is born in the United Kingdom.
  • August: Pope John Paul I succeeds Paul VI; Double Eagle II becomes the first balloon to make a transatlantic crossing; historian Bruce Catton and actor Robert Shaw die.
  • September: The Camp David Accords establish peace and diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel; Pope John Paul I dies; drummer Keith Moon, aircraft designer Willy Messerschmitt, and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen die.
  • October: Karol Jozef Wojtyla becomes Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope since 1523.
  • November: Having assassinated U. S. Congressman Leo Ryan, Jim Jones leads 918 members of his People’s Temple in a mass-murder/suicide in Guyana; former San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White assassinates Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk; boxer Gene Tunney, artist Norman Rockwell, and anthropologist Margaret Mead die.
  • December: Dianne Feinstein succeeds Moscone as Mayor of San Francisco; six men steal nearly $6 million in cash and jewels from a Lufthansa cargo facility at JFK airport in New York, the largest cash robbery in U. S. history; Vietnam invades Cambodia in order to depose the Khmer Rouge government; serial killer John Wayne Gacy is arrested in Chicago; former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and filmmaker Ed Wood die.

The words of 1978:

BMX, n. Kids have been riding their bicycles on dirt tracks since the things were invented, but in 1978 the initialism BMX, for bicycle moto-cross, makes its appearance in 1978.

bustier, n. The undergarment gets a name.

Cineplex, n. In the 1970s, movie screens proliferated, but became smaller. The word multiplex dates to 1982.

coupledom, n. This word is first cited in Phillips and Rakusen’s 1978 book Our Bodies Ourselves.

courseware, n. This term is one of the earlier uses of -ware to refer to a specific variety of computer software, in this case, educational.

crotchless, adj. In 1978 the sexual revolution was in full swing.

FOAF, n. This initialism, commonly used by folklorists, is a friend of a friend, and refers to the reputed source of an urban legend.

gazillion, n. and adj. This one follows in the footsteps 1939’s bazillion and 1944’s zillion.

hacky-sack, n. The game, stereotypically played by stoners, makes its debut in 1978. The generic term footbag appears by 1979.

hamachi, n. The Japanese name for the yellowtail fish, Seriola quinqueradiata, starts appearing on Western menus.

info-dump, n. This term follows on 1965’s data dump.

internet, v. This verb originally was used to mean to hook up one or more computers in a network. By the mid-1990s, however, the primary sense had changed to mean to connect to the worldwide internet.

K/S, n. A subgenre of fan fiction, a K/S story is science fiction in the Star Trek universe containing a sexual relationship between Kirk and Spock. The more generic slash fiction, referring to homosexual relationships in other works of fan fiction, appears by 1984.

Laffer, n. Anyone? Anyone? The Laffer curve, named after economist Arthur Laffer, postulates a relationship between revenues and taxes such that maximum revenue is obtained at a moderate tax rate.

lookism, n. (also lookist, adj. and n.) Discrimination based on appearance gets a name.

lowball, v. The practice of giving a deceptively low bid in order to win a contract with the intention of raising the price later is a time-honored practice, but it gets its name in 1978.

luggable, adj. This term was chiefly used to refer to those early personal computers that were small enough to be carried from place to place, but were too large to be truly called portable.

mule, v. This verb meaning “to smuggle” is recorded by the OED in 1978, but the appearance is rather late. Muling, meaning “smuggling,” is from at least 1965, and the sense of the noun mule meaning “a smuggler” dates to the 1920s.

pax, n.3 This travel industry abbreviation for passengers appears in print. The abbreviation probably got its start in early computer databases that were limited in the data they could store and display.

pod person, n. The slang term for a conformist or unoriginal person is inspired by Jack Finney’s 1955 novel The Body Snatchers or the 1956 film based on the book, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

POSSLQ, n. Only a government could come up with this term for shacking up. POSSLQ is a U. S. Census Bureau term for person of the opposite sex sharing living quarters. To be fair to the government, the term was proposed but never officially adopted, but precisely because it is so awkward and plays to stereotypical perceptions about bureaucracy, it achieved a life of its own.

roid, n. The clipping of steroid.

RSA, n.2 Ronald Linn Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Max Adelman came up with this public-key encryption system in 1978.

telco, n. The clipping of telephone company.

telephone banking, n. Prior to public access to the internet, banks started offering their services over the telephone.

time-shifting, n. The advent of the VCR allowed people to record television broadcasts for later viewing.

up-armored, adj. Long before the Iraq war, soldiers were increasing the armor protection of their vehicles. The 1978 appearance of up-armored is in the context of British troops in Northern Ireland.

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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