1983 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 166 words with first citations from 1983. In that year, the most productive source of neologisms appears to be computing, with hot keys, MUDs, sysadmins, spell-check, and WANs, among other words; technologies that would blossom in later decades make their appearance, like cellphones and print on demand; moshing, MIDI, and beat-boxes were sweeping the music world; and the genre of cyberpunk was getting underway.

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Events of 1983:

  • January: ARPANET completes its adoption of the TCP/IP protocol; Kilauea begins an eruption that continues to this day; Bjorn Borg retires from tennis; Britain makes seatbelt use mandatory; American football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant dies.
  • February: The final episode of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H airs, still the most-watched episode of a television series in history; musician Karen Carpenter and playwright Tennessee Williams die.
  • March: U. S. President Ronald Reagan announces his intention to develop the Strategic Defense Initiative, a missile defense system popularly dubbed Star Wars; spies Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt and television personality Arthur Godfrey die.
  • April: Tokyo Disneyland opens its doors; the U. S. embassy in Beirut is bombed, killing sixty-three; Maine schoolgirl Samantha Smith is invited to visit the Soviet Union after she writes a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov expressing her fears about nuclear war; actors Gloria Swanson and Buster Crabbe, choreographer George Balanchine, and musician Muddy Waters die.
  • May: Stern magazine publishes the “Hitler Diaries,” later discovered to be forgeries; art historian Kenneth Clark and boxer Jack Dempsey die.
  • June: Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space, flying aboard STS-7.
  • July: Poland ends martial law and grants amnesty to political prisoners; architect Buckminster Fuller dies.
  • August: Exiled Filipino politician Benigno Aquino is assassinated at Manila Airport upon his return to the Philippines; lyricist Ira Gershwin dies.
  • September: Korean Airlines flight 007 is shot down by a Soviet fighter after straying into Soviet airspace; Vanessa Williams becomes the first African-American crowned as Miss America; the project to develop the GNU operating system is announced; U. S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson dies.
  • October: Suicide truck bombings destroy the French and U. S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U. S. servicemen, 58 French paratroops, and 6 Lebanese civilians; the United States invades Grenada; actor Ralph Richardson, newscaster Jessica Savitch, and American football coach George Halas die.
  • November: President Reagan signs a bill creating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, honoring the fallen civil rights leader; U. S. nuclear cruise missiles arrive at the Greenham Common airbase in Britain; 6,800 gold bars, worth UK£26 million, are stolen from the Brink’s-MAT vault at Heathrow Airport.
  • December: Military rule of Argentina and of Turkey ends; Brunei gains independence from Britain; actor Slim Pickens and painter Joan Miró die.

The words of 1983:

beat-box, n. The electronic drum machine gets a name.

cellphone, n. The adjective cellular was being applied to mobile telephone technology as early as 1972, but the noun cellphone makes its appearance in 1983. The clipped cell, referring to the phone, is heard by 1988.

clickable, n. The initial 1983 sense of this word is a nonce reference to a waiter who can be summoned with the click of one’s fingers. But by 1988 clickable is being applied in the familiar context of on-screen icons.

cryptid, n. This noun is applied to an animal whose existence is disputed, such as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

cyberpunk, n. This name for the subgenre of science fiction comes from the title of Bruce Bethke’s 1983 short story Cyberpunk.

defragment, v. Disc size and bus speeds have rendered this operation less important in today’s computers, but in the 1980s, defragmenting the hard drive in one’s computer, assuming you had one at all, was part of routine maintenance.

DNR, n. and adj. The OED officially gives a 1983 use of the medical initialism, standing for do not resuscitate, as the first citation, but it includes a 1976 citation of DNR from the New York Times in brackets, although it’s not at all clear why brackets appear in the entry, which are generally used for foreign uses, prototypical forms, and uses not quite in the current sense.

dumpster diving, n. The alliterative term for scavenging from refuse bins makes its debut.

exfoliant, n. and adj. The cosmetic industry discovers an new justification for pumping out yet more products.

Five-O, n. The slang term for the police makes its appearance. The term is taken from the title of the CBS-TV series Hawaii Five-O, although that had been off the air for three years by the time the term is recorded, indicating that it probably existed in unremarked oral use for some time before 1983. The Five-O in the series title is a reference to Hawaii being the fiftieth state.

greenmail, n. Modeled after the word blackmail, greenmail is the practice of buying enough shares in a company to threaten a takeover and then offering to sell them back to the management at an inflated price so that they can retain control.

hardbody, n. The word for a fit and toned physique makes its appearance.

hot key, n. Another computing term. A hot key is a key or combination of keys, that when pressed, execute a function. Perhaps the most famous is the ctrl-alt-del hotkey used to force a reboot of Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

hot swap, n. And another computing term. A hot swap is the replacement of an electronic component without powering off the system.

liposuction, n. The fat-removing cosmetic surgery technique is discussed in medical journals for the first time in 1983.

MIDI, n.,3 This acronym stands for musical instrument digital interface and is a protocol for electronic instruments and computers to communicate with one another and was introduced in 1983.

mindshare, n. This marketing term, modeled after market share, refers to customer awareness and brand loyalty as compared to competing products.

mosh, v. This verb means “to dance wildly so as to collide with other dancers, to slam dance.” The verb appears in 1983, the noun is in place by 1985, and the mosh pit, where it all takes place, is named by 1988. The OED suggests that mosh may be from mash, but Green’s Dictionary of Slang records an earlier sense of to mosh, dating to 1953, meaning “to fight, damage, destroy,” and that might be related.

MUD, n.3 This acronym was originally the name of a specific computer game, Multi-User Dungeon. But since MUD’s appearance in 1983, the term has become more general and is applied to a class of computer games, and reanalyzed as multi-user domain/dimension.

newsgroup, n. The misnomer newsgroup is applied to the component forums of Usenet in 1983. It’s a misnomer because newsgroups seldom have much to do with news.

people meter, n. A people meter is a device used to record television viewing habits of households in the Nielsen or similar surveys.

pie-hole, n.2 This slang term for the mouth is first recorded in Stephen King’s 1983 novel Christine, but the earlier cake-hole dates to 1943.

pooch, v.2 This one is from American football. To pooch means “to kick a ball a short distance,” but the adjectival use, as in pooch kick, is somewhat older, being found as early as 1978. The origin is unknown.

print-on-demand, n. The first citation of this term is a headline from the Financial Times of 31 January 1983, and reads, “Print on demand market set for growth.” It may have been set, but the growth would be a while in coming.

spell-check, n. and v. This one needs no explanation.

snowboard, n. The sport starts its downhill journey.

sysadmin, n. The clipped form of system administrator appears. The full form dates to 1961.

trannie, n. The clipping of transvestite is recorded. Like many such slang clippings, it’s probably much older than can be found in printed use.

voice-over, v. The verb meaning “to narrate or provide commentary to a film or TV show,” appears, although the noun voice-over, referring to the narration or commentary itself, goes back to at least 1947.

WAN, n.2 And one last computer term before we leave 1983, this acronym stands for wide area network.

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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