1985 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 158 words with first citations from 1985. In that year, WIMPs, buckminsterfullerene, and anime delighted geekdom; aerobies and Rollerblades were the latest and greatest toys; Rambo epitomized a revived, post-Vietnam American aggressiveness; and the appearance of adware, big boxes, semtex, and intifada might be considered to make 1985 an annus horribilis.

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Events of 1985:

  • January: British Telecom announces the phase-out of the iconic red telephone boxes.
  • March: Mikhail Gorbachev becomes General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party; Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson is taken hostage in Beirut; painter Marc Chagall and Soviet leader Constantin Chernenko die.
  • April: South Africa ends its ban on interracial marriages; the Coca-Cola company releases New Coke.
  • May: U. S. President Ronald Reagan pays tribute to German war dead at a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany that contains the remains of S. S. soldiers; Philadelphia police storm the headquarters of the radical group MOVE, starting a fire that kills eleven.
  • June: The Discovery cable-TV channel begins broadcasting; the iconic U. S. Route 66 is removed from the official list of U. S. highways; coma victim Karen Ann Quinlan dies.
  • July: The movie Back to the Future opens in theaters; the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior is sunk by agents of the French government; the transatlantic Live-Aid famine relief concert takes place in London and Philadelphia; Commodore launches the Amiga computer;
  • August: Serial killer Richard Ramirez, a. k. a. “the Night Stalker,” is arrested in Los Angeles;
  • September: The wreck of the RMS Titanic is located; Pete Rose hits his 4,192nd major league baseball; designer Laura Ashley and seismologist Charles Richter die.
  • October: The cruise ship Achille Lauro is hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, resulting in the death of one American; the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is released; writer E. B. White and actors Orson Welles, Rock Hudson, and Yul Brynner die.
  • November: The comic strip Calvin and Hobbes debuts.
  • December: The Ford Taurus hits the market; John Gotti becomes the leader of the Gambino crime family; gorilla researcher Dian Fossey is murdered in Rwanda; writer Robert Graves and baseballer Roger Maris die.

The words of 1985:

24-7, adv. The OED gives a 1985 date for this numerical term meaning “twenty four hours a day, seven days a week,” although it has a 1983 citation from Sports Illustrated of 24-7-365.

adware, n. The term for free and usually unwanted software programs that exist primarily to display advertising appears, just one in the long series of -ware words.

aerobie, n. The proprietary name for the plastic ring to be thrown like a Frisbee is in place by 1985.

anime, n.3 This name for the Japanese style of animation is the result of an English word being borrowed into Japanese and then being borrowed back. Japanese borrowed the English animation sometime before 1959, and by 1970 had clipped it to anime. Then by 1985 English had reclaimed anime, using it for cartoons produced in the Japanese style.

annus horribilis, n. The 1985 citation of annus horribilis refers to 1968, but the term would get its greatest boost when Queen Elizabeth II uses it to describe 1992, a year of familial mishaps for the royals, ending in the fire at Windsor Castle. This phrase, literally “horrible year” in Latin, is actually a recent coinage, although it’s modeled on the seventeenth-century annus mirabilis “wonderful year” used by poet John Dryden to describe 1666. (Dryden’s selection of 1666 is questionable as the Great Fire of London in that year kind of puts the damper on the mirabilis part.)

app, n. Today we associate this clipping of application with iPhones and iPads, but it long predates those devices.

big box, n. The name for a large, warehouse-like, chain store opens for business.

brewpub, n. Brewpubs are at the other end of the size spectrum from big boxes.

buckminsterfullerene, n. This form of carbon-60 was named for the famed architect because the molecule resembles one of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes.

ciabatta, n. The name for the Italian style of bread makes its way into English-language bakeries. In Italian, ciabatta literally means “a low-heeled shoe, a slipper,” a reference to the shape of the loaf.

drag-and-drop, adj. and n. The launch of the Macintosh computer the previous year necessitated this descriptive term for the actions the user took on the computer’s desktop interface.

Emily’s List, n. In 1983 a loosely organized group appeared in the United States to encourage female candidates to run for office on the Democratic ticket. The group took the name Emily, an acronym for early money is like yeast, i.e., make the “dough rise” as early contributions spur more money flowing into a campaign. By 1985, the group formalized, calling itself Emily’s List.

full monty, n. (and adj.) This English phrase meaning “everything, the works,” is of unknown origin. It is clearly in use by 1985, although the 1983 appearance of a chain of fish and chips shops known as The Full Monty Chippy indicates that the phrase was in use somewhat earlier.

geekdom, n. The name for the quality of being socially handicapped, or the global collection of such people, makes its debut.

gobsmacked, adj. The British slang phrase, meaning literally “hit in the mouth,” is cited from 1985 in the OED, but Green’s Dictionary of Slang has antedated gobsmacked to at least 1956.

guido, n. The name for a working-class, suburban, Italian-American male, especially one who is aggressively masculine and obsessed with his appearance, makes its debut long before the reality television show Jersey Shore lionized them.

intifada, n. From the Arabic for “uprising,” literally “a jumping up,” this term was first applied to various disturbances in Lebanon in 1985, but intifada became a household word with the 1987 uprisings in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

N-word, n. The euphemism makes its appearance.

offshore, v. The verb meaning to move a business overseas debuts.

PostScript, n.2 This PostScript is a proprietary name for a software notation that describes how a page should be printed. The notation is literally a postscript, a program, or script, added to the end of the data to be printed. The concept, like so many early computer innovations, was developed at Xerox PARC but never put on the market. Former Xerox employees formed their own company to market PostScript in 1984, and in the following year the Apple LaserWriter became the first printer to use it.

problemo, n. This one is chiefly found in the phrase no problemo.

Rambo, adj. and n.3 The character of John Rambo first appears in David Morrell’s 1972 novel First Blood and the 1983 film of that book. But the 1985 film sequel, First Blood: Part II, spawned the wider use of the term to refer to a violent, militaristic, and aggressive masculinity.

Regaine, n. This brand name for minoxidil, the treatment for male pattern baldness, appears in 1984. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration, however, rejected the name, and in 1985 the drug was marketed as Rogaine in the United States. The name Regaine is still used in the United Kingdom.

Rollerblade, n. The proprietary name is registered as a U. S. trademark in 1985. The general term in-line skate doesn’t appear until 1987.

Semtex, n. Another commercial name for a very different product. The plastic explosive is named for the Czech town of Semtin where it is made. The -ex may be for explosive.

skatepunk, n. The subculture that grew up around skateboarding gets a name.

Tardis, n. The name of the time-machine used by the protagonist of the BBC-TV series Dr. Who starts being used metaphorically to refer to something that is larger than its initial appearance suggests or something that seems from another time.

tuneage, n. The slang term for music is in use by 1985.

WIMP, n.4 Nuclear physicists have a fondness for whimsical names. This acronym for weakly interacting massive particle is in use by this year.

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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