1987 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 128 words with first citations from 1987. In that year, nominees to high government positions might be Borked or given a figurative bitch slap; scientists discussed branes, cryovolcanism, and patient zero; Gorbymania threw political junkies into eppies; and Canada created a new kind of loonie.

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Events of 1987:

  • January: The Dow Jones Industrial Average closes above 2,000 for the first time; film director Douglas Sirk and actor Ray Bolger die.
  • February: British Airways is privatized; Supernova 1987A becomes the first naked-eye supernova since 1604; the Tower Commission issues its report of the Iran-Contra scandal critical of the Reagan Administration; pianist Liberace and artist Andy Warhol die.
  • March: Chrysler acquires the American Motors Corporation; the Irish band U2 releases the album The Joshua Tree; the U. S. Food and Drug Administration approves the use of AZT in treating HIV/AIDS; entertainers Randolph Scott, Danny Kaye, Robert Preston, and Maria von Trapp, and American football coach Woody Hayes die.
  • April: The U. S. Department of Justice declares incumbent Austrian President and former U. N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim an “undesirable alien” for his role in Nazi war crimes; The Simpsons appears as a short on The Tracy Ullman Show; jazz drummer Buddy Rich dies.
  • May: Klaus Barbie goes on trial in Lyons, France for Nazi war crimes; the USS Stark is hit by two Iraqi Exocet missiles, while patrolling the Persian Gulf, killing thirty-seven sailors; nineteen-year-old West German Matthias Rust evades Soviet air defenses and lands a private plane on Red Square in Moscow; actor Rita Hayworth and C. I. A. Director William Casey die.
  • June: Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party wins their third majority in Parliament; while visiting Berlin, U. S. President Reagan calls for the dismantling of the Berlin Wall; Canada issues its loonie dollar coin; musician Sammy Kaye and actors Fred Astaire and Jackie Gleason die.
  • August: Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s deputy führer and the sole remaining inmate of Berlin’s Spandau Prison, actor Lee Marvin, and director John Huston die;
  • September: The television show Star Trek: The Next Generation premieres; actor Lorne Greene and musician Peter Tosh die.
  • October: “Baby Jessica” McClure falls down a well in Midland, Texas, inspiring a massive successful rescue effort and media circus; the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunges 508 points in “Black Monday.”
  • November: Writer James Baldwin dies.
  • December: The U. S. Supreme Court hears Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, in which it will eventually rule that a cartoon purportedly defaming the Reverend Jerry Falwell is in fact political satire and not libelous; the United States and Soviet Union sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, banning such weapons.

The words of 1987:

bitch slap, n. The term for a blow delivered to a person considered socially inferior is first recorded in the sleeve notes of the 1987 Guns N’ Roses CD Appetite for Destruction.

Bork, v. Former U. S. Solicitor General Robert Bork lent his name to this verb meaning “to publicly vilify a person nominated for public office in an attempt to thwart that appointment,” when Democrats used such tactics to block his appointment to the U. S. Supreme Court.

brane, n. This clipping of membrane is used by string theorists in physics to refer to a multi-dimensional string. A 0-brane is a dimensionless particle; a 1-brane is a one-dimensional string; a 2-brane is a membrane; etc.

couch surfing, n. The original sense of this term is to engage in sedentary activities, like watching television. But by 1994 couch surfing was being used in the sense of being a serial houseguest in a number of homes.

cross-trainer, n. The noun cross-training has been in sporting use since 1903, but in 1987 it was applied to shoes.

cryovolcanism, n. An astrogeological term for low-temperature processes involving water, methane, nitrogen and other liquids that act like volcanism. In 1987 cryovolcanism on Saturn’s moon Miranda was postulated, and the Voyager-2 spacecraft observed cryovolcanism on Neptune’s moon Triton in 1989.

dom, n.4 (and adj.) This clipping of dominant is used in the bondage and discipline scene. Cf. sub, n.11.

eppie, n. This clipping of epileptic fit is used in British slang, sometimes offensively, to refer to a tantrum or fit of rage.

genomics, n. The name for the study of an organisms set of chromosomes, its genome, dates from this year.

GIF, n. The name for the computer image format is an acronym for graphics interchange format.

Gorbymania, n. It’s hard to imagine nowadays, but in 1987 the relatively young and reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev had rock star-like qualities in the West, especially compared with the aged and conservative Ronald Reagan.

greenwash, n. This word, modeled after whitewash, refers to intentionally misleading publicity that presents an environmentally friendly image.

hella, adv. and adj. This North American slang term is an intensifier, meaning “very, exceedingly,” that is first recorded in Toronto in 1987, but which does not have any particular regional association, being used throughout Canada and the United States.

loonie, n. Canada introduced its dollar coin in 1987, affectionately dubbed the loonie because of the image of a loon on the obverse side.

mono-brow, n. The term for a set of conjoined eyebrows or a person with such eyebrows appears in 1987, although the adjective mono-browed is attested as far back as 1973.

Nintendo, n. The Japanese company Nintendo Co., Ltd. released its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) featuring the game Super Mario Brothers to North America in 1985, and subsequent to this the name Nintendo became a household word for video games and the consoles produced by the company.

off-label, adj. and adv. This is a pharmaceutical industry term for a drug’s use that is not officially approved by the regulating industry. In the U. S., off-label use of drugs is legal, as physicians may prescribe an approved drug for any condition, although the manufacturer cannot advertise such uses.

Olestra, n. Procter and Gamble coined this brand name for their fat substitute in 1987, although it would not reach the market until the mid-1990s. The product was not a success, as Olestra’s side effect of loose stools limited the product’s appeal.

palmtop, n. and adj. This name for a class of computers, smaller than desktops or laptops, was coined in 1987, although it seems to have fallen out of use with the advent of smartphones.

patient zero, n. This epidemiological term for the initial victim of a disease in a particular study. The term made it into general use after its use in Randy Shilts’s 1987 book about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, And the Band Played On, which identified French-Canadian flight attendant Gaetan Dugas as patient zero. Contrary to the impression give in Shilts’s book, patient zero is not necessarily the source of the disease, only the index case in a particular network of studied by researchers. While Dugas, who had died of the disease in 1984, was certainly a spreader of the disease, it is unlikely he was the source of the North American outbreak of HIV/AIDS.

Perl, n. Coined by developer Larry Wall in 1987, the name for the computer language is not, as many would have it, an acronym. It is simply named for the lustrous gem, with the a omitted because there was already a computer language named Pearl.

punditocracy, n. This name for the class of journalists was coined by pundit Michael Kinsley in 1987. The synonym commentariat appears in 1993.

rightsize, v. the euphemism meaning to reduce the size of a business is modeled on downsize.

slamming, n. The breakup of AT&T introduced the disreputable practice of slamming, or switching a customer’s long-distance provider without their authorization.

sub, n.11 (and adj) This clipping of submissive is used in the bondage and discipline scene. Cf. dom, n.4

warez, n. The term for illegal copies of software programs and pornographic images makes its appearance. It’s an spelling variant of wares, substituting the z for s being a common variation used in internet communication.

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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