1996 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 48 words with first citations from 1996. In that year, Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber,” is arrested in a Montana cabin; Primary Colors, a scathing fictionalized account of the 1992 Democratic presidential primary by “Anonymous” (later revealed to be journalist Joe Klein) becomes a political sensation; Alanis Morissette redefines irony and wins the Grammy award for album of the year for her Jagged Little Pill; the computer Deep Blue defeats world champion Garry Kasparov at chess for the first time; Dolly, a sheep, is the first mammal successfully cloned from an adult cell; and in Romer v. Evans the U. S. Supreme Court rules that anti-sodomy laws are unconstitutional.

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The words of 1996:

alcopop, n. The word alcopop is mainly a Briticism, although the thing it denotes is no stranger to North America. An alcopop is a sweet, usually carbonated alcoholic beverage marketed to the young drinker.

always-on, adj. By 1996 dial-up internet connections were starting to disappear.

censorware, n. And with the internet being always on, parents needed something to keep their children away from the more prurient websites.

chick lit, n. The depreciative term for writing aimed at a female audience makes its debut, although the thing that the word represents has been with us for centuries. Among the New Words dates chick lit to 1996, but the OED antedates it to 1993.

Christian Identity, n. Awareness of this militant, racist, and patriarchal brand of fundamentalist Christianity came to the fore in the middle of the 1990s, although the term Christian Identity can be traced back at least as far as 1986.

click-through, adj. and n. The noun, referring to an instance of a webpage reader activating a hyperlink, especially one associated with an ad, appears by 1996, although the phrasal verb to click through dates to at least three years earlier.

cliterati, n. One might think this was a post-feminist backlash term referring to noted feminists, but it was coined by feminists themselves, in the words of one writing for the Independent on Sunday in 2002, as “an act of liberation to grab hold of the verbal sticks and stones that have been hurled at you and toss and twirl them like parade batons.”

CTO, n. So called C-level executives became a big thing in business in the 1990s. A CTO is a chief technology officer and is the executive who oversees a firm’s engineering and research and development departments.

dolphin-safe, adj. Tuna harvesting using methods safe for marine mammals became de rigueur in the 1990s.

DOMA, n. In 1996 the United States passed the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman for the purposes of federal law and also said that no state was required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.

drug cocktail, n. New therapies that used a combination of drugs to combat HIV/AIDS became available in the mid-1990s, eventually so successful that the disease was no longer a death sentence, at least to those who could afford them. Since then, the term drug cocktail has broadened to include such combination therapies for other diseases, but it’s still strongly associated with HIV/AIDS.

E-day, n. Or Euro-day, refers to 1 January 2002, when the Euro would become the official currency of the nations participating in the European Monetary Union.

facepalm, n. and int. The gesture of embarrassment and frustration in the face of imbecility gets its name in 1996.

fist bump, n. Another gesture gets its name.

FLOTUS, n. The acronym POTUS goes back to 1895 (a rare example of a nineteenth-century acronym that has been lurking, largely unnoticed by linguists, in the pages of the OED; it, along with SCOTUS, for Supreme Court of the United States, got its start in telegraphy), but the acronym for his better half would take another century. FLOTUS is, of course, the First Lady of the United States.

gastropub, n. The 1990s were the decade when jokes about British food became obsolete.

geotag, n. (and v.) A geotag is a bit of metadata that assigns a location to an item, such as a photograph.

huff, v. (also huffing, n.) The Among the New Words column gives this verb a date of 1996, but the OED antedates it to at least 1970. To huff is to deliberately inhale an intoxicating substance, usually a common household product.

IFOR, n. This acronym was all over the news in the mid-1990s. It stands for implementation forces and refers to NATO forces conducting peacekeeping operations in Bosnia.

IM, n. Another 1990s abbreviation, this one is from computing and telecommunications and stands for instant message.

iPhone, I-phone, n. Apple wouldn’t release its iPhone for more than a decade, but in 1996 iPhone referred to an internet telephone.

irrationally exuberant, adj. (also irrational exuberance, n.) While testifying before Congress in December 1996, U. S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said that stock market investors were irrationally exuberant.  The term would come to be a buzzword, but like many of Greenspan’s prognostications, it was off the mark. The stock market wouldn’t tank for another four years.

Jersey barrier, n. A jersey barrier or jersey wall is a transportable, modular, concrete highway divider. They are so named because they were invented by the New Jersey State Highway Department.

Lexus lane, n. This term is a nickname for what is officially known as a high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lane on a highway. A Lexus lane is restricted to cars that have multiple passengers and to those that pay a toll, hence the slang term coming from the make of luxury car.

live streaming, n. The internet’s answer to television’s live broadcasting.

Mary Bell order, n. This is a British legal term for a court order that protects the anonymity of a child involved in a court proceeding. In 1968, ten-year-old Mary Bell was convicted of the manslaughter of two other children. She was released from prison twelve years later at age twenty-three and, in 1984 gave birth to a daughter. The British courts issued Bell a new identity to protect her daughter from publicity and prohibited the publication of information that might identify the child. Similar orders subsequently became known as Mary Bell orders.

McMansion, n. A McMansion is a large, imposing-looking house, but built on a standard-size lot and utilizing architectural features that are inappropriate and out of keeping with the suburban environs. The Mc- prefix is from the McDonalds fast-food chain, of course. The OED antedates this one to 1990.

mini-me, n. This term precedes its use as a character name in the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It’s a humorous term referring to a smaller, but seemingly identical copy of oneself, especially one’s own child.

Mitchell, n.2 Another 1990s foreign policy jargon term, this one is named for former U. S. Senator George Mitchell who in 1995–96 mediated a solution to the troubles in Northern Ireland. The six recommendations that arose from his work became known as the Mitchell Principles.

nanny state, n. This term for government policies seen as overprotective and interfering with personal liberty became big in the 1990s, but the OED antedates it all the way back to 1965, when nanny state was used to refer to the policies of the London County Council.

Neuticles, n. This one is a trademark for canine artificial testicles used on neutered dogs to make the animals seem intact.

phish, v. (and phishing, n.) This name for acquiring personal financial information from a person over the internet by fraudulently impersonating a company or government agency is a variant on, of course, fishing, as in fishing for information.

pig and python, n. This evocative phrase appears by 1996. It evokes the image of a large snake swallowing a large animal and is used in reference to systems that have to cope with an exceptionally large task, such as the retirement of the Baby Boom generation.

poetry slam, n. Live, urban poetry competitions became big, or as big as poetry can get in our modern society in the 1990s. But the OED antedates poetry slam to at least 1986.

unconcede, v. In 1996, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole conceded the election to President Bill Clinton and then hastily retracted the concession as premature, giving birth to the verb unconcede. The verb would appear more famously and with more precarious consequences four years later when Democrat Al Gore famously retracted his concession in the next presidential election.

waterboarding, n. No, this is not the torture technique that would become infamous in the next decade. This waterboarding, also known as wakeboarding, is a form of water skiing using a single, wide ski, after and akin to snowboarding.

These words are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, based on that dictionary’s earliest citation for that word. I’ve also taken words from the Among the New Words column in the journal American Speech; and in many cases these words have been antedated by the OED.  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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