1997 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 32 words with first citations from 1997. In that year, Tony Blair becomes prime minister of the U. K., ending eighteen years of Conservative Party rule; Madeleine Albright becomes the first woman U. S. secretary of state; with the closest approach to earth of comet Hale-Bopp, thirty-nine members of the Heaven’s Gate cult commits mass suicide in San Diego, California; at age fourteen, Tara Lipinski becomes the youngest world figure skating champion in history; J. K. Rowling publishes the first Harry Potter book; James Cameron’s film Titanic is released, going on to smash all previous box office records and become the first film to gross over one billion dollars; the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes its debut; the Mayo Clinic warns that the diet drug fen-phen can cause severe heart and lung damage; Steve Jobs returns to Apple Computer to rescue the failing company; Jeanne Calment, the oldest person on record, dies at age 122 years, 164 days in Arles, France; and Diana, Princess of Wales dies in an automobile accident in Paris.

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The words of 1997:

3G, n. This abbreviation for third generation came to denote the broadband technology for mobile devices in 1997.

air rage, n. Modeled after 1988’s road rage, air rage is violence by passengers resulting from the frustrations of air travel.

appletini, n. Martinis were back in the 1990s, in this case apple-flavored ones.

ASBO, n. A British legal acronym, an ASBO is an anti-social behaviour order, a court order that restricts the movements and actions of a person who has a penchant for behaving badly. The term appears in 1997, although ASBOs weren’t introduced into the law until 1998, and the first ones were issued in 1999.

Barbie syndrome, n. Named for the doll, someone with a Barbie syndrome has a pathological desire to look perfect.

barebacker, n. (and barebacking, n.) The sense of “sex without a condom” makes its debut.

bounce message, n. As email became ubiquitous, so did these return-to-sender messages.

bust card, n. In 1997 the American Civil Liberties Union started issuing bust cards to groups prone to being harassed by law enforcement officials. Bust cards are wallet-sized cards that outline one’s rights and recommended actions in case of arrest.

Cablinasian, n. In 1997 golfer Tiger Woods identified his ethnicity as Cablinasian, a blend of Caucasian + black + Indian + Asian. The word never really caught on, but it certainly contributed to awareness of people with multiple ethnicities.

cap, v. This sense of to cap means “to shoot someone,” but the Historical Dictionary of American Slang antedates it to 1970–71 and, much to my surprise, records the phrase to bust a cap as far back as 1899, and to snap a cap going back to the Civil War.

convergence, n. In late-1990s the high-tech world was abuzz over convergence, the merging of electronic media such as television, radio, telephony, and the internet, but the OED antedates this use of the noun to 1978.

crotchfruit, n. While I’m not one to disparage words, I’m glad this term for “child, children” never caught on.

Divx, n. Divx, or digital video express, was a short-lived video format that allowed users to play a video a limited number of times, one of the many technological attempts to reconcile the new electronic media with old business models.

dot-commer, n. A dot-commer was a person employed by an internet company during the boom years of the 1990s.

e-learning, n. Commerce wasn’t the only thing getting an e- prefix in the late-1990s.

embed, v. This journalistic verb actually goes back a couple of more years to 1995. To embed is for a journalist to attach himself or herself to a military unit.

energy drink, n. The 1990s saw the marketing of these soft drinks containing high amounts of sugar and caffeine. But the sale and consumption of energy drinks actually date all the way back to 1904.

e-tail, n. (also e-tailer, n.) Another internet commerce term, this one distinguishing between internet stores and the traditional brick-and-mortar variety.

EULA, n. You may not know what a EULA is, but you’ve undoubtedly agreed to one. It’s an acronym for end user license agreement, the legal document you must agree to before using a piece of software or other product.

evo-devo, n. This slangy and reduplicative term stands for evolutionary and developmental, and refers to that branch of the biological sciences.

Globish, n. This term denotes the English pidgin used as a lingua franca among international business people and travelers.

GQ, adj. This slang adjective referring to a stylish and well-dressed man makes its appearance in university slang by 1997. It’s taken from the title of the men’s magazine GQ, originally Gentleman’s Quarterly.

ID, n. This abbreviation for intelligent design became a buzzword in the late 1990s referring to an effort to reinsert religious instruction into U. S. public schools. Use of the phrase intelligent design to denote a supposed creator’s influence on life on earth goes back to the early nineteenth century, well before Darwin, but the abbreviation is quite recent.

Jordanesque, adj. The -esque suffix is usually reserved for writers and artists, but sometimes it’s used for basketball players too.

LASIK, n. This is an acronym for laser intrastromal keratomileusis, a surgical technique for correcting near-sightedness.

latte liberal, n. This updating of the old term limousine liberal for the 1990s appears in a 1997 column in The Washington Post by David Brooks.

mack, v. This slang verb has a long history. It goes back to the nineteenth century in the sense of “to work as a pimp,” and is probably from the French slang macquereau meaning “pimp.” But the sense shifted in the late 1960s, and by 1968 to mack was prostitution jargon for a pimp’s seducing of and acquiring a stable of prostitutes. It then broadened in scope to include any flirting or sexual advance by a man, and sometimes by a woman, and eventually included the sex act itself.

macrovirus, n. No, this isn’t a large infectious agent, it’s a malicious computer program that is sent through email and executed through the macro function of the email or word processing program.

manbag, n. The term for a man’s handbag is recorded as early as 1968.

McGwire Special, n. With speculation that St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire might break Roger Maris’s long-standing record of sixty-one home runs in a single season, in 1997 baseball officials started using specially encoded balls, McGwire Specials, when he was at the plate, so that any record-breaking balls could be later identified. McGwire would end up hitting fifty-eight home runs in 1997, breaking the record the next year with seventy.

Muggle, n.4 J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books begin to contribute to the lexicon.

nerdistan, n. This name for the notional dwelling place of engineers, scientists, and computer techies makes its debut.

N-Gen, n. and adj. This clipping of net generation refers to the generation of children who have grown up, or in the tense of its 1997 origin will have grown up, with the internet being a ubiquitous part of their lives.

Prince Albert, n. This name for a piercing through the glans of a penis makes its debut back in 1977. The term comes from a highly dubious story about the consort of Queen Victoria having one.

scootermania, n. Two-wheeled push scooters were quite the fad in the late-1990s.

shagadelic, adj. Harry Potter was not the only pop culture icon contributing to the language in 1997. Mike Myers’s Austin Powers was too.

unmarketing, n. Not only do marketers inflate the benefits of the products they hawk, but they also inflate the innovative qualities of their techniques. Unmarketing is simply marketing via a method other than the traditional avenues of advertising and cold calling.

WAP, n.4 An acronym for wireless application protocol, an early method for connecting mobile devices to the internet.

Webinar, n. A seminar conducted over the internet.

white van man, n. This bit of British slang originally referred to aggressive drivers of commercial vehicles, but generalized over time to represent any outspoken, working-class men.

wife-beater, n. This term for a sleeveless undershirt, usually a man’s although such women’s undergarments are also sometimes called this, gets its name from clothing worn by stereotypical depictions of men who commit domestic violence in the media. This sense of wife-beater is found as early as 1993.

WWJD, c.phr. This initialism for What would Jesus do? begins to make its appearance on bracelets and t-shirts in 1997.

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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