1927 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 527 words with first citations from 1927. In that year you could play bingo in air-conditioned comfort. Many hoping to be the next It girl signed up at Central Casting. Red-baiting meanies abused card-carrying members of unions. Valentinos tomcatted around looking for a little poontang with some woman with hot pants. And a smash-and-grab robbery might net you a radio-gramophone, although it wouldn’t be a stereophonic one quite yet.

Events of 1927:

  • January: The first transatlantic telephone call is made from New York to London.
  • February: Werner Heisenberg formulates his uncertainty principle; British troops land in Shanghai to protect European interests there; in the U. S. the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) begins regulating use of radio frequencies.
  • March: The Roxy Theater, a movie palace, opens in New York City; the world’s first armored car robbery is committed in Pennsylvania; Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis debuts.
  • April: Volvo produces its first automobile; the Shanghai Massacre occurs, wherein the Kuomintang arrests and executes numerous of its erstwhile leftist allies, beginning a civil war in China that will last until 1949.
  • May: The U. S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is founded; board of education member Andrew Kehoe murders his wife, burns his farm, and detonates a bomb in the Bath Consolidated School in Bath, Michigan, killing thirty-eight children and seven adults, including Kehoe himself, ostensibly as a protest against school taxes; Charles Lindbergh makes the first solo, non-stop, transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.
  • June: Acquitted murderer Lizzie Borden dies.
  • July: Pitcher Satchel Paige makes his Negro Leagues debut; in major-league baseball, Ty Cobb gets his 4,000th hit.
  • August: Anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti are executed for the murder of two men during a 1920 robbery.
  • September: The Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System, later to be known as CBS, goes on the air in the U. S.; dancer Isadora Duncan dies.
  • October: Carving begins on Mount Rushmore; the first sound movie, The Jazz Singer, opens; Pan American Airways flies its first flight, from Key West to Havana; Hollywood mogul Sam Warner dies.
  • November: The Holland Tunnel opens between Manhattan and New Jersey
  • December: The Ford Motor Company ends production of the Model T after nineteen years and introduces the Model A; Kern and Hammerstein’s Show Boat opens on Broadway

The words of 1927:

air-conditioned, adj. The word air-conditioner goes back to 1909, but since I started this project with the year 1911 I might as well include this adjective derived from it here. It took a couple decades before advertisers got round to the idea that cool venues attracted customers in the summer months and that they needed an adjective to describe them. And indeed, the first citation in the OED for air-conditioned is from an advertisement for a hotel in the Reno Evening Gazette (Nevada) on 20 August 1927.

asbestosis, n. It was in 1927 that the link between breathing in of asbestos fibers and lung disease was made. Pulmonary asbestosis was coined in that year.

bingo, int. The interjection comes before the name of the lotto game. The interjection bing is recorded in James Joyce’s 1922 Ulysses and subsequently in a number of other works, indicating that the word was a bit faddish in the early part of the decade. By 1927 the interjection bingo was appearing in British sources. Variants of the game go back centuries under many different names, including beano, which was used in the U. S. in the 1920s after the beans were used as markers in the game. The game, however, was not standardized until 1929, when Edwin Lowe produced a commercial version under the name Bingo, probably a variant of beano that also played off the interjection. Wikipedia and other sources give credit for coinage of bingo to a Hugh Ward, but I have not found anything that actually documents this, only a circular series of references among secondary sources.

card-carrying, adj. The adjective refers to the possession of a membership card for an organization, originally a labor union and a bit later political parties, especially the Communist Party.

car-less, carless, adj. By 1927 automobiles had become so ubiquitous in America that an adjective was needed to describe those who did not possess one.

Central Casting, n. and adj. In 1925 the major Hollywood studios founded the Central Casting Corporation, an agency that would supply them with actors needed for small roles and as extras. By 1927, the noun was firmly established in the film industry, and within a few decades had become a cliché for the stereotypical or generic casting of actors in roles, used in phrases like straight out of Central Casting.

co-pilot, n. Another aviation term from the 1920s.

cover-up, n. and adj. The phrasal verb to cover up had longed been meant to physically shroud something so it couldn’t be seen, but in 1926 the verb was applied to hiding a crime. And in the following year it had become a noun.

defroster, n. These devices first appeared in commercial packing and cold storage plants, and by 1930 the word was being applied to the heater that melts the ice on your car’s windshield.

discussant, n. This term is mainly found at academic conferences.

Fermi, n. This appearance of this term is a good measure of the man’s greatness. The physicist was only twenty-six years old when his name began to be applied to a variety of concepts in physics, such as Fermi statistics (also known as Fermi-Dirac statistics).

fish-tail, v. This verb originally applied to aircraft, where the tactic is most commonly used to reduce speed in preparation for landing, and only later applied to automobiles.

gate-crasher, n. Gala parties are associated with the decade, and what’s a gala without a few uninvited guests?

gluten-free, adj. Another term that we don’t normally associate with times past.

half-track, n. A half-track is an armored car with wheels in the front and a track in the rear. They were common in World War II, but invented in the 1920s.

hot pants, adj. and n. The 1927 sense of this adjective is lustful, libidinous. In the 1930s it developed the sense of a lustful person, especially a woman. The very brief women’s shorts that went by this name were a fixture of the 1970s.

infrastructure, n. This one surprised me. I would have thought it to be older because it is such a massively useful word. It first appears in French in 1875 and was borrowed into English in 1927.

interior design, n. The synonym interior decoration, however, is older, dating to 1807.

It girl, n. Film star Clara Bow was the original It girl. The origin of the term is rather prosaic. It comes from the title of Bow’s 1927 movie It.

Joycean, adj. and n. By 1927, James Joyce’s reputation as a writer was firmly established, and this adjective was coined to prove it.

keller, n. 1927 saw the import of this German word for “cellar” referring to a basement bar serving beer, usually in reference to such establishments in Germany and Austria.

kibitzer, n. This one isn’t German, but Yiddish. A kibitzer is on onlooker of a game, especially one who offers advice to the players.

Kool-Aid, n. The powdered drink mix was patented in 1927.

latke, n. The name for this potato pancake is proximately from Yiddish, which borrowed it from the Russian latka.

lotsa, adj. This contraction of lots of began appearing in print in 1927.

Mayday, int. and n.2 1927 saw the convening of the International Radiotelegraph Conference in Washington, D. C., an organization which met periodically to standardize rules and procedures governing international communications. One of the measures they adopted that year was the use of mayday, from the French m’aider “help me,” as a distress signal.

meanie, n. This term for villain or otherwise unpleasant person was coined in this year.

megafauna, n. Chiefly used among paleontologists, this word denotes large animals, especially mammals. The antonym microfauna is much older, dating to 1895.

microsurgery, n. As used in 1927, this word referred to manipulation of single cells. It wasn’t until 1959 that the term began to be used for intricate and delicate surgery on humans.

minimalism, n. The artistic movement of this name dates to the 1960s. In 1927, this word had a more general meaning, that of using the least effort or resources to achieve a result in whatever field.

Movietone, n. This name for a proprietary process for recording sound on film and the name of the company that owned it appears in this year. Movietone is chiefly associated with the newsreels produced by that company that used the system.

NAAFI, n. The British Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes was founded in 1921 and got its acronymic name in 1927. The organization runs stores and canteens on British armed forces bases and is the equivalent of the U. S. Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) and Navy and Marine Corps Base Exchanges.

nappy, n.3 This British word for what we in North America call a diaper was first recorded in 1927.

old age security, n. This is a Canadian term for what in the United States is called Social Security. But the term is originally American, not Canadian. The American Association for Old Age Security, dedicated to securing government pensions for all American citizens, was founded in 1927. But in 1935 the name of the program was changed to Social Security.

Ordnung, n. In German this word means “order, rule.” The term, which is a name for the code of behavior espoused by the Amish and Mennonite churches, begins appearing in English publications in 1927.

palimony, n. This is another term, a blend of pal + alimony, that has a radically different meaning today than when it was coined. Back in 1927, the word referred to payments made to a former spouse in an amicable divorce settlement, one where the former husband and wife remained on good terms and continued to associate with the same social circle. But in 1977 palimony was applied to an unmarried partner seeking financial support after a break-up, first used in California’s Marvin v. Marvin, in which Michelle Triola Marvin unsuccessfully sued for support from actor Lee Marvin, with whom she had lived for many years.

payload, n. Today this word is most often associated with military weapons or space vehicles, but in 1927 it was a clipping of the earlier paying load, a term that dates to the nineteenth century. The payload, or cargo capacity of a vehicle, is distinguished from its dead weight, the amount of the total weight that “pays” the owner of the vehicle.

pecking order, n. In his 1921 Ph.D. dissertation, Norwegian animal behavioralist Thorlief Schjederup-Ebbe coined the German word Hackordnung to describe the social organization of chickens. By 1927, the term had been translated into English and was quickly expanded to encompass other animals, including humans.

pit bull, n. and adj. The name for this type of dog was coined in 1927. The bull is a shortening of bull-terrier, although the fuller pit bull terrier does not appear until 1945.

poontang, n. This slang term for sexual intercourse is of unknown origin, but it may come from the French putain “prostitute.” In any case, it began appearing in published writing in 1927. One notable early use is in Thomas Wolfe’s 1929 Look Homeward, Angel, “A fellow’s got to have a little Poon Tang.”

preemie, n. This colloquial term for a baby delivered prematurely is first recorded in this year.

radio-gramophone, n. This device is a forerunner of the later stereo console, a radio, gramophone, and speakers installed in a single cabinet.

red-baiting, n. (also red-baiter, n.) Harassment of suspected communists got a name in 1927.

Reuben, n.2 The name of the sandwich appears in 1927, but its origin is unknown. There are various Reubens who have claimed to invent it, but no solid evidence to support those claims has ever been produced. A Reuben sandwich is, of course, made of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian or Thousand Island dressing and served warm on rye bread. Sometimes pastrami or turkey is substituted for corned beef.

smash-and-grab, n. This type of robbery got its name in 1927.

stereophonic, adj. Another innovation from the 1920s.

strep, n.2 The phrase strep throat, using a shortening of streptococcus, is recorded in the journal American Speech in this year.

surrealism, n. The name for the artistic movement was coined in 1917 in French, but it took another decade to make the transition into English.

tankette, n. This cutesy name for a small armored vehicle had its heyday in the 1920s and 30s. It fell out of use during World War II.

televise, v. This verb, a backformation of the 1907 noun television, appears this year as early experiments with the medium proceeded.

tomcat, v. Often found in the phrasal form to tomcat around, this verb means to pursue and attempt to seduce women.

Valentino, n. The film star famed for his tomcatting around died the previous year, but his name was immortalized as a denotation of a sexually attractive man.

woodhenge, n. This word began as the name for a British prehistoric circular timber structure, the remains of which were found in 1925. It is named after its more famous stone counterpart located a few kilometers away. Since then, the term has been applied to similar structures that have been found subsequently.

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. For each year, I try to select twenty-six words, one for each letter of the alphabet. But in some cases I’ve got more than one for a particular letter, in others none. 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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