1934 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 591 words with first citations from 1934. In that year, both calypso and Rastifari came out of the West Indies. Preamplifiers and tweeters were must-buys for owners of high-fidelity systems, but they would have to wait a year for woofers. Jell-o started competing with s’mores as a dessert treat. The health conscious started doing Pilates and avoiding anti-oxidants. And the Führer created a new breed of baddie with the Gestapo.

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Events of 1934:

  • January: Alcatraz prison opens, or should we say closes, its doors; the comic Flash Gordon is published for the first time; the Fuji film company is founded; the Apollo Theater in Harlem opens.
  • February: Augusto César Sandino is assassinated in Nicaragua, Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, is released.
  • March: John Dillinger escapes from jail using a wooden pistol and ten days later robs a bank in Mason City, Iowa; German police forces are consolidated under Heinrich Himmler
  • April: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow kill two highway patrolmen in Texas; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night is published; surgeon R. K. Wilson takes a photograph said to be of the Loch Ness monster, which many decades later is conclusively shown to have been a hoax; the “Black Sunday” storm, part of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, removes some 300,000 tons of top soil from Midwestern U. S. states.
  • May: The Three Stooges make their screen debut; the U. S. Department of Justice offers a $25,000 reward for John Dillinger; police officers kill Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow; the Dionne quintuplets, the first quintuplets to survive infancy, are born in Callender, Ontario; certain German Protestant church leaders issue the Barmen Declaration opposing Hitler and the Nazis.
  • June: The U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission is established; Donald Duck makes his celluloid debut; Max Baer beats Primo Carnera to win the world heavyweight boxing title; the Nazis purge the SA in the “Night of the Long Knives.”
  • July: The Hays Office censorship code of U. S. films goes into effect; John Dillinger is killed by FBI agents outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago; chemist Marie Curie dies.
  • August: German President Paul von Hindenburg dies; Adolf Hitler becomes Führer of Germany; the Wehrmacht, the German army, swears a personal oath of loyalty to Hitler; the comic Lil’ Abner appears in U. S. newspapers.
  • September: Bruno Richard Hauptmann is arrested for the Lindbergh kidnapping; the seven-week trial for custody of child heiress Gloria Vanderbilt begins.
  • October: Chinese Communists begin the Long March; Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd is killed by FBI agents.
  • November: They Abyssinia Crisis between Italy and Ethiopia begins; Alice Liddell, the inspiration for the Alice of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, dies at age 82.
  • December: Sergey Kirov is assassinated in Moscow, believed to be on the order of Stalin, beginning a series of crackdowns that lead to Stalin’s purging of the Communist Party in later years.

The words of 1934:

agit-prop, n. This word began life as a Russian acronym. The original agit-prop was a Soviet department charged with agitacija propaganda or “agitation propaganda.” Within a year of its attestation in English, it had acquired the more general sense of any inflammatory message.

anti-oxidant, n. While anti-oxidants been all the rage in twenty-first century health circles, the word goes back to the 1930s.

antipasto, n. Borrowed from Italian, this word for appetizer literally means “before food.” It has an earlier English antecedent, taken directly from the Latin roots, in antepast.

anyplace, adv. This one is surprisingly recent.

archive, v. The noun is older, but still only dates to the seventeenth century, but it wasn’t verbed until the 1930s.

autobahn, n. A borrowing from the German, it literally means “car road.”

baddie, n. We normally associate baddies with the villains of stage and screen, but the first citation in the OED refers to people who negatively influence politics.

boffo, n.1 and adj.2 The word boffo is usually associated with the entertainment newspaper Variety and carries a meaning of excellent, popular, or enthusiastic. But that sense, which is boffo, adj.1 n.2 in the OED, doesn’t appear until the 1940s. The original boffo is “a joke or laugh,” or in adjectival use “hilarious.” There is an earlier word, buffo, dating to the eighteenth century meaning “comic actor;” this word is a borrowing from Italian and shares the same root as buffoon, which is from French. How the two senses of boffo are related is unknown. They may have arisen independently from different roots, but clearly in their early history in entertainment jargon they became intertwined and pulling apart the threads may be impossible.

boxer, n.5 The name of the dog breed appears in the 1930s.

burrito, n. Literally “little donkey,” a burrito is a tortilla filled with a savory concoction of meat, beans, and rice.

calypso, n. The origin of the name of the West Indian style of music is not known.

curate, v. This is another relatively recent verbing of a very old noun.

dreidel, n. From the Yiddish dreydl, which is related to the German verb drehen “to turn.” The name for the spinning top began appearing in English in the 1930s.

Earl Grey, n. The type of tea is about a hundred years older than its label. Charles, the second Earl Grey, was British prime minister from 1830–34, and was said to favor a particular blend of China tea flavored with bergamot. The OED has a citation from 1891 of Earl Grey’s mixture and the label Earl Grey applied to tins of tea in 1934.

Führer, n. In German this word simply means “leader.” In 1934, Adolf Hitler assumed the title Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and empire-chancellor). Hitler’s usage is very similar to, and probably modeled on, Mussolini’s assumption of the title Duce, also “leader,” in 1923.

gal pal, n. The phrase appears in the Los Angeles Times in 1934.

Gestapo, n. The familiar name of the Nazi secret police is an acronym for GEheime STAats POlizei “Secret State-Police.” The organization was founded in 1933 and within a year the name had entered English discourse.

high fidelity, n. The quality of sound recording and reproduction continued to rise throughout the 1930s. In 1934 the first products bearing the description high fidelity hit the market.

Hoover, n. The Hoover Company of Ohio started making vacuum cleaners in 1908, and by 1934 the name was being used generically to mean a vacuum cleaner. Use as a verb was in place by 1939. The generic use of the name Hoover is far more common in Britain than in North America, where the noun is generally restricted to the proprietary brand and the verb is virtually unknown.

Jell-o, n. This is another term that can probably be antedated. Wikipedia, without citing evidence, says the name dates to 1897. The OED has the British trademark filed in 1935.

jitterbug, n. Cab Calloway’s 1934 song Jitter Bug is about musicians who drink too much. By 1937 the word was also being used to refer to jazz musicians in general or aficionados of their music. The verb, “to dance to jazz or swing music,” appears by 1939.

lube, n. and v. The clipping of lubricant, lubrication, and to lubricate is attested to in 1934.

luminol, n. TV crime procedurals like to pretend that the methods shown are at the cutting edge of forensics technology. But luminol, the chemical used to detect blood at crime scenes, as been around since before 1934. In that year, an article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society says that the chemical has been “long referred to as ‘Luminol.’”

mojito, n. The recipe for the Cuban cocktail is found in the 1934 Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book.

must-buy, n. (and adj.) Even in the depths of the Great Depression consumerism continued to plow ahead. Also from the era: must-be-read (1932) and must-see (1936). Must-have is considerably older, dating to at least 1839.

one-off, adj. and n. The OED cites the adjective from 1934 and the noun from 1947. The dictionary, however, marks the word as “chiefly Brit.”, which is certainly incorrect. It’s very common in North America.

Pilates, n. In 1934, Joseph Pilates published his book Your Health, which outlined his physical training methodology. Early uses of the word Pilates are in compounds, like Pilates system. By 1981, the word was in use as a stand-alone noun designating the system of exercises.

preamplifier, n. This name for the piece of acoustic equipment is cited from 1934.

Rastafari, adj. and n. The word relating to the Jamaican religion appears in the pages of Kingston’s Daily Gleaner in 1934. The word is from Amharic, an Ethiopian language, where ras is a title of respect and Tafari is the birth name of Emperor Haile Selassie, who is viewed by Rastafarians as the messiah.

raster, n.2 This word is electronics jargon for the pattern of parallel lines that form the display of a television or computer screen. It’s from the German Raster meaning “screen, grid.”

s’more, n.2 The camping treat consisting of marshmallows and chocolate sandwiched by graham crackers has been called some more since at least 1927. By 1934, it was being clipped to s’more.

Southern Comfort, n. The alcoholic beverage was trademarked in 1934.

squat, n.4 This “nothing” word appears as doodly-squat in Zora Neale Hurston’s 1934 novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine. The origin is not certain, but it is likely a reference to voiding excrement—the action of squatting and doodle, which has a slang sense of excrement.

supernova, n. The astronomical phenomenon had its name by 1934.

throughway, n. Also spelled thruway, this one appears in the 1934 edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary.

tweeter, n. Like preamplifier, this name for a loudspeaker designed to produce high-frequency sounds is also in place by 1934.

uptight, adj. The slang adjective appears in James M. Cain’s 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice in the sense of a state of nervous tension or anxiety. The sense of excellent or correct doesn’t appear until the 1960s.

valpack, n. The name for the soft-sided, zippered luggage was trademarked in 1934.

woofer, n. The sense meaning a loudspeaker designed to produce low-frequency sounds actually appears a year later, in 1935, than its counterpart the tweeter. The sense of woofer that is recorded in 1934 is the African-American slang sense of someone who speakers loudly and continually while saying little of value or importance.

World Cup, n. In 1930, the Coupe du Monde tournament was held in Montevideo (where the U. S. team tied with Yugoslavia for third place, the only time it’s ever made it that high in the standings). By 1934 the tournament was being called The World’s Cup in English, and would become what we know today as the FIFA World Cup. That same year, at least one rugby tournament called itself The World Cup. Over the years, various competitions in different sports have used the name.

Zippo, n. The brand of lighter was trademarked in 1934.

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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