The Oxford English Dictionary has 364 words with first citations from 1942. In that year, Rosie the Riveter and the Seabees became icons of the war effort; gung ho firefighters yelled ”Geronimo!” as they smoke jumped into forest fires; MiGs and Shermans rolled off the assembly lines; DNA and petrochemicals were at the forefront of science; a landmark slang thesaurus records Newfie, sexercise, stake out, and zap; and the movies gave us twitterpated and the usual suspects.
Events of 1942:
- January: Manila falls to the Japanese and the siege of Bataan begins; the Nazis decide upon the “Final Solution” at the Wannsee Conference outside Berlin; actor Carole Lombard dies in a plane crash.
February: President Roosevelt directs the internment of civilians of Japanese ancestry, including U. S. citizens; the Voice of America begins broadcasting; the “Battle of Los Angeles” takes place, in which over 1,400 anti-aircraft shells are fired by nervous soldiers at phantom aircraft, resulting in six deaths; painter Grant Wood dies.
April: Lt. Col. James Doolittle leads a bomber raid on Tokyo.
May: The last U. S. forces in the Philippines surrender as Corregidor falls to the Japanese; the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first naval battle where the opposing forces do not see one another; actor John Barrymore dies.
June: The Battle of Midway, the turning point in the Pacific war where four Japanese aircraft carriers are sunk; Anne Frank makes the first entry in her diary.
July: The First Battle of El Alamein, halting Rommel’s advance into Egypt 106 kilometers (66 miles) from Alexandria; the Luftwaffe test flies the Me-262, the first operational jet fighter.
August: U. S. Marines land on Guadalcanal in the first Allied offensive in the Pacific; 6,000 Canadian soldiers attempt a disastrous raid on Dieppe, France; the Battle of Stalingrad begins, widely considered the turning the point of the war in Europe; Disney’s Bambi premieres.
October: Germany tests its first A-4 rocket, better known by its Allied name, the V-2; the Second Battle of El Alamein, the British go on the offensive in North Africa.
November: U. S. and British troops land in Morocco and Algeria; Germany invades Vichy France; the German army at Stalingrad is surrounded; the movie Casablanca premieres; composer George M. Cohan dies.
December: Gasoline rationing begins in the U. S.; at the University of Chicago, a team led by Enrico Fermi initiates the first self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction; anthropologist Franz Boas dies.
The words of 1942:
astronavigation, n. The year saw the appearance of this retronym for plotting a course using the stars. In days past, navigation was primarily done in reference to the sky, but with the advent of radio navigation in the 1920s, the traditional methods became decreasingly important.
blind copy, n. The original sense of this term is a copy of a document from which certain information has been redacted. By 1945 blind copy was being used in the sense most familiar to us today, a copy of a message confidentially sent to someone not on the address list.
bottom-up, adj. and adv.2 The sense of proceeding to build a plan or theory from the fundamental elements appears in this year.
brown-out, n. In wartime this didn’t refer to a power failure, but the deliberate reduction in electrical lighting either to protect against air raid, to reduce the vulnerability of ships being silhouetted against the shore, or to conserve energy.
car pool, n. Gasoline rationing forced this fuel-saving measure on American commuters.
dike, dyke, n.3 The OED’s 1989 second edition has this term for a lesbian from 1942, but it has been antedated to at least 1931, and bulldyker is older, dating to at least 1906.
DNA, n. (also RNA, n.) The abbreviations for deoxyribonucleic acid and ribonucleic acid came into use in 1942.
featurette, n. This term for a short film appears in the pages of Variety in 1942.
Flynn, n. The slang phrase in like Flynn predates 1942 by a bit, but it rose to popularity in the early 1940s. Its origin has nothing to do with Errol Flynn; rather it is simply rhyming slang.
Geronimo, int. U. S. paratroopers began taking up this cry in 1942.
graviton, n. The elemental particle was given a name in this year.
gung ho, n. This was the motto of the U. S. Marine Corps Raiders, adopted from the Chinese by Lt. Col. Evan Carlson, the Raiders’ commander, who had served in China before the war.
Hemingwayesque, adj. In his writing the old author could feel the words coming and as he typed he heard the clacking sound as keys struck the paper and the hissing that the stiff roller made as it soared back at the end of a line. He was very fond of his style as it was his principal friend in the profession. He was sorry for other writers, especially the small delicate young ones that were always typing and looking and almost never finding, and he thought, “The younger writers have a harder life than we do except for the journalists. Why did they make writers so delicate and fine as those when the muse can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel and it comes so suddenly and such writers that type, pecking and hunting, with their small sad voices are made too delicately for the profession.” (Adapted from a passage in The Old Man and the Sea.)
imagineer, n. (also imagineering, n.) I had always thought this word was invented by Disney, but evidently not. Disney was just a popularizer.
info-, comb. form. 1942 saw the appearance of info center, but info- doesn’t seem to have really caught on until the 1980s.
inter-service, adj. The need for the different armed services to cooperate with one another spawned this adjective.
maître d’, n. The clipping of maître d’hôtel first appears, in of all places, Oakland, California.
market forces, n. You can’t listen to any economic discussion without this term cropping up. It goes back to 1942.
means testing, n. The term for limiting government social services based on income also comes from this year.
MiG, n.3 This term is a Russian acronym for an aircraft produced by the Mikoyan and Gurevich Design Bureau, which produced its first fighter, the MiG-1, in 1940.
Newfie, n. The noun denoting Newfoundland or a person or thing from that province is recorded in Berrey and Van Den Bark’s 1942 American Thesaurus of Slang. When used for people, Newfie is generally considered derogative.
niacin, n.3 This name for vitamin B3 is a variation on nicotinic acid coined in 1942 to avoid confusion with nicotine.
Nip, n.5 and adj. This derogatory term for the Japanese, but which like most such terms has often been indiscriminately applied to any Asian person, is a clipping of Nipponese.
non-homosexual, adj. and n. I usually don’t include words formed from highly productive affixes like non- or un- in these lists, but because this synonym for heterosexual overturns the heteronormativity rampant in our society, I just couldn’t pass it by.
paraglider, n. Never used in the war to any significant extent, paragliders were pioneered by the military in the 1940s.
Pearl Harbor, n. Unsurprisingly, extended use of the proper name for any surprise attack can be traced to 1942 in the months following the Japanese attack on Hawaii.
perv, adj. and n. First appearing as an Australian adjective relating to pornography, by 1948 this was being used as a simple clipping of pervert.
petrochemical, adj.2 and n. (also petrochemistry n.2) The term for chemical products produced from petroleum, oil, and natural gas dates to 1942. There is an older sense of petrochemical referring to the chemistry of rocks, from the Greek and Latin word petra “rock.”
plasticware, n. Plastic started coming into its own in the 1940s.
preggers, adj. The slang term can be traced to 1942.
pre-packaged, adj. Its cousin pre-packed dates to at least 1926.
Pu, n. The element we know today as plutonium got its name in 1942 and was given the symbol Pu. In the early nineteenth-century, plutonium had been an alternative name for barium.
ramjet, n. This type of jet propulsion system got its name in this year.
Rosie the Riveter, n. The iconic figure of the American war effort got her start in Redd Evans’s and John Jacob Loeb’s 1942 song of that title.
Seabees, n. This name for U. S. Navy civil engineering units is formed from the initials of Construction Battalion. During the war, the Seabees built airfields and port facilities across the Pacific. The high point of the engineers’ fame was probably the 1944 John Wayne movie The Fighting Seabees.
sexercise, n. One would think this one grew out of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s, but it appears in Berrey and Van Den Bark’s 1942 slang thesaurus. The blend of sexual and exercise began life meaning “sexual activity as a means of physical exercise.” The sense of “activities to improve one’s sexual skills or performance” comes out of the 60s. Other sex blends in the 1942 thesaurus are sexperiment, and sexploration.
Sherman, n.2 The U. S. Civil War general gave his name to the armored vehicle that would become the U. S. Army’s primary tank during the war.
slap shot, n. The hockey move got its name in this year.
slash-and-burn, adj. (and n.) Anthropologists gave this primitive method of agriculture its name in 1942.
smackeroo, n. In 1942, the journal American Speech ran an article by linguist Harold Wentworth on the productivity of the -aroo suffix in American slang which included a long list of -aroo words that had recently appeared on American radio. The -aroo words are legion. Wentworth records smackeroo as having been said in a 1940 radio show by actor Carole Lombard to ventriloquist’s dummy Charlie McCarthy (why ventriloquism was a popular subject for radio is a mystery to me). Lombard used smackeroo in the sense of a dollar. Other senses of the word recorded by Berrey and Van Den Bark are “something excellent” and “a strike or blow.”
smoke-jump, v. In 1942, parachutes weren’t just used for warfare. Beginning in that year, airdropping firefighters to locations of forest fires began in North America.
sociolinguistic, adj. This branch of linguistics got its name in this year.
spelunker, n. In 1942, those who explored caves resurrected an archaic English word, spelunk “cave, grotto,” and used it to give a name for themselves. The modern use is probably influenced by the Dutch spelonke and German Spelunke. The word is ultimately from the Latin spelunca.
stake-out, n. This term for police surveillance is another from Berrey and Van Den Bark.
telly, n. Most people had never seen one, but Berrey and Van Den Bark record it as slang term for television from at least 1942. Chamber’s Technical Dictionary records tellies as “television” from 1940.
twitterpated, adj. This is an example of how the first citation in the dictionary can be shown not to be the first ever use of the word. Twitterpated, meaning “lovestruck, foolish,” is first cited in the sheet music for the song of that name, but the song was not public until August 1942 and the release of the film Bambi in which it appears. But the word also appears in a June newspaper article, showing that the slang term was floating around before songwriters Bliss, Sour, and Manners wrote it down.
usual suspects, n. Another movie term. This one from Casablanca, of course.
waldo, n. I first encountered this word in a Robert Heinlein science fiction story, little knowing that he was actually the coiner. A waldo is a robotic device for remote handling of objects. Heinlein’s 1942 character Waldo F. Jones was an inventor of such devices.
zap, v. Another Berrey and Van Den Bark term, meaning “kill, strike a sudden blow.”
zoot suit, n. The style of men’s suit was popular among African-Americans and Latinos in the U. S. in the early 1940s. The zoot is a rhyming reduplication of suit.
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.
Copyright 1997-2017, by David Wilton