The Oxford English Dictionary has 259 words with first citations from 1944. In that year, soldiers and sailors spouted gobbledygook like repple-depple and fubar, and made their admiration for busty women known with hubba-hubbas and wolf-whistles. On the official side of things, Pentagonese gave us radomes, amtracs, jatos, and snorkels. Back Stateside, the Madison Avenue agencies touted permanent press and freeze-drying. And as word of what was happening in occupied Europe started leaking out, a new word, genocide, was coined, and the world held its breath awaiting VE Day and VJ Day.
Events of 1944:
- January: Soviet troops cross into Poland; Allied forces land at Anzio in Italy in an unsuccessful attempt to outflank the Germans; U. S. forces invade the Marshall Islands; painter Edvard Munch and writer Jean Giraudoux die.
- February: The abbey atop Monte Cassino is destroyed by Allied bombing; painter Piet Mondriaan dies.
- March: Mt. Vesuvius erupts, the last major eruption; 76 R. A. F. prisoners escape from Stalag Luft III, later dramatized in the film The Great Escape.
- April: The United Negro College Fund is established; 749 U. S. troops rehearsing the invasion of France along the coast of Devon are killed when their convoy is attacked by German E-boats.
- May: Jean-Paul Sartre publishes No Exit; Allied forces finally take Cassino.
- June: Allied forces liberate Rome; Allied forces invade Normandy; V-1 attacks against London begin; U. S. forces land on Saipan.
- July: The Bretton Woods Conference meets in New Hampshire to establish an international post-war monetary system; Laurence Olivier’s film Henry V opens in London; Claus von Stauffenberg attempts to assassinate Hitler; the first jet fighter plane, the Messerschmidt-262 enters operational service.
- August: The Warsaw Uprising begins; Anne Frank and her family are captured by the Nazis; Allied troops liberate Paris.
- September: V-2 rocket attacks on London begin; with Operation Market-Garden the Allies make an unsuccessful attempt to liberate the Netherlands.
- October: U. S. forces land in the Philippines; the Warsaw Uprising is quelled by the Germans; Aachen is captured by the Allies, the first German city to be taken; The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet premieres on CBS radio; Princess Beatrice, the youngest and last living child of Queen Victoria, dies.
- November: U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt is elected to a fourth term.
- December: The Germans undertake a final offensive on the Western Front with the Battle of the Bulge; bandleader Glenn Miller dies when his plane crashes in fog over the English Channel; Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie debuts on Broadway.
The words of 1944:
agri-, comb. form. 1944 saw agri-silviculture, but since then we’ve gotten agri-food, agri-industrial, agri-tourism, and others.
amtrac, n. I’m sure that a search through military documents would antedate amtrac by a few years, but the OED has this word for an amphibious tracked vehicle used to bring marines to the shore appearing in U. S. newspapers in 1944.
angst, n. Determining when a foreign word has been anglicized and become “English” is subjective. For the German import angst, the OED has decided on 1944. But the word has appeared in English writings with gradually lessening Germanicity since George Eliot wrote about Die Angst in one of her letters. Angst also appears in various earlier philosophy texts, but always in a German context. In 1944, Cyril Connolly, writing under the pen name Palinurus in The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle uses the word and creates the compound angst-forming. When a root becomes productive and starts forming other words, that’s a strong sign that it has assimilated.
Bailey bridge, n. This pre-fabricated, truss bridge that could be rapidly assembled to span a river was the invention of Donald Bailey, a civilian in the British War Office.
busty, adj. Sometimes when you read the citations in the OED you just want to know more. Busty is one such example that screams for context. The first citation of the word in the dictionary is from humorist S. J. Perelman’s 1944 Crazy Like a Fox, “The leitmotiv of the campaign was a busty Polynesian hussy.” Who can read that and not want to find a copy of the book?
carpet bombing, n. The military is often accused of using euphemisms to downplay the destruction they cause. This is not one of them.
clobber, v.3 I would have thought this slang verb meaning “to hit” was older, but no, it doesn’t appear until 1944.
field-dress, v. No this word isn’t about military uniforms. To field dress is to remove the internal organs of an animal shortly after it has been killed to help cool the carcass and prevent bacterial growth.
freeze-drying, n. Another method of preservation that dates to 1944.
fubar, adj. Like the earlier snafu, this is a soldier’s acronym. This time it’s fucked up beyond all recognition.
genocide, n. This term was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe.
gobbledygook, n. This term for verbiage or excessive jargon was popularized by Maury Maverick, a congressman from Texas. Maury was the grandson of Samuel Maverick, who gave us the famous eponym.
he-said-she-said, adj. and n. As we’ve seen, often a term has a different meaning when first coined than from how we most commonly use it today. Such is the case with he-said-she-said. Back in 1944, the phrase referred to a narrative dominated by dialogue with speech attributions, a writing or speaking style. It wasn’t until around 1970 that the phrase began to be used to refer to conflicting statements and the absence of corroborating evidence.
hubba-hubba, int. The cry of approval or enthusiasm dates to this year.
jato, n. Another military acronym, but an official one this time. Jato stands for jet-assisted take-off, referring to booster rockets (not necessarily jets) used to help a heavily laden plane into the air.
live-in, adj. and n. A retronymic term referring to domestic staff who reside in the home. Prior to the war, live-in help was the usual arrangement and did not require a specific term.
Madison Avenue, n. In February 1944, The New Republic magazine ran an article on advertising by someone calling themself Madison Avenue, after the street in Manhattan that housed several large advertising agencies. The name stuck as a moniker for the ad business.
mudflap, n. The name for this common and essential device is first found in a reference to one hanging off a bicycle fender.
neo-Nazi, adj. and n. It seems strange that people would worry about neo-Nazis when the original ones were still around and causing big problems, but in 1944 people were concerned about a resurgence of fascism in the post-war world.
Pentagonese, n. The 1944 appearance of this word is a one-off use referring to the 30,000 people who worked in the building. By 1950, Pentagonese was being used to denote the language they spoke.
permanent press, n. One of the great lies of marketing dates to 1944.
planetfall, n. This word makes its appearance in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction in this year.
pocho, n. (and adj.) From Mexican Spanish meaning “faded, pale,” this derogatory term refers to a Mexican who adopts Anglo customs or a U. S. citizen of Mexican heritage.
radome, n. A blend of radar and dome, a radome is a building or bulbous projection from a ship or aircraft that houses radar equipment.
repple depple, n. U. S. military slang for replacement depot, where soldiers coming to or leaving the battlefield were given their assignments.
role model, n. In the OED’s 1944 example, this term is used to refer to any example for how a task should be executed. By 1947, role model was being used to refer to a person who serves as a moral or ethical exemplar.
security blanket, n. Yes, this term was originally military jargon. The term refers to operational security measures, particularly to those related to the invasion of Normandy, to hide and provide cover for military operations. It wasn’t until 1954 that security blanket began to be used in the literal sense of a blanket a small child holds for comfort and reassurance. This child-rearing use is almost certainly unrelated to the military one.
snorkel, n. Another originally military term. The word is from the German Schnorchel and referred to an airshaft used on U-boats that allowed the submarine to run its diesel engines while submerged, allowing preservation or replenishment of battery power without undergoing the risks of running on the surface. It isn’t until the 1950s that Jacques Cousteau begins to use snorkel to refer to the breathing tube used by swimmers.
Stateside, adj. and adv. Where all those G. I.s deployed overseas wanted to be.
streptomycin, n. The antibiotic, the first one effective against tuberculosis, got its name in 1944.
VE, n. (and VJ, n.) Soldiers around the world began to realistically hope for VE Day and VJ Day, or Victory in Europe and Victory over Japan.
wolf-whistle, n. From the sense of wolf meaning a sexually aggressive man. In those days of 1944 before law suits for sexual harassment were a reality, soldiers and sailors where fond of expressing their admiration for attractive women with wolf-whistles.
zillion, n. Damon Runyon is the first one recorded as using this word for a large but indefinite number.
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