1945 Words

[Updated with minor corrections and clarifications on 29 November.]

The Oxford English Dictionary has 350 words with first citations from 1945. In that year, soldiers redeployed back home to become nine-to-fivers; bebop could be heard over the airwaves; Kahlua and tostadas crossed the Rio Grande; turbojet aircraft flown by g-suited airmen and packed to the gills with black boxes and transponders streaked across the skies, leaving contrails in their wakes; and weaponeers assembled A-bombs, both during and, more ominously, after the war.

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Events of 1945:

  • January: Soviet troops capture Warsaw and liberate the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
  • February: U. S. forces liberate Manila; Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin meet at Yalta; approximately 50,000 die in the bombing of Dresden, Germany; the battle of Iwo Jima, Allies capture the first Japanese territory.
  • March: Approximately 100,000 die in the fire-bombing of Tokyo; Allied troops cross the Rhine River.
  • April: U. S. troops land on Okinawa; Franklin Roosevelt dies; U. S. and Soviet troops meet at the Elbe River; Mussolini is captured and executed by Italian communist partisans; Hitler commits suicide.
  • May: Soviet troops capture Berlin; poet Ezra Pound is arrested by U. S. troops in Italy for treason; VE Day: Germany surrenders to the Allies.
  • June: The fighting on Okinawa ends; the United Nations Charter is signed in San Francisco.
  • July: Trinity Test: an atomic bomb is detonated at Alamogordo, New Mexico; Churchill’s Conservative Party loses an election to Labour; Truman, Stalin, Churchill, and Atlee meet at Potsdam.
  • August: The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the Soviet Union declares war on Japan; VJ Day: Japanese forces cease hostilities; Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh take power in Hanoi.
  • September: Japan formally surrenders to the Allies, ending World War II.
  • October: Baseball player Jackie Robinson signs a contract with the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team; the International Court of Justice is established.
  • November: The Nuremberg war crimes trials begin; assembly of the ENIAC computer is completed.
  • December: Writer Theodore Dreiser dies.

The words of 1945:

A-bomb, n. The term atomic bomb is older, but the clipped A-bomb starts appearing in newspaper headlines following the bombing of Hiroshima.

actinide, n. Chemist Glenn Seaborg suggested this name for the series of rare-earth elements that begins with actinium. The actinide series includes both uranium and plutonium.

anti-gravity, adj. (also anti-g, adj.) The sense that appears in 1945 refers to pneumatic pants (see g-suit) that prevent blood from pooling in the legs during high-speed maneuvering of aircraft. The science fiction sense of a supposed force that counteracts gravity is much older, dating back to nineteenth-century writings.

bebop, n. The style of jazz known as bebop developed during the war. Bebop, along with rebop and bop, appear as nonsense syllables in scat singing as early as 1928, and in 1945 trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie recorded a song with the title Be-Bop. The style takes its name from these roots.

black box, n. Nowadays, an aircraft’s black box is its flight recorder, which maintains a record of the aircraft’s course and speed in case of a crash. The name comes from World War II R. A. F. jargon for a navigational instrument which is first recorded in print in 1945.

bonkers, adj. This originally British slang term for “crazy, mad” appears in print in 1945.

Chad, n.1 Chad or Mr. Chad was a British cartoon graffito who protested various shortages with the phrase “Wot, no _____?” In American usage, the cartoon became conflated with Kilroy.

contrail, n. Short for condensation trail, these clouds of water vapor are left behind high-flying aircraft and became a familiar sight in the skies over Europe during the war.

debrief, v. Another bit of military jargon that made its way into civilian publications in 1945. To debrief someone is to obtain information and intelligence from them after the completion of a mission.

decriminalization, n. In 1945, decriminalization was not especially associated with narcotics and other illegal substances, but denoted a general movement to change the penalty structure associated with a variety of unwanted behaviors.

doh, int. Nowadays we associate this interjection with Homer Simpson, but he’s not the first to use it. Doh! began appearing on B. B. C. radio in 1945.

Eisenhower, n. We don’t normally associate Eisenhower with fashion icon, but he gave his name to the style of short, U. S. Army uniform jacket that he was often photographed wearing.

espresso, n. From the Italian caffe espresso “pressed-out coffee,” the name of the drink began appearing in English following the war.

foo fighter, n. Another bit of soldier slang. A foo fighter was any mysterious light encountered by flight crews in the skies over Europe, often interpreted as a German secret weapon. Later on, such reports would be reinterpreted by some as evidence of alien spacecraft, but are more likely just the result of understandably nervous and frightened young men trying to make sense of what’s happening around them. The foo comes from a nonsense word used in Bill Holman’s Smoky Stover comic strip.

gang-bang, n. This slang term is first recorded as aircraft nose art; the words appeared beneath the picture of a naked woman.

g-suit, n. A g-suit is a pair of pneumatic pants that allows a fighter pilot to withstand high accelerations by preventing blood from pooling in the lower extremities. (See anti-gravity.)

hassle, n. A surprisingly late addition. I bet it can be antedated.

hokey, adj. This is the adjectival form of hokum. It’s originally theatrical slang.

inflight, adj. The inflight meal made its appearance in 1945 among soldiers traveling by air.

job-hopping, n. One advantage to full employment due to the war was that those on the home front were free to tell their employer what to do with that job.

Kahlua, n. The coffee-flavored, Mexican liqueur crossed the border in 1945.

Kilroy, n. A man who literally left his mark.

meta-metalanguage, n. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether linguists are joking or not. A meta-metalanguage is a set of terms used to describe a set of terms used to describe a language.

mobile phone, n. Yes, they did have mobile phones back in 1945. Radio-telephony services were rare and the service was expensive, but they did exist.

must-read, n. In 1945 an advertisement in the Chicago Tribune touted the first must-read book. The OED doesn’t tell us the title of the book, which is probably significant.

necrophiliac, n. The first citation of necrophiliac in the OED is from a 1945 letter by Jack Kerouac, but a quick internet search by Languagehat turns up citations in psychological literature dating back to at least 1907. The word necrophilia dates to the nineteenth century.

nine-to-fiver, n. The adjective nine-to-five to describe a standard work day goes back to 1927, but this word for one who works such a job is from 1945.

off-planet, adj. and adv. Another term from the pages of Astounding Science Fiction.

organophosphate, n. This name for this class of pesticides and military nerve agents dates to 1945.

parkette, n. This word is a Canadianism for a small, urban park, such as one in the middle of a traffic circle or on the median strip of a divided road.

passive-aggressive, adj. The first citation of this adjective is, ironically, in a U. S. War Department Technical Bulletin.

redeploy, v. With the end of the war, a lot of troops were doing this in 1945.

Sabra, n. This word, from the modern Hebrew word for “prickly pear,” denotes a Jew born in Palestine/Israel.

sansei, n. From the Japanese san “third” + sei “generation,” this word refers to a third-generation Japanese American.

sealant, n.  The first citation in the OED refers to sealants used in flamethrowers, definitely a device where you don’t want any leaks.

security check, n. and v. The earliest citations of security check in the OED regard measures to verify the identity of displaced persons in Europe to ensure that no Nazi war criminals escape.

sheeple, n. This blend of sheep + people makes its debut this year.

show biz, n. I’m surprised this clipping appears this late, but not at all surprised that it is in the pages of Variety. The full show business had been around for about a century before it was clipped.

snogging, n. A favorite activity of returning soldiers. It means “necking” to you Americans who have not read Harry Potter.

sonobuoy, n. Interestingly, the name of this anti-submarine device predates sonar, which doesn’t make its appearance until the next year.

squawk box, n. The slang term for a loudspeaker makes its appearance in the pages of The New Yorker.

Teflon, n. Du Pont trademarked this name for polytetrafluoroethylene in 1945. Ironically, the name stuck.

tostada, tostado, n. From the Spanish “toasted,” this dish is assimilated into English by 1945.

transponder, n. By the end of the war, the U. S. military was using these devices in its aircraft to help identify friend from foe.

turbojet, n. A turbojet is the most basic form of jet engine, using a turbine to compress the incoming air before being heated, expanded, and ejected out the other end. Turbojet engines had been around for a decade before they got their name. Largely replaced by turbofan engines, which are quieter and more fuel efficient, turbojets are rarely used in today’s aircraft.

turboprop, n. A turboprop engine uses incoming air to drive a turbine that drives a propeller. Unlike a turbojet, a turboprop does not get significant thrust from its exhaust gases. The first turboprop aircraft flew in 1945.

Viet Minh, n. A clipping of Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh, “League for the Independence of Vietnam,” this movement led by Ho Chi Minh briefly took control of Vietnam following the Japanese surrender, only to be driven out and into war against the returning French colonial forces in 1945.

weaponeer, n. Originally, this term specifically referred to the person in charge of assembling a nuclear weapon prior to its use. Later it generalized to refer to one who develops any weapon.

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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