1946 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 325 words with first citations from 1946. In that year, the impact of the war was still being felt on the language with the introduction of huff-duff, sonar, and wilco; technophobes feared the increased use of circuitry; Americans began sending care packages to Europe; Peronism, the on-again-off-again political movement, put its man into the presidency of Argentina for the first time; and the beginnings of the Cold War could be seen in cryptos, microdots, and the Gulag.

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Events of 1946:

  • January: The United Nations meets for the first time in London; the U. S. Army Signal Corps bounces radio waves off the moon, measuring its distance.
  • February: Juan Perón is elected president of Argentina.
  • March: In a speech at Fullerton, Missouri, Churchill declares that “an iron curtain has descended across the continent” of Europe; Britain promises independence to India and grants it to Transjordan.
  • April: The League of Nations disbands; economist John Maynard Keynes dies.
  • May: The Sony Corporation, originally Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering, is founded; Italy declares itself a republic; writer Booth Tarkington dies.
  • June: Broadway actor and director Antoinette Perry, namesake of the Tony Awards, dies.
  • July: The United States conducts Operation Crossroads, a series of nuclear weapon tests at Bikini Atoll; bikini swimwear goes on sale in Paris; the Philippines attains independence from the United States; the Irgun bombs the British headquarters in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel; Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis take the stage together for the first time; photographer Alfred Stieglitz and writer Gertrude Stein die.
  • August: The first theme park, Santa Claus Land, opens its doors in Indiana; the U. S. creates the Atomic Energy Commission; writer H. G. Wells dies.
  • October: Hermann Göring, the highest ranking Nazi on trial at Nuremberg, commits suicide hours prior to his scheduled execution.
  • November: Indonesia gains its independence from The Netherlands.
  • December: The First Indochina War, between France and the Viet Minh, begins; Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life premieres; mobster Bugsy Siegel opens the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas; actor W. C. Fields dies.

The words of 1946:

arty-farty, adj. With the war over, pretentious art started making a comeback with this reduplicative adjective. Its cousin artsy-fartsy dates from 1962.

backdate, v. This one is a classic case of the practice existing long before the word was coined.

backlist, n. A few years back, marketers made a big to-do about “the long tail,” as if it were something new. But publishers have known about the profitability of maintaining a strong backlist for decades.

beeper, n. The OED really needs to update this entry. This word is defined as “a device that emits beeps,” and the latest citation is from 1957. It doesn’t even mention the use of beeper to denote an electronic pager. The dictionary editors had better get cracking while there are still some beepers still in use.

biscotto, n. From the Italian. This one makes it into English immediately following the war.

care package, n. In 1946, Americans started sending care packages to Europe. Founded the previous year, the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe is still in operation; although the charity has globalized and changed the words the acronym stands for several times.

chloroquine, n. It’s often said that wartime is boom time for medical research. Chloroquine is one example. The anti-malarial drug came out of efforts to reduce the incidence of the disease among soldiers fighting in the South Pacific.

circuitry, n. Not only medicine, but electronics got a boost from the war as well.

crypto, n.2 This sense of crypto is a person who secretly belongs to or supports a political group, especially the Communist Party.

disincentive, n. Incentives have been around since the fifteenth century, but the name for something that discourages an action is comparatively recent.

Dogpatch, n. The home of comic strip character Li’l Abner, in 1946 Dogpatch began to be used as a generic name for a poor, rural community.

fax, n.3 In April 1946, Billboard magazine proclaimed that home fax machines were just eighteen months away. They were only off by about forty five years.

FIFA, n. The international governing body of football (soccer), the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, was founded in 1905, but it foundered during the First World War. Following the end of the second war, the organization was relaunched.

flack, n.2 A flack is a press agent. The origin of the word is unknown, but it’s unrelated to the anti-aircraft flak.

gray market, n. Not everything is black and white, and that includes illegal commerce.

Gulag, n. While Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1973 book The Gulag Archipelago popularized the Russian acronym, the word had entered the English lexicon nearly thirty years before. Gulag stands for Glavnoe upravlenie ispravitel’no-trudovȳkh lagereĭ or “Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies.” (And it turns out, Languagehat has antedated the word to at least 1935.)

huff-duff, n. Military acronyms from the war were still seeping into general discourse in 1946. Huff-duff is a slang acronym standing for High Frequency Direction Finder.

Irgun, n. The paramilitary Zionist organization had been operating since 1931, but its name achieved fame and a place in English dictionaries with the 1946 bombing of the British headquarters in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The name is from modern Hebrew and in full is Irgun Zvai Leumi “national military organization.”

Jaycee, n. The Jaycees are another organization, albeit a significantly less militant one, that had been around for years before its name came into general use. In this case the organization was founded in 1920, but the name only came to the fore in 1946. The American youth organization takes its name from Junior Chamber of Commerce.

koan, n. The Zen Buddhist term worked its way into the contemplations of lexicographers in 1946. It’s from the Japanese ko “public” + an “matter.”

Latino, n.  The name of the ethnic group is home grown in American Spanish and starts appearing in U. S. English-language newspapers 1946. It is a combination of Latin-American and the Spanish -o ending.

megabuck, n. This word started out as a standard exercise in derivation, adding the standard prefix for a million, mega-, to buck, meaning “a million dollars.” But in the late 1960s the word generalized and came to mean the less specific “a large amount of money.”

microdot, n. An outgrowth of wartime espionage, microdots would become standard currency of intelligence gathering in the Cold War. A microdot is a photograph, say of a page of classified material, reduced to the size of a punctuation point.

move-in, n. Returning G. I.s flocked to universities under the G. I. Bill and America became a more mobile society in general. With all this relocating going on, the verb to move in was nouned in 1946 and became an instance of a person or family taking residence in a new dormitory or home.

National Health Service, n. The British National Health Service was established in 1946.

oater, n. The slang term for a western film makes its appearance in 1946.

on-again off-again, adj. The adjectival use of this phrase appears in 1946, although there are a couple of films, a short from 1916 and a feature from 1937, that use the phrase as a title.

Peronism, n. Juan Perón became president of Argentina for the first time in this year.

real time, n., adj., and adv. Another term that comes out of computing and electronics.

sloshed, adj. We never seem to have enough slang terms for being drunk.

Sno-cat, n. The name for the type of tracked vehicle that travels over snow was trademarked in 1946. From sno[w] + cat[erpillar].

sonar, n. The acronym was coined after another classic, radar. This one is from sound navigation and ranging.

technophobe, n. Sometimes I’m surprised when words appear, but not in this case. The timing of its appearance is exactly what one would expect.

triple-decker, n. As in a sandwich.

wilco, int. And yet another wartime term makes its way into the general vocabulary.

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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