1957 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 415 words with first citations from 1957. In that year, the Soviets launched Sputnik-1, the first artificial satellite; the Cold War chugged along with the addition of the non-aligned, Pugwash, and NORAD; computers added interrupts, initializations, and RAM; while children played with the decidedly low-tech Lego, Frisbee, and Play-Doh; the introduction of Viet Cong and West Bank into the language didn’t bode well for peace in the coming decades; and the Marlboro Man did a bit of transsexual advertising surgery, changing a woman’s cigarette into an icon of masculinity.

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Events of 1957:

  • January: Collier’s magazine ceases publication after sixty-nine years; Elvis Presley appears on The Ed Sullivan Show for the third and final time, shown only from the waist up this time; the Wham-O company introduces the Frisbee; Akira Kurosawa’s film Kumonosu-jo (Throne of Blood), a reworking of Macbeth set in feudal Japan, premieres; Israel withdraws from the Sinai Peninsula; actor Humphrey Bogart and conductor Arturo Toscanini die.
  • February: Andrei Gromyko becomes Soviet foreign minister, a position he will hold for twenty-eight years; Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal premieres; mathematician John von Neumann, writer Laura Ingalls Wilder, and mobster George Clarence “Bugs” Moran die.
  • March: Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat is published; Standard and Poor’s creates its S&P 500 index; Elvis Presley buys Graceland; the Treaty of Rome creates the European Economic Community; Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, their only musical written for television, is broadcast; polar explorer Richard Byrd dies.
  • April: Egypt reopens the Suez Canal; Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl, published in Britain, is seized by U. S. customs officials for obscenity; Patrick Moore presents the first episode of the BBC’s The Sky at Night.
  • May: Walter O’Malley announces that the Brooklyn Dodgers will move to Los Angeles; Senator Joseph McCarthy, singer Ezio Pinza, and U. S. federal policeman Eliot Ness die.
  • July: John Lennon and Paul McCartney meet; Maj. John Glenn sets a transcontinental speed record, flying from California to New York in 3 hours, 23 minutes, and 8 seconds; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is created.
  • August: ABC-TV begins to broadcast American Bandstand, which had previously been a local Philadelphia program; Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC) sets the individual filibuster record by talking non-stop for 24 hours, 18 minutes in an unsuccessful attempt to block a civil rights bill; comic actor Oliver Hardy dies.
  • September: Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus orders the National Guard to block African-American students from attending Central High School in Little Rock; President Eisenhower sends the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and federalizes the Arkansas National Guard to ensure the students can safely attend school; the Ford Motor Company introduces the Edsel; Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is published; Have Gun Will Travel premieres on TV and West Side Story premieres on Broadway; composer Jean Sibelius dies.
  • October: David Lean’s film The Bridge on the River Kwai premieres; the Soviets launch Sputnik-1; Canada’s Avro Arrow jet fighter is unveiled; Leave It to Beaver makes its TV debut; President Eisenhower is forced to apologize to the Ghanaian finance minister after the latter is refused service at a Dover, Delaware restaurant; the Jodrell Bank Lovell radio telescope begins operating; Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is published; Toyota exports its first automobiles to the United States; fashion designer Christian Dior and movie mogul Louis B. Mayer die.
  • November: The Mackinac Bridge connects the two halves of Michigan; the Soviets launch Sputnik-2 with the dog Laika on board; President Eisenhower suffers a stroke.
  • December: The Music Man has its Broadway debut.

The words of 1957:

ahistorical, adj. One would think this adjective would have a longer history, but evidently not. [Languagehat has antedated ahistorical to 1936.]

backgrounder, n. A public relations term comes to the fore.

barfy, adj. This slang adjective appears in Frederick Kohner’s 1957 novel Gidget, The Little Girl With Big Ideas.

Chinglish, n. and adj. The blend of Chinese and English gets its name by 1957. Apparently, this is the first of -lish blends, followed by Japlish (1960) and Spanglish (1967).

cite, n. This clipping of citation makes its debut.

colonoscopy, n. The name for the unpleasant, but necessary, procedure dates to this year.

digital television, n. In 1957, digital television did not refer to transmission of a digital signal; rather it referred to conversion of the analog signal by the receiver so it could be more readily processed. (I used to work for a digital television company, and my inner geek is showing through.)

Frisbee, n. The flying disk makes its debut. The name comes from the Frisbie [sic] bakery of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Students at nearby Yale University had long known the aerodynamic quality of that firm’s pie tins, and it was just a matter of time before someone cashed in on it. The spelling was changed for trademark reasons.

headage, n. An agricultural term. One’s headage is the number of livestock one owns.

initialization, n. The 1950s were a big decade for computing terms, and this is another one.

interrupt, n. While the verb is much older, the noun is another computing term.

kuru, n. From the Fore word meaning “to shake,” kuru is a degenerative, prion-based brain disease endemic to the Fore people of New Guinea. In the late 1950s anthropologists brought the disease to the attention of Western medicine. Kuru has often been thought to be spread through cannibalism, but the actual practice of ritualistic or customary cannibalism among the Fore (or any other group) is hotly debated. The disease may instead by spread through funerary practices.

Lego, n. The Danish building blocks hit the market in 1957. The name is from the Danish leg godt “play well.”

Letraset, n. The alphabetic transfers, standard in the printing world for decades, appear and stick.

Marlboro Man, n. The advertising icon had gotten his name by 1957. Marlboro had been introduced as a woman’s cigarette in the 1920s, and in the 1950s advertising great Leo Burnett took on the task of rebranding the cigarette, coming up with iconic cowboy figure.

megabit, n. The computer storage unit is named.

Marge, n.3 Often the first citations of slang terms are from slang dictionaries or articles and books about a particular subculture. James M. Reinhardt’s 1957 Sex Perversions and Sex Crimes contains several terms used by the gay subculture. (The title tells you all you need to know about social acceptance of gays in the 1950s.) Among them is Marge “a lesbian who takes on a passive, submissive role.” The term certainly isn’t new to the 1950s, just new to print, and the longer form Margery is attested in 1936 with the same meaning, and as far back as the 1850s in the sense of an effeminate or homosexual man.

minty, n. and adj.2 Another of Reinhardt’s terms with roots in the 1930s. A minty is a gay person who conspicuously displays characteristics of the opposite sex. The older mantee is attested as underworld slang for a sexual deviant in 1935, and from 1937 specifically as a lesbian who takes on a dominant role in a relationship.

moisturizer, n. The cosmetics industry came out with a new type of product in the 1950s.

non-aligned, adj. and n. As a response to the Cold War, Indian politicians started espousing a political stance independent of the U. S. and the Soviet Union. By 1961 the non-aligned movement had become a formal entity.

NORAD, n. You can’t get much further away from the principles of non-alignment than the North American Air Defense Command. The joint U. S.-Canadian military command was formed in 1957 to defend the continent from Soviet bomber and missile attack.

off-off-Broadway, n. and adj. (and adv.) The 1950s saw increased stratification of the New York theater scene.

overkill, n. Another good Cold War term, this time relating to the excessive size of the superpowers’ nuclear stockpiles, although the verb to overkill is attested to in 1946 and presumably was in use during the war.

Play-Doh, n. The brand of modeling clay went on sale in 1957.

pothead, n.2 Marijuana smokers were so named by 1957.

pray-TV, n. Evangelical television programming is nothing new. The colloquial name is a play on the slightly older pay-TV.

preboarding, n.2 and adj. People often make fun of this bit of airline jargon, arguing that the pre- suffix is unnecessary and misleading—the families with small children are actually boarding the aircraft, not doing something before they board. But preboarding dates to the beginnings of commercial jet travel, refers to a range of activities by the crew and airport staff, not just allowing certain people onto the plane early, and is nothing new.

prêt-á-porter, adj. and n. We often look to France for the latest fashions, but this is an example of the French borrowing a term from English and then exporting it back. The English term ready-to-wear dates to the 1890s. The French borrowed and translated it in 1951, and were selling prêt-á-porter back to us just a few years later.

Pugwash, n. The first conference of scientists working toward the goal of world peace met at Pugwash, Nova Scotia in 1957.

RAM, n.6 The computer term random access memory makes an appearance.

read-write, adj. As does what you do with RAM.

REM, n.2 This one isn’t a computer term. It’s an acronym for rapid eye movement and designates the phase of deep sleep where dreaming occurs.

reverse engineer, v. (and reverse engineering, n.) A new name for an ancient practice.

sandfracing, n. (also sandfracking, n.) Fracking is much in the news lately, but the basic oil industry technique has been in use for decades. But the current practice is quite different from that done in decades past. In the 1950s, the use of high-pressure fluids (mostly water) mixed with sand grains to fracture rock and release hydrocarbons was used primarily with vertically drilled wells and its effects were quite localized. Nowadays, the technique is use with deep, horizontal shafts, and any negative effects that result can be widespread.

smiley face, n. The iconic smiley face was created by commercial artist Harvey Ball in 1963 for the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, but generic smiley faces have been around for a long time, and they got their name by 1957.

sputnik, n. If there is one thing that 1957 will be remembered for a millennium from now, it will be Sputnik. The Russian word for satellite is literally “traveling companion.”

transsexual, adj. and n. The term appears in psychological journals in this year.

Viet Cong, n. and adj. The name for the communist guerillas fighting the newly formed government of South Vietnam made its way into English-language news reporting. The name is Vietnamese for “Vietnamese communist.”

viewport, n. The OED has this science fiction term from 1957, but the Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction has antedated it to 1935.

Weejuns, n. The brand of moccasin-like shoes was trademarked in this year.

West Bank, n. What a difference a decade makes. The earliest citation in the OED, from Jan Morris’s 1957 book The Market of Seleukia, reads: “It is difficult to see the west bank, which includes the magnificent Old City of Jerusalem, ever being prised away from Jordan.”

Yahtzee, n. The E. S. Lowe Company trademarked the name of the dice game in 1957. The name comes from yacht, the name of an earlier dice game.

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. 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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