1960 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 462 words with first citations from 1960. In that year, you could barf and upchuck; people altered their appearance with dreadlocks and body art; Cobol and other software began altering our world; crudités could be served with tzatziki sauce; and Herberts and Roys occupied opposite ends of the social spectrum and the globe.

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Events of 1960:

  • January: Construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt begins; Kenya lifts its state of emergency, ending the Mau Mau Uprising; fighting against French colonial rulers begins in Algiers; writers Albert Camus and Zora Neale Hurston die.
  • February: Four black students begin a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina; in Geneva CERN’s first particle accelerator begins operation; the first stars are installed in the Hollywood Walk of Fame; beer magnate Adolph Coors III is kidnapped and murdered; France tests its first nuclear weapon.
  • March: Elvis Presley concludes his military service and returns home from Germany; South African police kill 69 protestors in Sharpeville in the Transvaal; paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews dies.
  • April: The United States launches the first weather and navigation satellites; Eric Peugeot, son of the founder of the Peugeot Corporation, is kidnapped and safely ransomed.
  • May: U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers is shot down over the Soviet Union; The Fantasticks opens on Broadway, where it will play for a record 42 years; the U. S. Food and Drug Administration approves the first oral contraceptive pill; the Mossad abducts Nazi Adolph Eichmann, taking him to Israel for trial for war crimes; writer Boris Pasternak dies.
  • June: New Zealand’s first television station begins broadcasting; Somalia gains independence from Britain; the Congo gains independence from Belgium.
  • July: Harper Lee publishes To Kill a Mockingbird; the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina finally serves a meal to the sitting-in protestors.
  • August: Dahomey (Benin), Niger, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), the Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Chad, and Gabon gain independence from France; Joseph Kittinger parachutes from a balloon at 31,333m (102,800 feet) altitude, setting a world record for both altitude and human speed without motorized assistance at 982 km/h (614 mph); the Beatles play in Hamburg, Germany.
  • September: Cassius Clay wins the light-heavyweight gold medal at the Rome Olympics.
  • October: Nigeria gains independence from Britain; the first successful kidney transplant takes place.
  • November: Penguin Books is found not guilty of obscenity in the United Kingdom for publishing D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover; John F. Kennedy is elected president of the United States; Mauritania gains independence from France.
  • December: Deposed premier of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, is arrested by dictator Joseph Mobutu; in Boynton v. Virginia the U. S. Supreme Court declares that segregation of public transportation is unconstitutional; the first episode of Coronation Street airs on British television—originally planned for thirteen episode run, it is still on the air.

The words of 1960:

barf, v. The verb to barf is first recorded in Wentworth and Flexner’s 1960 slang dictionary. [The Historical Dictionary of American Slang antedates it to 1956, and has barfer from 1947.]

bionics, n. Steve Austin would be more than a decade away, but the word bionics was coined in 1960.

Black Mountain, n. The school of poetry got its name in 1960. It’s named after the experimental art school, from which the movement grew—Black Mountain College in North Carolina which operated from 1933–56.

body art, n. The more plebian art forms of tattooing and piercing, which didn’t need no fancy experimental art college, also got an upscale name in 1960.

bookmark, v. When it was coined in 1960, the verb literally meant to insert a bookmark into a printed and bound text. But by the mid-1980s the computing world picked it up.

breathalyser, n. In 1960 police got a new tool for combating drunk driving.

bricolage, n. The word was borrowed from French, but the meaning shifted in the translation. In France, the word means “do it yourself.” In English bricolage came to mean “construction from a diverse range of material, a collection of found objects.”

carbon fiber, n. The high-tech material makes its debut. (The OED search engine is usually good at handling variations in British and American spelling, but for this term you need to type the British spelling, fibre, to find it. Frustrating.)

Cobol, n. The computer language, the Common Business Oriented Language, was invented by the U. S. Defense Department. (In another transatlantic English mishap, the OED misspells it as “U. S. Defence Department.” Dialectal variations in spelling are well and good, but one should keep the native spelling of proper names.)

crudités, n. The name of the hors-d’oevre has been the subject of countless bad puns. The name comes from the French, a reference to the vegetables being raw.

Daytimer, n.2 The brand of diary/organizer was trademarked in 1960.

dreadlocks, n. The hairstyle, first worn by Rastafarians, gets its first mention in print in 1960.

dullsville, n. (and adj.) Some people might think this column is dullsville. The synonym squaresville is a bit older, appearing in 1956.

eve-teaser, n. (and eve-teasing, n.) An eve-teaser is a sexual harasser. The term makes the cut here not only because it is ahead of its time, but because it comes from Indian English. English as it is spoken on the subcontinent has its own slang and colloquialisms.

feeding frenzy, n. The behavior among sharks was given a name in 1960. By 1972, feeding frenzy had generalized and become a metaphor.

Goldwaterism, n. In 1960, Barry Goldwater, the Republican U. S. senator from Arizona, was the poster child of right-wing American politics. Today, of course, he would rank somewhere to the left of Obama.

halon, n. Halon gas began to be used as a fire suppressant in 1960.

Herbert, n. British slang for an inconsequential or silly person.

Hezbollah, n. Meaning “party of God” in Arabic, Hezbollah in 1960 referred to a militant organization in Indonesia. The Lebanese organization wasn’t founded until 1982.

laser, n.2 The acronym, for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation appears by 1960. (Wikipedia has a reference to a 1959 publication that uses the word.) The name is based on the somewhat older microwave-based maser.

Librium, n. The name of the tranquilizer was trademarked in 1960.

meet-and-greet, n. and adj. The verb phrase dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, but the noun denoting the event where the meeting and greeting takes place doesn’t appear until around 1960.

Mini, n.2 The Morris Mini-Minor went on sale in Britain in 1959. Within a year it was just the Mini.

mix-and-match, adj. and n. (also mix and match, v.) The fashion term walks down the runway in 1960.

mod, n.4 and adj.2 Mods, with their scooters and American soul music, were seen on British streets in 1960. The name is a clipping of modernist.

New Wave, n. and adj. I’ve always associated New Wave with the rock music of the late 1970s, but there have been various new waves since 1960 in fields ranging from French film to science fiction.

noodge, v. (also noodging, n.) This U. S. slang verb meaning “to pester, nag” wheedled its way into English from Yiddish in 1960.

off-camera, adv. and adj. The film industry jargon word moves into the spotlight.

Pinteresque, adj. (and n.) (also Pinterish, adj.) Playwright Harold Pinter was only thirty years old when he got his own adjective.

Roy, n.3 This one is dated Australian slang for a stylish smooth-talker, sort of an anti-Herbert.

sexploit, n. This is such an obvious blend I’m surprised that it didn’t appear earlier. A sexploit is not to be confused with the older sexploitation, which dates to 1924. A sexploit is a positive thing, even if others don’t want to hear you talk about yours, while sexploitation is a social evil.

software, n. This is a biggie.

staticky, adj. This description of radio signals has got to be older in oral use, but perhaps 1960 is the date when it started appearing in print.

time-shift, v. Another term that I associate with a later period, namely the use of VCRs and DVRs to record television shows for later viewing, but the verb dates to 1960 and the noun dates all the way back to 1914.

trend-setter, n. Like sexploit, this is another rather obvious coinage.

tzatziki, n. The Greek, yogurt-based sauce complements the English language in 1960.

upchuck, v. Like barf, this verb is also recorded in Wentworth and Flexner’s slang dictionary, although they say to upchuck dates to 1925. They also note “considered a smart and sophisticated term c. 1935, esp. when applied to sickness that had been induced by over-drinking.” I didn’t realize that vomiting from a hangover could be “smart and sophisticated.”

Velcro, n. From the French velours croché “hooked velvet,” the name of the fastener is trademarked in 1960.

Yogi Bear, n. The Hanna-Barbera cartoon character debuted in 1958, but the OED doesn’t record his name in print until 1960. (It can probably be antedated by a year or two.) There is no doubt, however, that the baseball player came first, and indeed the name of the Jellystone Park denizen is almost certainly an homage to the diamond great.

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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