1963 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 420 words with first citations from 1963. In that year, ASCII and computer graphics heralded the dawn of cyberculture; free marketeers pushed for deregulation; the big screen gave us cinéma-vérité, while the small screen gave us Daleks and miniseries, and jargonauts gave us lidar, intermodal, and n-grams.

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Events of 1963:

  • January: George Wallace is elected governor of Alabama, declaring “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”; France vetoes Britain’s bid to join the European Economic Community.
  • February: Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique; poet Sylvia Plath commits suicide;
  • March: In Gideon v. Wainwright the U. S. Supreme Court rules that indigent defendants must be appointed lawyers in criminal cases; Alcatraz federal penitentiary closes; The Beatles release their first album, Please Please Me; writer William Carlos Williams dies.
  • April: The soap opera General Hospital debuts on ABC-TV; Josip Broz Tito becomes president-for-life of Yugoslavia; Martin Luther King, Jr. issues his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
  • May: The Coca-Cola Company begins selling its diet TaB cola; Gordon Cooper makes the last flight of the U. S. Project Mercury program; the album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is released.
  • June: Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sets himself on fire in Saigon to protest the oppression of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government; civil rights activist Medgar Evers is murdered in Jackson, Mississippi; the film Cleopatra is released; in Abington School District v. Schempp the U. S. Supreme Court rules that Bible reading in public schools is unconstitutional; flying aboard Vostok-6, Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space; John F. Kennedy gives his Ich bin ein Berliner speech; U. K. Secretary of State for War John Profumo resigns over his relationship with “party girl” Christine Keeler, who had also dallied with the Soviet naval attaché in London; Pope John XXIII dies.
  • July: The U. S. postal service introduces ZIP Codes; the Roman Catholic Church accepts cremation as a legitimate funeral practice; NASA launches Syncom-2, the first geostationary satellite; Soviet newspaper Izvestia reveals that British intelligence officer Kim Philby has been given asylum in the Soviet Union.
  • August: The U. S., U. K., and U. S. S. R. sign the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, prohibiting atmospheric nuclear tests; The Great Train Robbery takes place in Buckinghamshire, England; the March on Washington takes place, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his I Have a Dream speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; poet Theodore Roethke, playwright Clifford Odets, and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois die.
  • September: Marvel Comics publishes the first X-Men comic book; the Pro Football Hall of Fame opens in Canton, Ohio; the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham is bombed, killing four and injuring twenty-two.
  • October: Los Angeles Dodger Sandy Koufax strikes out fifteen New York Yankees in game one of the World Series—the Dodgers will go on to sweep the series 4–0; automaker Lamborghini is founded; writer Jean Cocteau and singer Edith Piaf die.
  • November: Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico begins operation; South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem is assassinated in a coup; U. S. President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas; writer and literary critic C. S. Lewis dies.
  • December: The first use of instant replay occurs in the television broadcast of the Army-Navy football game.

The words of 1963:

ASCII, n. The American Standard Code for Information Interchange was promulgated in 1963, allowing the basic alphanumeric characters of the Latin alphabet to be used across a variety of devices.

benchmark, v. The original benchmark was a stone set in place by a surveyor to provide a fixed reference point, a usage that goes back to the mid-nineteenth century. Within a few decades, benchmark had developed a generic sense of “point of reference,” but it took until 1963 for the noun to be verbed in the sense of “compare with an established standard.”

cinéma-vérité, n.  The French name for the film genre made its way across the Channel in 1963.

computer graphic, n. The computing field renders another term with which we’ve all become familiar.

Cosa Nostra, n. 1963 was the year in which English-language journalism began using the euphemistic name the American Mafia used for itself. In Italian it literally means “our thing” or “this thing of ours.”

cyberculture, n. This one is a bit earlier than I would have expected, but the 1963 date is not terribly surprising.

Dalek, n. The race of mutants dedicated to the extermination of all other life in the universe, or at least such life that lived on the ground floor, made their television debut in 1963. (In the recent Dr. Who reboot the Daleks were given the ability to climb stairs.) The name allegedly was invented by one of the Dr. Who writers who was inspired by an encyclopedia volume labeled DAL–LEK.

, n. Americans, at least, usually associate deregulation with Ronald Reagan, but it started long before.

dipshit, n. and adj. The journal American Speech first records the pejorative dipshit in 1963.

Expo, n. The clipping of exposition, used to name an international exhibition, was first applied during the planning stages of the Montreal world’s fair. The fair itself did not occur until 1967.

free marketeer, n. Advocates of free trade gave themselves a name in 1963.

intermodal, adj. Sometimes the revolutions that most profoundly affect are lives are in places that few people see. One such is the rise of intermodal, containerized transport of goods, allowing shipped products to be rapidly and efficiently moved from ship to train to truck and vice versa. Intermodal transport is what allows Walmart to cheaply stock its shelves with things made in China.

jargonaut, n. A jargonaut is one who uses an excessive amount of jargon, sort of a blending of astronaut, Argonaut, and juggernaut, an unstoppable explorer of the fringe of language.

lidar, n. Another acronym, this time for light detection and ranging. Lidar similar to radar, only it uses lasers instead of operating in radio frequencies.

machine-washable, adj. The clothing label term caught on in 1963, highlighting a tipping point in the market penetration of washing machines.

man-rating, n. (also man-rate, v.) Another space term, man-rating was NASA’s term for certification that a space vehicle was safe for human flight.

Mersey, n. Merseyside, after the name of the river, had been a term for Liverpool and its environs since the 1920s, but in 1963 Mersey also came to denote the style of music played by those four Liverpudlians, John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

microtechnology, n. Microelectronics and miniaturization were also an outgrowth of the space race. When you’re launching something into orbit, smaller is cheaper.

mind game, n. It’s not clear which sense of mind game came first, a brain teaser or a way of manipulating someone else.

miniseries, n. The television miniseries had its debut in 1963. The first citation in the OED refers to Your Hit Parade, which ran for five weeks in summer of 1963 on CBS-TV.

nannydom, n. An overprotective government is nothing new. Nannydom is from 1963. Nanny state appears two years later.

neuroscience, n. I would have guessed this one to be much earlier.

n-gram, n. Most people who are aware of the term n-gram know it from Google searches. But the word meaning a sequence of characters of variable length has been floating about the worlds of linguistics and computing for a long time.

old money, adj. and n. New money dates to at least 1875, but evidently no one thought to coin its antonym until nearly a hundred years later. [Languagehat has antedated this one, possibly to as early as 1949.]

Pinyin, n. The First National People’s Congress of China approved the Pinyin transliteration system in 1958, and within five years the name was in use in English.

quasi-stellar, adj. In the late 1950s radio astronomers began to observe strange radio sources coming from very distant point sources with no corresponding visible objects. In 1963 astronomers dubbed them quasi-stellar radio sources, and a year later had clipped that to simply quasar. The objects remained a mystery for decades, but it is now known the radio waves come from the accretion disks around super-massive black holes at the heart of extremely distant galaxies.

rent-a-cop, n. The term for a security guard makes the rounds.

rumspringa, n. In some Amish communities adolescents are given a period of personal freedom lasting about a year where they are given permission to engage in what would normally be prohibited activities before deciding to settle down and become adult members of the community. Rumspringa is Pennsylvania German meaning “to run around.”

scam, n. (also scam, v.) The OED says this slang word for a fraud or swindle hustles its way into mainstream lingo in this year, but Green’s Dictionary of Slang records the verb from 1958.

snarf, v.  The verb to snarf means to eat greedily, like an animal. American Speech records it from 1963, although that journal also records the use of snarf as a noun meaning “food” from 1958. The similar U. S. slang verb to scarf dates to 1960. Both of these are probably variants of the nineteenth-century verb to scoff, meaning to eat voraciously.

spacewalk, n. Officially dubbed extra-vehicular activity or EVA by NASA, the noun spacewalk dates to 1963, although the first one would not take place until March 1965 when cosmonaut Alexey Leonov took a spacewalk from his Voskhod-2 craft.

supercontinent, n. It took decades, but Alfred Wegener’s theory of continental drift had become mainstream geological thought by the 1960s. The term supercontinent, referring to any of the major landmasses that had existed in the past, was one result.

surfari, n. Surf culture was big in the early 1960s, and surfers in search of the best conditions would often go on surfaris to exotic locales. The phrasal surf safari is a bit older, dating to at least 1959.

telecom, n. The clipping of telecommunications makes its appearance.

Third World, n. and adj. French sociologist Georges Balandier coined the term Tiers Monde in 1955, and within a decade there was an English calque.

twink, n.3 and adj. This gay slang term for a young-looking, effeminate man is recorded by American Speech in 1963.

Water Pik, n. The oral hygiene appliance was trademarked in 1963.

zip, n.2 The U. S. Postal Service introduced zip codes (i.e., postal codes) in 1963. This use of zip is an acronym for zone improvement plan.

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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