The Oxford English Dictionary has 363 words with first citations from 1964. In that year, mack daddies consorted with skanks and hos; Japan gave us both ninjas and yakuza; schlubs and dorks occupied the lower rungs of the social ladder; newbie programmers were tossing bad BASIC programs into the bit-bucket; and the frug was the coolest thing at the disco.
Events of 1964:
- January: The U. S. Surgeon General declares that smoking may be hazardous to one’s health; Hello Dolly! opens on Broadway; writer T. H. White and actor Alan Ladd die.
- February: The Beatles’s I Want to Hold Your Hand rises to #1 on the U. S. singles charts, and the Fab Four arrive in New York, launching rock’s “British Invasion;” Muhammad Ali beats Sonny Liston to become heavyweight boxing champion;.
- March: In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan the U. S. Supreme Court rules that speech critical of public figures cannot be censored; the Ford Mustang hits the road; Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor marry for the first time; a magnitude 9.2 earthquake strikes Anchorage, Alaska, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the United States; the game show Jeopardy! premieres.
- April: The top five positions on Billboard’s Top 40 are all held by Beatles songs; The Rolling Stones release their debut album; BBC2 television begins broadcasting; the New York World’s Fair opens; U.S. General Douglas Macarthur dies.
- May: the BASIC computer language debuts; Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru dies.
- June: Nelson Mandela is sentenced to life in prison in South Africa; the Ku Klux Klan murders three civil rights workers near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
- July: President Lyndon Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law; U. S. troops in Vietnam rise to 21,000.
- August: Warner Bros. shuts down its cartoon division, ending the Looney Tunes series; The destroyer USS Maddox is attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin and two-days later the ship and the USS C. Turner Joy report being attacked again, although the second “attack” was simply panic over ghost radar images; Disney’s Mary Poppins premieres; writers Flannery O’Connor and Ian Fleming die.
- September: The Warren Commission releases its report on the Kennedy assassination, declaring that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; Pete Townshend of The Who destroys his first guitar.
- October: Three thousand University of California Berkeley students protest the arrest of a Congress of Racial Equality member, launching the Free Speech movement; Khrushchev is deposed, replaced by Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin; China tests s a nuclear weapon; actor Eddie Cantor, composer Cole Porter, jeweler Pierre Cartier, and former U. S. president Herbert Hoover die.
- November: Britain abolishes the death penalty for murder; the Verrazano Narrows Bridge opens, at the time the longest suspension bridge in the world; Belgian troops intervene to end the Simba Rebellion in the Congo.
- December: Martin Luther King, Jr. receives the Nobel Peace Prize; the stop-motion film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer premieres on US television; in New York, comedian Lenny Bruce is sentenced to four months in prison for obscenity; singer Sam Cooke and the much-wed Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel die.
The words of 1964:
Apgar, n. Anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar proposed her one-to-ten scale for evaluating the health of a newborn infant in 1953, but it took over ten years for her name to become attached to the method.
A-team, n. The television show debuted in 1983, but the term A-team originally referred to the basic unit of the U. S. Army Special Forces, a. k. a. the Green Berets, that served as military advisors in Vietnam and elsewhere. In the mid-1970s, the sense of A-team meaning the best players on a sports team arose in British sportswriting. This sense was probably originally unconnected with the U. S. military term, but the two terms have become conflated since, due in large part to the television show.
BASIC, n.2 The computer language was invented at Dartmouth College in 1964. The BASIC name is an acronym for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.
bit-bucket, n. The original bit-bucket was actually a bucket. The 1964 OED’s citation refers to the waste receptacle used to collect the discarded chads from keypunch cards. But bit-bucket soon transformed into the metaphorical destination for lost data.
braless, adj. Another 1960s meme makes its appearance.
cafe Americano, n. Often used deprecatingly by snooty foreign waiters, cafe Americano refers to the weak style of coffee typically drunk in the United States. But “weak” must be understood to refer to flavor, as the typical serving of cafe Americano contains more caffeine than a serving of espresso, although espresso does have more caffeine per unit of volume.
condo, n. This clipped form of condominium makes its appearance in 1964.
disco, n.1 Although the style of music wouldn’t become big until the late 1970s, this clipping of discotheque appears in 1964.
dork, n. This slang term originally meant “penis,” and morphed into the sense of a contemptible person by 1967. The OED records the “penis” sense from 1964, although the Historical Dictionary of American Slang has the spelling dorque from 1961.
Drake equation, n. Astrophysicist Frank Drake formulated his equation for calculating the number of technological civilizations in the universe in 1961, and by 1964 it was being called the Drake equation. Drake’s intent was not to actually come up with an answer, but to define the parameters for searching for extraterrestrial intelligence.
econo-, comb. form The original sense of this prefix refers to the factors of economics, as in econo-political. But within a year it was also being used to refer to things that were inexpensive, as in econowives, a term from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 The Handmaid’s Tale.
ephebophile, n. (and ephebophilia, n.) In psychological circles, ephebophilia refers to a sexual preference for mid-to-late adolescents, from the Latin and Greek ephebus meaning an adolescent male. It’s contrasted with hebephilia, from Hebe the cupbearer of the gods, a preference for early adolescents, and pedophilia, a preference for pre-pubescent children, although in popular use pedophilia is used to refer to all three categories. Wikipedia refers to Dutch uses of ephebophilia from as early as 1950, but the OED dates English usage from 1964.
ethnonym, n. This one is a borrowing from the Russian etnonim. An ethnonym is the name a people calls itself.
exacta, n. In horseracing, an exacta is a bet that selects the first two finishers in a race. It dates to 1964. The trifecta, where the bettor selects the top three finishers, crosses the wire in 1974.
frug, n. The frug hits the dance floor.
GIGO, n. Another computing acronym, this one is for garbage in, garbage out.
ho, n.6 The African-American slang variation on whore makes its debut in Roger Abrahams’s 1964 Deep Down in the Jungle, where it is spelled who’. Other early spellings include whoe and hoe before it settles on ho in the mid-1970s. Although ho comes from whore, it does not always specifically refer to a prostitute; it is often used simply as a derogatory term for “woman.”
immunosuppressant, adj. and n. A technical term that makes its appearance in this year. Immunosuppressive appears a year earlier.
in-joke, n. It’s hard to see how we got along without this one for so long.
kvetch, n. From the Yiddish, a kvetch is a complainer and appears in Saul Bellow’s 1964 novel Herzog. But the Dictionary of American Regional English records the verb being in use in 1950, so it’s been around the Jewish community for longer.
mack daddy, n. The African-American slang term for a pimp also appears in Abrahams’s Deep Down in the Jungle. By the 1990s mack daddy had acquired a sense of “playboy, successful and sexually attractive man.”
monokini, n. The monokini appeared in French in 1946 alongside the bikini, but evidently the monokini was bit too much, or rather too little, for the English-speaking world, taking a few decades to catch on here.
nad, n. The clipping of gonad, usually found in the plural nads, is recorded in American university slang.
ninja, n. and adj. The term for the Japanese stealth warrior makes its English debut in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel You Only Live Twice. The word is from nin ("endurance, stealth") + -ja (combining form for “person").
no-knock, adj. and n. No-knock warrants make their appearance in U. S. jurisprudence.
Nomex, n. The name for the heat-resistant fiber is trademarked in 1964.
nova, n.2 Smoked salmon from Nova Scotia started being called simply nova or nova lox in 1964. Although there is the single appearance of “cream cheese & novy on bagel” in a 1958 New York Times advertisement that indicates the word was in use earlier.
Paki, n. and adj. The derogatory term for someone from Pakistan, or more indiscriminately from South Asia in general, makes its debut.
park-and-ride, adj. and n. The commuting scheme went into effect in 1964 in response to suburban development.
picture phone, n. One of the many futuristic inventions demonstrated at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. We still don’t have them, although the technology has been in place for a long time. Videophone is older, appearing as early as 1955.
pizza face, n. Another university and high school slang term, this one for someone with acne.
point-and-shoot, adj. and n. Automatic-focus cameras make their debut.
Pop Tart, n.1 The toaster pastry hits the market.
quark, n.2 Physicist Murray Gell-Mann named the subatomic particle in 1963 and used quark in a published article for the first time in 1964. Gell-Mann first came up with the name kwork simply because he liked the sound of the nonsense word, but while reading James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake he came across the line “three quarks for Muster Mark.” The line struck him not only because the word was similar to the name he had devised, but because at the time quarks were thought to come in three flavors, up, down, and strange (three other flavors, charm, bottom, and top have since been discovered), and triplets of quarks form protons and neutrons. So Gell-Mann altered his name for the particle to match the word in Joyce.
queer-bash, v. This unfortunate practice gets its name in 1964. The form gay-bashing, which is more common in the United States, appears in the late 1970s.
ride-along, n. In 1964 the Chicago police began to take civilian observers with them on routine patrols as a public relations exercise, to allow the community to learn about the day-to-day routine of police work on these ride-alongs.
schlub, n. Another Yiddish words worms its way into English. A schlub is a worthless person.
Selectric, n. IBM filed for a trademark on its Selectric typewriters in 1964. It had started using the term in 1961.
sitcom, n. The clipping of situation comedy makes its way from television jargon into the wider world.
ska, n. The name of the music genre, a forerunner to reggae, appears in the pages of Kingston’s Daily Gleaner in 1964. The OED entry is from the 1989 second edition, so I imagine that it can be antedated by a more thorough search of electronic archives of Jamaican newspapers.
skank, n.2 The U. S. slang term for an unattractive, promiscuous woman hits the streets.
skateboard, n. Teenagers in Southern California had been putting wheels on boards for some time, but in 1964 they gave the vehicles a name.
Stasi, n. The East German secret police, the Staatssicherheitsdienst, had formed in 1950, but it took until 1964 for the organization’s nickname, the Stasi, to make its way into English. The first appearance is in English-language espionage fiction. [Languagehat has antedated this one to 1962.]
Strine, adj. and n. This pronunciation of Australian was coined by Alistair Morrison, a. k. a. Afferbeck Lauder, in 1964. Strine is used to denote anything from down under, but especially the language.
Suzuki, n. Named for violinist Shin’ichi Suzuki, the Suzuki method of musical instruction arose in Japan in mid-century and quickly spread to the rest of the world.
underkill, n. The Cold War term overkill dates to 1957, but within a few years, nuclear strategists started worrying that maybe they hadn’t built enough bombs and in his 1964 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater began to question whether or not there might be a problem of underkill.
vox pop, n. (and adj.) The clipping of the Latin vox populi “the voice of the people” starts being used by the media.
yakuza, n. American media took note of the Japanese term for gangster in 1964. The Japanese word yakuza is literally ya ("eight") + ku ("nine") + za ("three"), as a hand of 8–9–3 is the worst possible hand in a Japanese gambling game of Oicho-Kabu, a game similar to blackjack. [Languagehat has antedated this one to 1962.]
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.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton