The Oxford English Dictionary has 344 words with first citations from 1970. In that year, while the counter-culture was busy getting its ya-yas out, police on power trips were resorting to pepper gas; Reaganomics was sweeping California while liberation theology reigned in Latin America; corporate America introduced the Amex card and the Big Mac; in Vietnam, scared newbies were fragging their officers; and the strains of funkadelic and punk rock music began to compete over the radio airwaves.
Events of 1970:
- January: The Unix Epoch, the point from which most computer clock settings start counting, begins on 1 January 1970; the U. S. soap opera All My Children first airs on ABC-TV; the Biafran War ends.
- February: The heavy metal group Black Sabbath releases its first, eponymous, album; the Chicago Seven are found not guilty of inciting riots at the 1968 U. S. Democratic Party national convention; U. S. Army captain Jeffrey R. MacDonald kills his wife and children at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, claiming that “hippies” did it; philosopher Bertrand Russell and Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, fighter commander of the R. A. F. during the Battle of Britain die.
- March: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty enters into force; a bomb constructed by the Weather Underground prematurely explodes, killing three members of the radical organization.
- April: U. S. President Richard Nixon signs legislation banning cigarette ads from American television; the Beatles announce they have disbanded; an explosion aboard Apollo-13 aborts the third manned mission intending to land on the moon, but the three astronauts return safely to Earth; the first Earth Day is celebrated; the United States invades Cambodia to destroy communist Vietnamese bases operating from that country.
- May: Four students are killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio; the Beatles release Let It Be, their final album.
- June: The U. S. Senate votes to repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution which authorized the use of military force in Vietnam; writer E. M. Forster dies.
- July: Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 radio show debuts; the Aswan High Dam in Egypt is completed;
- September: In “Black September” King Hussein quashes Palestinian militants operating in Jordan; the Ford Pinto is introduced; Monday Night Football debuts on ABC-TV; rock star Jimi Hendrix dies of drug-related asphyxiation; Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and U. S. football coach Vince Lombardi die;
- October: Salvador Allende is elected president of Chile; the comic strip Doonesbury debuts; rock star Janis Joplin dies of a heroin overdose;
- November: Ronald Reagan is re-elected governor of California; Jimmy Carter is elected governor of Georgia; Charles de Gaulle dies.
- December: Richard Nixon signs the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law; cartoonist Rube Goldberg and boxer Sonny Liston die.
The words of 1970:
Amex, n.2 The American Express charge card was clipped to simply Amex in 1970. The clipping of American Stock Exchange is older, dating to 1961.
Big Mac, n. Wikipedia says that McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac sandwich in test markets in 1967 and across the United States the following year, but the OED doesn’t record a citation of the name until 1970.
bioethics, n. Advances in the biological sciences started raising moral issues.
biofeedback, n. Scientists began experimenting with the ability of people to alter normally involuntary physiological factors, such as blood pressure or heart rate.
counter-culture, n. The term that probably most completely sums up the late-1960s doesn’t appear until 1970.
detox, v. Originally this verb was something done to automobile exhaust systems. The application to drug and alcohol addiction doesn’t appear until 1972, and the noun meaning a place where drunks dry out isn’t in use until 1975.
digital radio, n. As used in 1970, this term applied to radios that with digital tuning. True digital radio, with a digital as opposed to analog signal, doesn’t appear until 1975, and commercial digital radio won’t be a success until the twenty-first century.
down-market, adj. and adv. This marketing term that categories the cheaper, low-end of a market appears in 1970.
electronic book, n. In 1970, electronic book was the electronic buying and selling of securities. The sense meaning “a book that could be read on an electronic device” appears in 1978. The clipped e-book appears in 1988.
Exocet, n. The French anti-ship missile is first deployed in 1970. The name is French for “flying fish.”
frag, v. From fragmentation grenade, soldiers in Vietnam who disliked a superior officer, especially one viewed as likely to get them killed, might frag him by rolling a grenade into his tent.
funkadelic, adj. (and n.) George Clinton’s band Funkadelic formed in 1968, and by 1970 the word was being applied more generally of the style of music they played. Funkadelic is, rather obviously, a blend of funk + psychedelic.
geospatial, adj. A rather useful, if jargony, term makes its debut.
herstory, n. The feminist refashioning of history appears.
humongous, adj. First recorded in U. S. university slang in 1970, the exact origin of humongous is indeterminate, but was undoubtedly influenced by such words as huge, monstrous, and tremendous.
kalashnikov, n. This name for the Soviet assault rifle makes its way into English by 1970. It’s named after its inventor, the Russian small-arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov. His AK-47 rifle appears, of course, in 1947, and by 1963 the designation AK-47 and the name Avtomat Kalašnikova start appearing in Western military references. It took a few more years for the standalone kalashnikov to catch on.
labradoodle, n. The cross between a Labrador retriever and a poodle was originally bred for the former’s temperament and the latter’s hypoallergenic fur to produce guide dogs for blind people allergic to dog hair.
liberation theology, n. Liberation theology comes from Roman Catholic theologians in Latin America who advocated the church take a larger role in opposing political and economic oppression. It appears as the Spanish teologia de la liberación in 1968, and within a few years the English calque surfaces. Needless to say, the ideas of liberation theology are not popular with the Vatican today.
line in, n. (also line out, n.2) Single-pin plugs and sockets for audio input and output begin to appear.
mau-mau, v. Writer Tom Wolfe coins this verb from the militant movement that opposed British rule in Kenya in the 1950s. To mau-mau someone is to menace or intimidate them. It appears in Wolfe’s Radical Chic & Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers, published in 1971.
Nerf, n.2 The foam rubber toys hit the market in 1970. The origin of the name Nerf is uncertain, but there is the auto racing slang verb to nerf from 1953 that means “to bump another car.”
newbie, n. Another Vietnam-era military slang term. A newbie was a replacement soldier, and the term later came into use in other fields, particularly in internet discussion groups. to refer to a tyro in that field.
Norman Rockwell, n. By 1970 the artist’s name had come to designate any vision of quaint, small-town America.
pepper gas, n. The name for the irritant gas used by police is because it is based on chemicals produced by capsicum (pepper) plants. But despite the chemical’s origin, it is not food product, but a rather nasty industrial chemical. The more common term pepper spray appears in 1979 in the context of the chemical’s use as a pesticide and by 1986 in police use.
Popemobile, n. This informal name was given to the open-air limousines used by the pope on state visits. After the 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, the popemobiles were enclosed with bulletproof glass. Interestingly, the 1970 citation of the term in the OED is not in reference to the papacy, but rather to the Apollo-12 crew who used a similar vehicle while touring Iowa in that year.
power trip, n. The use of trip to denote a short pharmacological excursion is first used by Norman Mailer in his 1959 Advertisements for Myself. The noun was verbed by 1966, and that same year acid trip appears. And by 1968 a down trip was bad hallucinogenic experience. 1969 saw the noun move into the realm of metaphor with ego-trip, followed by power trip in 1970, and guilt trip in 1972.
primal scream, n. Primal therapy using, among other things, primal screams, were in vogue in 1970.
punk rock, n. This one appears in 1970, but at first punk rock doesn’t denote the musical genre we know today. The OED’s 1970 citation refers to “redneck sentimentality,” and the 1971 citation compares the singer to James Brown, so there doesn’t seem to be much agreement on what punk rock means in these early years other than an unpolished and aggressive performance. But by 1976 the term is being applied to “spiky teenage misfits” and groups like the Sex Pistols.
Reaganomics, n. This is another that has changed in meaning somewhat from its early years. In 1970 it was being applied to the fiscal policies of Ronald Reagan as governor of California. Of course, in the 1980s it became associated with the supply-side economic policies of President Reagan.
red card, n. The practice of referees using red cards to signal a soccer player being sent off started with the 1970 World Cup. The verb to red card appears by 1979.
Sallie Mae, n. The Student Loan Marketing Association wasn’t established by the U. S. federal government until 1972, but the name Sallie Mae appears a few years earlier in policy discussions. The abbreviation is patterned after the older Fannie Mae and Ginnie Mae.
shabu-shabu, n. The Japanese dish makes its appearance on Western menus.
Skylab, n. The Apollo Applications Program, NASA’s program to use the Apollo hardware and technology for other purposes, developed an orbiting laboratory, which was christened Skylab in 1972. The lab was launched in 1973 and manned by three different crews until 1974. Skylab deorbited in 1979.
telemedicine, n. The practice of doctors dispensing orders and advice over the telephone or radio was in place by 1970. By the 1990s, telemedicine had expanded to include remote control surgery, with the surgeon operating the instruments from a distant location.
-think, comb. form Why the OED dates -think, denoting a particular style of constrained thinking, from 1970 is not apparent. The form is apparently patterned after George Orwell’s 1949 doublethink, and groupthink appears by 1953. But the dictionary gives a 1970 citation of Mao think as the first citation of the combining form.
up-tick, n. The term for an upward trend, usually used for economic indicators, appears by 1970.
wallbanger, n. Harvey Wallbangers were a trendy libation in this year.
ya-yas, n. The 1970s would become known as the “me decade,” and the egocentric practice of getting one’s ya-yas out was emblematic of the era.
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