1971 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 333 words with first citations from 1971. In that year, phreaks could use blue boxes to get toll-free calls without an 800 number; Deadheads started bringing lightsticks to concerts; addicts jonesed for a superfly fix; and techies played with motherboards and daemons.

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Events of 1971:

  • January: The CBS-TV sitcom All in the Family debuts; Idi Amin takes power in Uganda; Charles Manson and three women in his “family” are found guilty of the Tate-LaBianca murders; fashion designer Coco Chanel dies.
  • February: The Nasdaq stock exchange opens for business; the United Kingdom and Ireland both switch to decimal currency.
  • March: The Pakistani army occupies East Pakistan, which declares independence renaming itself Bangladesh; Joe Frazier defeats Muhammad Ali in the “fight of the century;” the Ed Sullivan Show goes off the air; U. S. Army Lieutenant William Calley is found guilty of twenty-two murders during the My Lai massacre; actor Harold Lloyd and television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth die.
  • April: In Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education the U. S. Supreme Court orders the forced busing of public school students to achieve racial desegregation; half a million people protest the Vietnam War in Washington, D. C.; gangster Joseph Valachi, composer Igor Stravinsky, and Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier die.
  • May: Amtrak rail service begins in the United States; a Harris Poll finds 60% of the American people oppose the war in Vietnam; World War II hero Audie Murphy dies.
  • June: The United States ends its trade embargo with China; the New York Times begins publication of the Pentagon Papers and in New York Times v. United States the U. S. Supreme Court rejects a government request for an injunction to prevent further publication; U. S. President Richard Nixon declares the “war on drugs;” Southwest Airlines begins operations; theologian Reinhold Niebuhr dies.
  • July: Project Gutenberg is launched with the electronic publication of the U. S. Declaration of Independence; the 26th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution lowers the voting age to eighteen; musicians Jim Morrison and Louis Armstrong die.
  • August: Violence continues to erupt in Northern Ireland, with British troop levels rising to over 12,000; Nixon announces the U. S. dollar will no longer be exchanged for gold and imposes wage and price controls; photographer Margaret Bourke-White dies.
  • September: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts opens in Washington, D. C.; riots break out at Attica Prison in New York state; Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Chinese defense minister Lin Biao die.
  • October: The Walt Disney World theme park opens in Orlando, Florida; the Knapp Commission on police corruption in New York City convenes; the United Nations admits the People’s Republic of China and expels the Republic of China (Taiwan); U. S. troop levels in Vietnam fall below 200,000.
  • November: Led Zeppelin release their fourth album, Led Zeppelin IV; a man calling himself D. B. Cooper hijacks a plane over Washington state, collects $200,000 in ransom money, then parachutes from the plane, never to be seen again.
  • December: Pakistan and India go to war; the Pakistani army in Bangladesh surrenders to the Indian Army, giving Bangladesh de facto independence; radio pioneer David Sarnoff and golfer Bobby Jones die.

The words of 1971:

800 number, n. AT&T introduced toll-free calling to numbers with an 800 area code in 1967, but the OED doesn’t record the use of 800 number to refer to them until a few years later.

amoxycillin, n. This form of synthetic penicillin gets its name in 1971.

Amtrak, n. The U. S. National Railroad Passenger Corporation also got a new moniker in this year.

Asperger, n. The name of the developmental disorder, a mild form of the autism spectrum, is named for Hans Asperger, the Austrian psychiatrist who first described the condition in 1944.

Black September, n. The Palestinian terrorist organization took its name from the events of September 1970, when Jordanian forces crushed Palestinian organizations operating in that country. Black September would become notorious in 1972 for the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games.

blue box, n. A blue box was a home-made electronic device that could generate the tones to unlock long-distance lines on pay phones, allowing for free calls. [cf. phreak]

boy toy, n. In 1971, a boy toy was a plaything that appeals to boys, like a G. I. Joe. It isn’t until the early 1980s that the term starts to denote a plaything that appeals to older women.

bubble wrap, n. The name bubble wrap was trademarked in the United States in 1971, with a claim that the company had been using the term for packing material since 1968.

codependence, n. This word appears first in mathematical and statistical circles. It isn’t until 1979 that the psychologists get hold of codependence.

daemon, n. UNIX programmers started referring to daemons in 1971, programs that would run in the background automatically when certain conditions were met. The term is just a playful metaphorical use of demon, but some interpret it as an acronym for either disk and execution monitor or device monitor.

Deadhead, n.2 Fans of the Grateful Dead got their nickname in 1971.

Euro, n.2 The currency wouldn’t become a reality until the late-1990s, but people started talking about the integrated European monetary system as early as 1971.

fajita, n. The name of the Mexican dish, literally “small strip” in American Spanish, starts appearing in English-language cookbooks.

gasohol, n. The mixture of gasoline and alcohol makes its debut.

gonzo, adj. and n. Hunter S. Thompson first uses gonzo to describe his style of subjective journalism, characterized by imaginative facts and exaggerated rhetoric, in 1971. How Thompson came upon the word is unknown, but it is probably from either the Italian gonzo ”foolish" or the Spanish ganso “goose, fool.”

jones, v. Green’s Dictionary of Slang has the noun jones “a drug user’s habit” from 1965, and by 1971 the verb to jones “to experience heroin withdrawal symptoms, to crave” appears.

Kwanzaa, n . The African-American holiday was first celebrated in 1966, but the name Kwanzaa didn’t become widely reported until 1971. The term is from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza “first fruits of the harvest.”

lightstick, n. The chemical illuminators hit the market.

misfold, v. (also misfolding, n. and misfolded, adj.) Proteins behaving badly.

motherboard, n. (also daughterboard, n.) Familial metaphors move into the world of electronics.

naproxen, n. The non-steroidal, anti-flammatory drug hits the market. The name is from [na]phthyl + pr[opionic] + ox[y] + en.

nonce, n.2 This nonce is a British underworld slang term for a sexual deviant, esp. a pedophile. The origin is uncertain, but it may come from nance or nancy or from the Lincolnshire regional term nonse “good-for-nothing person.” Green’s Dictionary of Slang records a 1970 use defined as “‘nonsenses’: sex cases, professional mental patients who live in a world of their own.”

phreak, n. (also phreak, v.) A phreak is one who uses an electronic device to get free phone calls. Phreak is a variation of freak, probably playing off phone, free call, and frequency as well. [cf. blue box]

pimpmobile, n. Unsurprisingly, the first citation of this word in the OED is from the pages of Playboy.

Provo, n.3 and adj. A clipping of Provisional Irish Republican Army. The organization formed in 1969 and within a couple of years had acquired its nickname.

pyro, n.2 The OED records the clipping of pyromaniac from this year.

reboot, v. Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft did not invent the practice.

REMF, n. More Vietnam slang. A REMF is a soldier in a non-combat role, a rear-echelon motherfucker.

Rohypnol, n. The proprietary name for flunitrazepam is trademarked in 1971. The nickname roofie doesn’t come into play until the mid-1990s.

romcom, n. Film industry slang for romantic comedy.

sizeism, n. Sizeism is now a serious term, referring to discrimination against overweight people, but it originally appeared as a parodic term in the pages of National Lampoon.

superfly, adj. and n. Superfly means “excellent,” and is commonly found as a descriptor of drugs. The OED records it from 1971, and Gordon Parks, Jr.’s blaxploitation film Super Fly, about a cocaine dealer trying to quit the business, appears the following year.

video, v. The noun is verbed in 1971.

yikes, int. Undoubtedly this one is older, but the OED has it from 1971. [Sobiest has antedated this one by several decades.]

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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