The Oxford English Dictionary has 281 words with first citations from 1972. In that year, Hispanics and Latinas showcased America’s ethnic diversity; pre-loved was a cringe-inducing euphemism; blaxploitation films were big in the movie theaters, while small-screen comedy moved into the Pythonesque; high-tech weapons like Tasers started to appear; and some employees of the White House were arrested breaking into the Watergate.
Events of 1972:
- January: Six men rob the safety deposit boxes at New York City’s Pierre Hotel of $4 million; the RMS Queen Elizabeth burns and capsizes in Hong Kong Harbor; the British Army kills fourteen unarmed civil rights marchers in Derry, Northern Ireland on “Bloody Sunday;” gospel singer Mahalia Jackson dies.
- February: U. S. President Richard Nixon makes a state visit to China.
- March: Clifford Irving admits to fabricating an autobiography of reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes; North Vietnam begins its Easter Offensive against South Vietnam; The Godfather hits U. S. theaters; artist M. C. Escher dies.
- April: The United States and the Soviet Union sign the Biological Weapons Convention; women are allowed to compete in the Boston Marathon for the first time.
- May: Nixon orders the mining of Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam; Alabama Governor George Wallace is shot; a mentally disturbed Laszlo Toth attacks Michelangelo’s Pieta with a hammer; Magnavox demos its Odyssey video game platform; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover dies.
- June: Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, and various others of the Red Army Faction are arrested; operatives of Nixon’s re-election campaign are arrested breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.
- July: Actor Jane Fonda tours North Vietnam; Egypt expels its Soviet military advisors; U. S. researchers end the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, in which African-American patients were deliberately left untreated to research the effects of the disease.
- August: Democratic vice-presidential nominee U. S. Senator Thomas Eagleton withdraws from the race when it is revealed he had sought psychiatric treatment for depression and nervous exhaustion, including electroconvulsive therapy and thorazine; the last U. S. ground troops are withdrawn from Vietnam; Idi Amin announces the expulsion of Asians with British passports from Uganda.
- September: Eleven Israeli athletes are murdered by the Black September group at the Munich Olympics; Bobby Fischer defeats Boris Spassky to become world chess champion; the game show The Price Is Right, hosted by Bob Barker, premieres on CBS-TV.
- October: Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex is published; the U. S. FBI hires women agents for the first time; paleontologist Louis Leakey, astronomer Harlow Shapley, helicopter pioneer Igor Sikorsky, and baseball player Jackie Robinson die.
- November: The Dow Jones Industrial Average closes above 1,000 for the first time; Atari releases its first video game platform; poet Ezra Pound dies.
- December: Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt of Apollo-17 are the last humans to walk on the moon; Operation Linebacker II, the “Christmas bombings” of Vietnam take place; former U.S. President Harry Truman and former Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson die.
The words of 1972:
Ameslan, n. The acronym for American Sign Language debuts in 1972.
anonymized, adj. The OED marks anonymized as “chiefly Med.” in reference to medical records, but the word has broader applications.
Atkins, n.2 The high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet has been around for a long while. Why the diet caught on in the twenty-first century after decades of demonstrated failure as a weight-loss tool is a bit of a mystery.
beer pong, n. The classic drinking game wasn’t so classic in 1972.
blaxploitation, n. The film genre came on like gangbusters, with hits like Shaft (1971), Super Fly (1972), and Blacula (1972).
Bloody Caesar, n. Allegedly invented in Calgary in 1969, the OED records this drink from 1972. A Bloody Caesar is vodka and Clamato juice. I guess they’ll drink anything in Alberta.
congressperson, n. The federal government goes unisex.
cringe-inducing, adj. Cringe-making appears in 1969, this one in 1972, and cringeworthy in 1977. Obviously, 1970s’ culture required a lot a words for this concept.
de-accession, v. The OED records the noun (1973) as being derivative of the verb, which is odd as de-accession is morphologically a noun form. Museums and libraries de-accession articles they no longer need in their collections.
Dorothy, n. By 1972, the name Dorothy is being used to refer to a gay man, after Judy Garland’s character in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. By the mid-80s we also get Dorothy’s friends and friends of Dorothy, referring to gay men more generally.
felch, v. The name of the sexual practice dates to 1972. I’m not going to describe it here, and if you look up what it means, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Some things cannot be unlearned.
flextime, n. (also flexitime, n.) The practice of letting employees schedule their own work hours gets its name in 1972.
fuck-me, adj. Most often used in reference to shoes, fuck-me pumps or fuck-me heels, this no-nonsense adjective describes those things that invite sexual advances.
Gaia, n. From the ancient Greek name for the personified earth that gave birth to the titans, chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis put forward the Gaia hypothesis in 1972, which envisions the earth’s ecosystem as a vast and unitary self-regulating organism.
gorp, n. The name for trail mix appears. Gorp is often claimed to be an acronym for good old raisins and peanuts, and but is more likely from the 1913 U. S. slang term meaning “to eat greedily.”
Greenpeace, n. The organization was founded in Vancouver in 1971.
gut-wrenching, adj. There’s not much to say about this descriptive adjective.
high-tech, adj. and n. The full term high-technology appears in 1939. The first citation of the clipped high-tech in the OED is from Stewart Brand’s 1972 Last Whole Earth Catalog, that iconic product of the counter-culture, which is somewhat fitting as much of the Silicon Valley computer culture grew out of the social movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Hispanic, adj. and n. A surprisingly recent addition to the language.
Hold ‘Em, n. The name of this variety of seven-card stud is also quite recent.
Latina, n. and adj. This one goes along with Hispanic. Ethnic identification appears to be a theme of the 1970s. The masculine Latino dates to 1946.
mega-million, adj. and n. The effects of inflation hit the language, requiring new words for the super-rich.
non-Hodgkin, adj. The name Hodgkin’s disease dates to the mid-nineteenth century, after Dr. Thomas Hodgkin. But it wasn’t until 1972 that doctors began to characterize other forms of lymphoma in contrast to Hodgkin’s.
number-crunching, adj. The noun number crunching, meaning “processing large amounts of data,” dates to 1968. The adjective appears by 1972.
pre-loved, adj. The euphemism pre-owned appears in 1934, but marketers in the 1970s took euphemism to new depths with this one.
Pythonesque, adj. The comedy troupe gets its own OED entry.
retro, adj. and n.2 The term for the instantiation of a nostalgic impulse dates to 1972.
RICO, n.2 and adj. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act was passed by the U. S. Congress in 1970. Within a couple of years, RICO and mob prosecutions were trending.
scammer, n. A bit surprised that this one didn’t arise earlier. It’s a rather obvious word. [Sobiest has antedated scammer to at least 1963.]
Singlish, n. In 1972, Singlish referred to the dialect of English spoken in Sri Lanka, a blend of Sinhalese and English. A decade later, by 1984, the word was being used to denote the variety spoken in Singapore, combining Chinese, Malay, and English.
Taser, n. The weapons have been around longer than one might think.
Watergate, n.3 If you had to select a word that dominated the news of the first part of the decade, it would have to be Watergate, without a doubt the biggest political scandal in U. S. history. The name of the Washington hotel and office complex housing the Democratic National Committee was broken into by Republican operatives working for the White House, and became the moniker for the break-in, the cover-up, and the web of illegal activities undertaken by the Nixon Administration. By 1973, simply the suffix -gate was enough to denote a political scandal.
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 1997-2013, by David Wilton