1975 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 256 words with first citations from 1975. In that year, you could get a set-top box that played Betamax videotapes; Page Three girls were nobody’s idea of womyn; computer scientist brainiacs played with fractals, Phong shaders, and wetware; and CAT scans revolutionized medicine, while Reiki began to scam sick people.

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Events of 1975:

  • January: The Altair 8800 microcomputer hits the market; the game show Wheel of Fortune debuts on NBC-TV; artist Thomas Hart Benton and stooge Larry Fine die.
  • February: Margaret Thatcher becomes leader of the British Conservative Party; writer P. G. Wodehouse and Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad die.
  • March: North Vietnam begins its final offensive against the south; shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia die.
  • April: Bobby Fischer forfeits his chess title to Anatoly Karpov; Bill Gates and Paul Allen found Microsoft; Saigon falls to North Vietnamese forces; Phnom Penh falls to the Khmer Rouge; Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, dancer Josephine Baker, photographer Walker Evans, and actor Fredric March die.
  • May: Khmer Rouge forces in Cambodia seize the U. S. ship S. S. Mayaguez, and the subsequent rescue operation results in fifteen U. S. servicemen killed; stooge Moe Howard dies.
  • June: The Suez Canal opens for shipping for the first time since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War; a shoot-out at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota results in the deaths of two FBI agents and one member of the American Indian Movement; actor Ozzie Nelson, and television writer/producer Rod Serling die.
  • July: An American Apollo spacecraft docks with a Soviet Soyuz craft in orbit; Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa goes missing.
  • August: The Helsinki Accords are signed, recognizing European territorial borders and laying the groundwork for human rights actions in Eastern Europe; composer Dmitri Shostakovich, former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and former Irish President Eamon de Valera die.
  • September: Patty Hearst is arrested; in two separate incidents, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson, and Sara Jane Moore attempt to assassinate U. S. President Gerald Ford; baseball manager Casey Stengel dies.
  • October: Muhammad Ali defeats Joe Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila;” Saturday Night Live debuts on NBC-TV; Peter Sutcliffe, the “Yorkshire Ripper,” commits his first murder.
  • November: The United Nations General Assembly passes Resolution 3379, equating Zionism with racism; Generalissimo Francisco Franco dies, and is still dead.
  • December: The U. S. federal government bails out a bankrupt New York City; the Communist Pathet Lao takes power in Laos.

The words of 1975:

bean-counter, n. Bean has been used as a word for something of trivial value since the thirteenth century, but it wasn’t until 1975 that we started calling accountants bean-counters.

Betamax, n. Sony first produced its Betamax format videocassettes in 1975. The beta- is neat because it works in multiple languages. In Japanese, -beta means “all over.” In European languages, of course it references the second letter of the Greek alphabet and is used in various technical applications.

brainiac, n. and adj. The OED records the slang term meaning “a smart person” from 1975, but I suspect it is older. In the late 1950s, Brainiac was both a comic book villain, a foe of Superman, as well as a kit for creating electronic devices. The word is modeled after the early computer Eniac.

brown dwarf, n. Astronomer Jill Tarter coined this term for an object intermediate in size between a large, Jupiter-like planet and a star in her 1975 Ph.D. thesis.

camp-on, n. One of the many features of the telephone invented by AT&T, but which never saw the light of day until the U.S. government broke the company up and required it to compete for customers, camp-on is the ability to continually ring a busy number until it becomes free.

CAT, n.6 This acronym stands for computerized axial tomography or computer-assisted tomography. CAT scans would revolutionize medicine.

deconflict, v. A military jargon term. To deconflict airspace is to coordinate aircraft and ground forces so that they do not collide with or fire upon one another.

downsize, v. In 1975 this meant literally to reduce the size of something and was chiefly used in reference to automobiles, which given the relatively high price of gasoline were getting smaller in the 1970s. It isn’t until around 1990 that to downsize came to mean “to dismiss from employment.”

ecotopia, n. Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel Ecotopia was about a fictional country where environmental concerns were paramount. By 1979, the word was being used generally to refer to societies that existed in equilibrium with the natural world.

fractal, n. (and adj.) Benoit Mandelbrot wrote Les Objets Fractals in 1975. A fractal is a mathematically generated curve where any part, once enlarged, exhibits the same shape as the whole.

fundie, n. and adj. The clipped colloquialism for fundamentalist makes an appearance.

keypad, n. The name for a small, often handheld, data entry device appears as well.

Maunder minimum, n. The period of low solar activity between 1645–1715, coinciding with the “Little Ice Age,” is named for English astronomer Edward Maunder (1851–1929) who first identified it.

meister, n. The colloquial term appears, usually as the final element in a compound. The 1975 citation in the OED refers to Paul McCartney as a schmaltzmeister.

micromanagement, n. The management style has never been considered a good thing.

near-death, adj. Near-death experiences (also known as symptoms of oxygen deprivation) get their name.  [Aldiboronti has antedated this one to 1973.]

outcall, n. and adj. A prostitute who visits a client at his (or her) home or hotel is said to be performing outcall service. The OED doesn’t have an entry for the antonym, incall, where the client visits the prostitute in her or his home or place of business.

Page Three, n. The semi-nude women appearing on page three of Britain’s Sun tabloid, and later other newspapers, were unimaginatively dubbed page-three girls. Rupert Murdoch is such a classy guy.

peta-, comb. form In 1975 the International Committee on Weights and Measures (CIPM) assigned the prefix peta- to the power of 1015, a quadrillion. So a petabyte is 1,000 terabytes, which is 1,000,000 gigabytes.

Phong, n. This one is pretty obscure, but since I used to work in computer graphics I’m compelled to include it. In 1975, Bui Trong-Phong published his doctoral dissertation in which he described a model for illuminating three-dimensional objects created in a computer graphics system, giving rise to the term Phong shading.

playlist, n.2 Originally this was radio jargon, but playlists have since gone consumer with the advent of MP3 players.

Post-it, n. The 3M company began marketing Post-it notes in this year.

psychobabble, n. Pretentious misuse of psychological jargon gets a name.

reiki, n. From the Japanese word for “mysterious/miraculous sign,” this form of quackery comes ashore in California in 1975 and makes it big in the alternative medicine scene.

Ripperologist, n. Jack the Ripper enthusiasts give themselves a name.

rope-a-dope, n. This is the name given to the strategy Muhammad Ali used against George Foreman in the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle,” in which Ali assumed a protective stance, using the ropes surrounding the ring as a support, allowing Foreman to tire himself out by striking Ali with ineffective blows.

set-top, adj. Usually found in the phrase set-top box, which refers to a standalone decoder that allows analog television to display a digital signal, the adjective can be applied to any number of television accessories.

underperform, v. A business jargon term referring to investments and companies that don’t do as well as expected.

Vuitton, n. Designer Louis Vuitton began making luggage and other products back in the nineteenth century, but it isn’t until the 1970s that the name makes its mark. The name Louis Vuitton was trademarked in the United States in 1976.

wetware, n. Computer scientist begin to speculate on how to use chemicals to perform arithmetic operations and jocularly extend the word wetware to refer to the human brain.

womyn, n. Feminists create this alternative spelling of women, excising the men.

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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