1976 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 261 words with first citations from 1976. In that year, one could download data from an Ethernet; Ebola and retroviruses scared the pant off biologists; boomers took to Jazzercise and boogie boards; BAFTA and Bollywood began to compete with the American film industry; and memes became a meme.

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Events of 1976:

  • January: The Cray-1 supercomputer debuts; the Concorde begins commercial flights; Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, writer Agatha Christie and entertainer Paul Robeson die.
  • February: Physicist Werner Heisenberg and actors Lee J. Cobb and Sal Mineo die.
  • March: Britain begins direct rule of Northern Ireland; Argentinean President Isabel Peron is deposed; the New Jersey Supreme Court rules that coma victim Karen Ann Quinlan can be disconnected from life support (she breathes on her own, remains comatose, and eventually dies in 1985); Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery dies.
  • April: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak found Apple Computer; the Ramones release their first, self-titled, album; artist Max Ernst and billionaire aviation pioneer Howard Hughes die.
  • May: Red Army Faction member Ulrike Meinhof is found hanged in her Stuttgart prison cell; Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the first wave of attacks on Pearl Harbor dies.
  • June: The British-Icelandic Cod Wars come to an end when Britain agrees not to fish in the disputed waters off Iceland; the Soweto Uprising occurs in South Africa as students protest apartheid; the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association agree to merge; the CN Tower in Toronto opens to the public, at the time the tallest free-standing structure in the world; billionaire industrialist J. Paul Getty dies.
  • July: The United States celebrates two-hundred years of independence; the U. S. Supreme Court rules that the death penalty does not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment,” and is thus not inherently unconstitutional; Israeli commandos free 103 hostages held at Entebbe airport in Uganda; women are admitted to the U. S. service academies; Nadia Comaneci scores seven perfect scores of ten at the Montreal Olympics; the Viking-1 lander sets down on Mars; twenty-nine delegates to the American Legion convention in Philadelphia die of what will become known as Legionnaire’s disease.
  • August: Two U. S. soldiers are killed in the Korean demilitarized zone as they attempt to chop down a tree that obscured their view; the first known outbreak of Ebola virus occurs in Zaire.
  • September: Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko flies to Japan in his MiG-25 fighter and defects to the United States; Mao Zedong dies.
  • October: During a televised debate with Jimmy Carter, U. S. President Ford says “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe;” organized crime boss Carlo Gambino dies.
  • November: Jimmy Carter is elected President of the United States; writer Andre Malraux and actor Rosalind Russell die.
  • December: The Eagles release the album Hotel California; Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley dies.

The words of 1976:

BAFTA, n. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts was founded in 1976.

barbie, n.2 The Australian shorthand for barbecue appears.

Bollywood, n. The Indian film industry takes its name from a blend of Bombay and Hollywood.

boogie board, n. Also known as a bodyboard, although that name comes along a few years later, a boogie board is a short, wide surfboard meant to be ridden in a prone position.

boomer, n.3 The clipping of baby boomer, which dates to 1970, makes its appearance.

buyout, n. Mergers and acquisitions started to become the big thing on Wall Street in the late 70s. A buyout is a purchase of controlling interest in a corporation, usually by management or employees.

commoditized, adj. The adjective appears in 1976, although the noun commoditization is from 1949.

ditzy, adj. The adjective ditzy is recorded from the mid-1970s, but its roots are probably much older. Its origin is not certain, but it probably comes from the African-American slang dicty, which dates from 1916 and originally meant “a snob,” or when used as an adjective, “snobbish, pretentious.” By the 1930s the word was being used to mean “high-class, elegant.” And this is the earliest meaning of ditzy as used in 1976, but by 1979 the sense of “scatterbrained” was in place.

download, v. The computing term makes its appearance. The noun download appears in 1977, as does the computing use of the antonym to upload, although the verb to upload dates to the nineteenth century in the sense of lading a vehicle with cargo.

Ebola, n. An outbreak of the disease erupted in 1976 along the banks of the Ebola River in Zaire, giving the virus its name.

endorphin, n. The brain peptide was identified in 1976.

Ethernet, n. The name for this type of computing network, named for the luminiferous ether of old, was first used at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) in California in 1973, but Ethernet makes its way into a published paper by researchers from PARC in 1976.

extra-virgin, adj. and n. This one sounds strange to the ear as virgin is a binary concept. Something either is or isn’t virgin and can’t be modified by other adjectives. But extra-virgin as applied to olive oil is really just the concatenation of two unrelated adjectives. The use of extra to describe olive oil dates to the 1950s and refers to its purity and maximum acidity. The virgin is added in 1976 and emphasizes that such olive oil comes from the first pressing.

fast-tracking, n. The term for the placing of a person on a rapid schedule for promotion or a product for rapid development dates to this year, although the adjective fast-tracked is attested from 1972.

fembot, n. The science fiction term for a robot with feminine appearance makes its appearance in the 1976 TV series The Bionic Woman.

garbology, n. Refuse heaps have always been considered archeological treasure troves, but the study of what civilization have tossed aside got a name in 1976. Although garbologist, in the sense of dustman or trash collector, dates to the mid-1960s.

Hawking, n.2 In 1974 physicist Stephen Hawking proposed that particle/anti-particle pairs could form in the vicinity of black holes, and the resultant Hawking radiation got its name two years later.

Jazzercise, n. Exercising to music got this name in 1976, although dancercise dates to 1967.

Lyme, n. An outbreak of an arthritic disease occurred in 1975 in the town of Lyme, Connecticut. By the next year the disease had acquired its name.

meme, n. In his 1976 The Selfish Gene, biologist Richard Dawkins proposed that cultural traits could be passed from person to person in a manner analogous to genetic information. Dawkins coined the word meme as the unit of transference, analogous to gene.

mud-wrestle, v. The verb appears in 1976, but mud-wrestler was at least forty years old at that point, so the form of entertainment is nothing new.

no-tell motel, n. The OED records this name for a place for illicit assignations from 1976, although the Historical Dictionary of American Slang has an oral use of no-tell motel from two years earlier.

nouvelle cuisine, n. and adj. The name for the style of cooking appears in French in 1972 and makes its way into English by 1976.

off-patent, adv. and adj. Often used with pharmaceuticals, this term referring to the expiry of patent restrictions appears in this year.

out year, n. A financial term referring to the period beyond the current budget cycle.

packetized, adj. A computing adjective referring to the partitioning of data for distribution over a network. The verb to packetize appears two years earlier.

PIN, n.4 The personal identification number enters our lives.

public key, n. Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman published their paper on public key encryption in 1976, revolutionizing how data is secured over a network.

rack rate, n.2 The rack rate is the full price for a hotel room. The travel industry term dates to 1976. The OED relates it to the sense of rack meaning a wooden or metal frame, but why this word was chosen is a mystery to me. There is an older sense of rack rate, meaning “an exorbitant price,” that is related to being stretched, as if on a torture instrument, that dates to the seventeenth century.

retrovirus, n. This class of virus, which includes HIV, gets its name. The term retravirus, referring to the same type of virus, is a few years older.

roach motel, n. The name for the type of cockroach trap was trademarked in 1976.

Shar-Pei, n. The breed of dog is older, but they were first brought to the United States in numbers in the 1970s.

Thatcherite, n. and adj. Supporters of Margaret Thatcher, leader of the British Conservative Party in 1976, get their name.

user-friendly, adj. As computers became more and more mainstream, they also had to become more user-friendly.

wuss, n.2 This university slang term is probably a blend of wimp and pussy. The adjective wussy appears by 1977.

zeppole, n. The Italian fritter is Anglicized by 1976.

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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