1980 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 162 words with first citations from 1980. In that year, the computer world was all abuzz about RISC, coprocessors, and Usenet; foodies smacked their lips over Buffalo wings; comb-overs weren’t fooling anyone; and the inventors of Rubik’s cube and the Walkman cashed in, ka-ching!

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Events of 1980:

  • January: The U. S. government bails out the Chrysler Corporation; the price of gold on the London market reaches its all-time, inflation-adjusted high of US$850 per troy ounce; five American diplomats and another U. S. citizen who managed to escape the sacking of the U. S. embassy in Tehran are spirited out of Iran by the Canadian government; entertainer Jimmy Durante dies.
  • February: The news breaks that the FBI was posing as Arab businessmen in a sting operation against corrupt members of the U. S. Congress, an operation that would become known as Abscam; the U. S. hockey team defeats the Soviet team in the semifinals of the Lake Placid Olympics, and would go on to defeat Finland for the gold medal.
  • March: President Jimmy Carter announces a boycott of the summer Olympic games in Moscow due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; athlete Jesse Owens dies.
  • April: The Mariel boatlift begins as the Castro government in Cuba allows masses of people to depart to the United States; a commando mission to rescue the U. S. hostages in Iran ends in failure during a mid-air collision between two helicopters in the Iranian desert, killing eight U. S. servicemen; philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and film director Alfred Hitchcock die.
  • May: The volcano Mount Saint Helens in Washington state erupts, killing fifty-seven and creating billions of dollars in damages; the video game Pac-Man is released; Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back hits the theaters; Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito dies.
  • June: The Cable News Network (CNN) begins broadcasting; comedian Richard Pryor is badly burned while trying to freebase cocaine; the United States requires males aged 18–25 to register for potential military service.
  • July: Strikes begin in Lublin, Poland; deposed Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi dies in Cairo; actor Peter Sellers dies.
  • August: The strikes in Poland extend to the Gdansk shipyards; baby Azaria Chamberlain disappears at Ayers Rock in Australia’s Northern Territory, reportedly taken by a dingo; model and Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten is murdered.
  • September: Iraq declares war on Iran; the Mariel boatlift ends; the Solidarity union is created during the strikes at the Gdansk shipyard; Led Zeppelin drummer Jon Bonham dies.
  • October: Six imprisoned members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army begin a hunger strike that will last until December.
  • November: Ronald Reagan is elected President of the United States; Voyager-1 makes its closest approach to Saturn; the Gang of Four go on trial in China; a fire at the Los Vegas MGM Grand Hotel kills eighty-five; actors Steve McQueen and Mae West die.
  • December: Beatle John Lennon is murdered.

The words of 1980:

401(k), n. A 401(k) plan, named after the relevant section of the U. S. tax code, is a retirement plan that allows an employee to invest pre-tax income in an account where it is not taxed until withdrawn after retirement.

air-guitar, n. The term for an imaginary instrument used to mime along with music hits the stage.

aloe vera, n. From the Linnaean taxonomy of the plant from which it is derived, the name for the emollient used in cosmetics and skin care appears.

auto-completion, n. The computing feature used in word processing and other applications makes its debut.

biotech, n. This clipping of biotechnology, which dates to the 1920s, appears.

Buffalo, n.2 Buffalo chicken wings were first served at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York in 1964, but it took a couple of decades for the delicacy to catch on nationwide.

carbo-loading, n. The full carbohydrate loading appears in medical literature as early as 1963, but around 1980 endurance athletes took up the practice and the term, clipping it to just carbo-loading.

chuffing, adj. This British slang euphemism for “fucking” appears. The noun chuff, meaning “buttocks,” dates to at least 1945. The OED gives its origin as unknown, but Green’s Dictionary of Slang says it’s from the British dialectal chuff, meaning “fat, plump.”

cold call, v. The OED records both the verb to cold call and the corresponding noun, meaning “an unsolicited telephonic sales pitch,” from 1980. But the dictionary has cold calling from 1972, so the two base terms are likely somewhat older.

comb-over, n. The name of the men’s hair style that doesn’t fool anyone except the wearer debuts.

coprocessor, n. Beginning in 1980, many computers started coming with a second microprocessor, usually for floating-point mathematical calculations.

Dobsonian, adj. and n. In the 1950s San Francisco-based amateur astronomer John Dobson invented this design for a low-cost telescope that used a Newtonian optical tube assembly and a sturdy, wooden alt-azimuth mount. By 1980 amateur astronomers across the United States were building telescopes based on Dobson’s design.

electronica, n. The new musical style gets a name.

Euro, adj. The adjective, used for just about anything having to do with Europe, gets its start.

First Nation, n. The Canadian name for aboriginal Americans, usually found in the plural First Nations, starts to be widely used.

foodie, n. An aficionado of all things having to do with food. Cf. foodist from 1909.

gridlock, n. and adj. The descriptive term for severe traffic congestion appears.

hazmat, n. The clipping of hazardous material makes its appearance in fire and emergency response literature. The less familiar hazchem dates to 1976.

high-five, n. The origin of the gesture of two people slapping raised hands is disputed, but the OED records the name high five from 1980. The five is a reference to five fingers. The most common origin story for the gesture is from the 1977 baseball National League Championships when Dodger Glenn Burke allegedly slapped teammate Dusty Baker’s raised hand after Baker had hit a grand slam. The following year, the Dodgers did a lot of high-fiving. But tales of other athletes having originated the gesture abound.

infotainment, n. This class of television show, presenting documentary material using techniques common in entertainment is named. The synonymous, but less common, docutainment had appeared a few years earlier.

Islamophobic, adj. Commonly heard in our post-9/11 world, this word for a hatred or fear of Muslims goes back a ways. But the noun Islamophobia is even older, dating to 1923.

ka-ching, n. and int. This echoic term that imitates the sound of cash register is used to imply that money has been made on some transaction. The OED has it from 1980, but the ADS-L email list has antedated ka-ching to at least 1970, and the Harvard Lampoon’s 1969 parody Bored of the Rings uses ching for the same purpose.

Nimby, n. The acronym for not in my back yard starts to be used to describe objections to projects in one’s own neighborhood.

Norplant, n. The brand name for the long-term, subcutaneous method of female contraception appears.

pair-bond, v. The noun from 1940 is verbed. The gerund pair-bonding is found from 1961 and the adjective pair-bonded from 1972.

retronym, n. William Safire used this term in his New York Times language column starting in 1980. Safire claims that it was coined by Frank Mankiewicz of National Public Radio. A retronym is a term created for a long-standing concept because the original term has become ambiguous, often due to technical advances, such as analog clock or broadcast television.

RISC, n. Reduced instruction set computers make their appearance. This type of processor uses a relatively small set of instructions, enabling faster performance.

Rubik’s cube, n. Hungarian designer Erno Rubik invented his puzzle cube in 1974, but it took until 1980 for the worldwide marketing effort to take off.

super-max, n. and adj. The term is something of an oxymoron, but the adjective super-maximum has been around since at least 1917, and applied to the highest security prisons in the United States since at least 1954. By 1980, the term was being clipped to simply super-max.

Usenet, n. The computer communication system got its start at Duke University in 1979 and was named in 1980.

waitron, n. (also waitperson, n.) Waitron combines a genderless form with an implication of waiting tables as a mindless, robotic activity. Waitperson also gets its start in 1980.

Walkman, n. Sony’s portable cassette player hits the market.

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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