1984 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 163 words with first citations from 1984. In that year, netizens double-clicked to dump unwanted messages into kill files; a sneakernet was no guarantee of avoiding a computer virus; Macs rolled out of the fab; the FTSE appealed to paleo-conservatives; and yuppies became a social phenomenon.

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Events of 1984:

  • January: Apple introduces the Macintosh computer; fast-food mogul Ray Kroc and actor Johnny Weissmuller die.
  • February: Konstantin Chernenko becomes General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party; Soviet Leader Yuri Andropov dies.
  • March: Iran accuses Iraq of using chemical weapons against it; teachers at the McMartin Preschool in California are accused of satanic child abuse based on “recovered” memories, the charges are later dropped; actors Jackie Coogan, William Powell, and Sam Jaffe die.
  • April: U. S. President Ronald Reagan calls for an international ban on chemical weapons; musician Marvin Gaye, photographer Ansel Adams, U. S. General Mark Clark, and British Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris die.
  • May: The Soviet Union announces it will boycott the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics; TV game-show host Jack Barry and comedian Andy Kaufman die.
  • June: Virgin Atlantic Airways makes its first flight; blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman dies.
  • July: Vanessa Williams resigns her Miss America crown after nude photos of her, taken in 1982, are published in Penthouse magazine; pollster George Gallup and actor James Mason die.
  • August: Automaker John DeLorean is acquitted on all cocaine-related charges; while performing a mike check, President Reagan jokes that he has just ordered the nuclear bombing of the Soviet Union; actor Richard Burton, publisher Alfred A. Knopf, and writer Truman Capote die.
  • October: News of massive famine in Ethiopia reaches Western journalists; Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated; physicist Paul Dirac dies.
  • November: Ronald Reagan wins re-election to the presidency in a massive landslide.
  • December: A chemical leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India kills over 8,000; Bernhard Goetz shoots four African-American youths on the New York City subway who Goetz claims were trying to rob him; actor Peter Lawford and director Sam Peckinpah die.

The words of 1984:

boink, v. The verb meaning “to strike” dates to 1984, and by 1986 the meaning is extended to include “to have sexual intercourse.” But the noun boink, as in a boink on the head, goes back to 1963.

com, n. The com internet domain was proposed in 1984, with the first company registering such a name the following year. The term dotcom appears by 1994.

computer virus, n. The OED has computer virus from 1984, but the word virus had been used in reference to such hypothetical infectious programs in science fiction since at least 1972.

double-click, v. The familiar act gets its name.

fab, n. This clipping of fabrication appears in this year as a term for a manufacturing plant, especially one that makes microchips.

FTSE, n. (and Footsie, n.) The Financial Times and Stock Exchange index began on 4 January 1984. It was originally a joint venture of the Financial Times and the London Stock Exchange, but has since been spun off into an independent company.

freakazoid, n. The slang term for a strange person is recorded on U. S. university campuses in 1984.

fuckload, n. The unit of measure appears.

Hantavirus, n. The genus of virus was identified in 1984.

Hymie, n. By 1984, the familiar form of the Jewish personal name Hyman is being used as a derogatory term for Jews in general. [The Historical Dictionary of American Slang cites the derogatory use from 1973.]

kill file, n. Usenet newsreaders started incorporating a kill file feature by 1984, a file of user names and content keywords that could be used to prevent the display of unwanted messages. The verb to kill file appears by 1990.

Mac, n.5 Apple Computers introduced its Macintosh brand in 1984.

mousse, v. The verb meaning to apply a cosmetic preparation to the hair appears by 1984. The word is from the name for the dessert, originally French and referring to the bubbles in champagne. By the late nineteenth century, mousse was being used for the frothy dessert. The cosmetics industry started using the term as the name for a type of skin lotion in 1971, and transferred it to hair products by 1982.

netizen, n. The name for a citizen of the internet debuts. The full net citizen appears a year earlier.

paintball, n. The name for the capsules of pigment fired from guns is in place by 1984. By 1987, paintball is being used to refer to the war game.

paleo-conservative, adj. and n. This one is a retronym, necessitated by the rise of neo-conservatives.

plug-and-play, adj. and n. The term relating to electronic devices and components that can be swapped in and out quickly appears by 1984, but the verb dates to 1970.

repurpose, v. This verb originally meant to convert content for use on other recording media, but has since expanded in meaning to include adaptation of material for new uses.

shopaholic, n. The name for a compulsive shopper appears, modeled, of course, on alcoholic.

sneakernet, n. Another retronym, this one necessitated by the rise of Ethernet networks.

street-credible, adj. This adjective is recorded by 1984, although both street credibility and street cred date to at least 1979.

teraflop, n. The unit of, then hypothetical, computing speed is first used in this year.

vaporware, n. The term for software that is marketed but never actually created debuts.

versioning, n. This word operates in two distinct domains, both of which start using the term in 1984. Marketers use versioning to denote the practice of creating different models of a product for different markets, and software engineers use it to denote the management of multiple editions of a software program.

yuppie, n. Modeled after hippie, the young urban professionals were a phenomenon of the 1980s.

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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