1986 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 144 words with first citations from 1986. In that year, the music scene saw the rise of emo-core, house, and zouk music; glasnost and perestroika were attempts to future-proof the Soviet Union; people were skeeved over necklacing; and Botox began to be used for something other than killing people.

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Events of 1986:

  • January: Spain and Portugal join the European Community; the Voyager-2 spacecraft encounters Uranus; the space shuttle Challenger is destroyed during launch of STS-51-L; writer Christopher Isherwood, actor Donna Reed, and long-con artist L. Ron Hubbard die.
  • February: Steve Jobs purchases the Graphics Group of Lucasfilm, renaming it Pixar Animation Studios; Halley’s comet reaches perihelion; the Soviet Union launches the Mir space station; President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines goes into exile in Hawaii; Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme is assassinated.
  • March: A New York Times article reveals that former U. N. Secretary General and Austrian presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim may have been involved in Nazi war crimes; artist Georgia O’Keeffe, writer Bernard Malamud, and actors Ray Milland and James Cagney die.
  • April: A Berlin discotheque is bombed killing 3 and injuring 230 with Libya held responsible; the United States bombs Tripoli in response; Geraldo Rivera opens Al Capone’s secret vault on live television, only to find it empty except for some debris; the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine melts down; writer Simone de Beauvoir and film director Otto Preminger die.
  • June: Jonathan Pollard pleads guilty to selling U. S. military secrets to Israel; Kurt Waldheim is elected president of Austria; the first LISTSERV email system goes online; University of Maryland basketball player Len Bias is picked second in the NBA draft, only to die two days later of a cocaine overdose; musician Benny Goodman dies.
  • July: The Statue of Liberty is reopened to the public after renovation; Prince Andrew, Duke of York, marries Sarah Ferguson; U. S. Admiral Hyman Rickover, “father of the nuclear navy,” and diplomat W. Averill Harriman die.
  • August: U. S. Postal Service worker Patrick Sherrill guns down fourteen coworkers before committing suicide; lawyer and anti-communist Roy Cohn dies.
  • September: The Oprah Winfrey Show premieres.
  • October: News Corporation launches the Fox Broadcasting Company in the United States; Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Iceland, coming very close to an agreement to abolish nuclear weapons before talks collapse over Reagan’s insistence on keeping a missile defense system; Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner misses a routine ground ball in Game Six of the World Series against the New York Mets, allowing the Mets to survive and eventually win the championship.
  • November: It is revealed that the U. S. has been selling arms to Iran in order to obtain the release of hostages held in Lebanon and the profits diverted to assist the Contras in Nicaragua; boxer Mike Tyson wins the WBC heavyweight title; actor Cary Grant dies.
  • December: The Rutan Voyager aircraft completes the first non-stop, unrefueled circumnavigation of the globe; Soviet nuclear physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov is allowed to return to Moscow after five years of internal exile; actor Desi Arnaz dies.

The words of 1986:

biodiesel, n. The name of the alternative fuel appears, although bioethanol dates to 1980 and the more generic biofuel to 1974.

bioremediation, n. The name for the use of microrganisms to clean up oil and chemical spills debuts.

Botox, n. The clipping of botulinum toxin, one the deadliest poisons known to man, starts being used by the medical community in 1986. The initial uses of Botox are for legitimate medical purposes, such as treatment of dystonia and cerebral palsy. Cosmetic use of Botox doesn’t start appearing until the 1990s.

channel surf, v. Who says couch potatoes don’t get exercise?

dinky, n.4 This one is an acronym for dual income no kids, with the y sometimes read as yet. The shorter dink appears the next year.

emo-core, n. This clipping of emotional hardcore became the name of the popular music style and its associated subculture. By 1988 it had been further clipped to simply emo.

flatlined, adj. The adjective is found in 1986, but the verb meaning “to register horizontal output on an electrocardiogram” is found as early as 1980 and the noun flatline from 1976.

future-proof, v. The verb meaning “to protect against future developments, to forestall obsolescence” is found in this year, although the adjective future-proof can be found a few years earlier in 1983.

glasnost, n. This Russian word can be found in occasional unassimilated uses prior to 1986, but it was Mikhail Gorbachev’s use of glasnost as a name for his new policy of openness in political affairs that spurred its adoption into the general English lexicon. Glasnost can be found in Russian dictionaries from the nineteenth century with the sense of “publicity.” Lenin used the word to refer to freedom of information as well.

house, n.3 The name for the style of electronic dance music gets its name in 1986. It may be from The Warehouse, a Chicago discotheque that featured the music.

Mad Max, n. I have yet to figure out the OED’s differentiation between “adjective” and “attributive noun.” In this case, the definition and all of the OED’s citations use the term adjectivally, although of course Mad Max was originally the title of the 1979 Mel Gibson movie and thus a noun. The term is used to denote anything associated with a post-apocalyptic, anarchic future.

McJob, n. An allusion to the fast food chain, a McJob is a low-paying, low-skilled job with little or no opportunity for advancement.

Mir, n.4 The Soviets launched the Mir space station in 1986. Mir means “peace, world.” The station was deorbited in 2001.

necklacing, n. This word refers to a method of mob lynching or execution that arose in South Africa where a gasoline soaked tire would be placed around the victim’s neck and shoulders and set aflame. The use of the noun necklace to refer to such a tire is recorded a year earlier.

PEP, n.2 This is a British acronym for personal equity plan, which allows investors to acquire shares in a company with taxes on dividends and capital gains deferred until retirement.

perestroika, n. Another Russian word for a policy of Gorbachev that made its way into English. Perestroika means “restructuring, rebuilding.” Like glasnost, Gorbachev started using the word in 1985, but it took a year for it to make its way into English. And like glasnost, perestroika had been used earlier in the history of the Soviet Union as a name for various policies of economic reform.

po-mo, n.2 The clipping of postmodernism appears.

power shopper, n. Power shopper is cited by the OED from 1986, but power shopping appears a year earlier, meaning “shopping as an expression of one’s social status.”

rusticle, n. Coined by underwater explorer Robert Ballard in reference to his discovery of the wreck of the RMS Titanic the previous year, a rusticle is an elongated structure of iron oxide, fungus, and microorganisms, that grows on shipwrecks much like a stalactite in a cave or an icicle on an eave.

sippy cup, n. The type of spill-proof children’s cup gets its name.

skeeve, v. The U. S. slang word meaning “to disgust” makes its appearance, although the adjective skeevy is recorded a decade earlier. It may come from the Italian schifare “to loathe.”

studmuffin, n. The vegetarian alternative to beefcake becomes available.

zouk, n. The Caribbean style of music gets its name from the Antillean French creole word meaning “party.”

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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