The Oxford English Dictionary has 127 words with first citations from 1989. In that year, people were afraid of youths on a wilding giving them a beat-down; lattes and cosmos were the drinks of choice; C-listers were hawking abdominizers on late-night television; boomerang babies were coming back; Billary were the ultimate Arkansas power couple; and LOL began appearing in Cyberia.
Events of 1989:
- January: The U. S. Navy shoots down two Libyan MiGs in the Gulf of Sidra (again); Cuban troops begin to withdraw from Angola; Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends begins to be broadcast in the United States; serial killer Ted Bundy is executed in Florida; Emperor Hirohito of Japan and artist Salvador Dali die.
- February: The last Soviet troops withdraw from Afghanistan; Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calls for the death of author Salman Rushdie for writing the novel The Satanic Verses; the first Global Positioning System satellites go into orbit; filmmaker John Cassavetes dies.
- March: Solar activity causes the collapse of the Hydro-Quebec power grid and auroras are seen as far south as Texas; researchers at the University of Utah bypass the typical peer-review path and publicly announce they have discovered cold-fusion, a claim that is quickly and embarrassingly disproven; the oil tanker Exxon Valdez runs aground and spills 240,000 barrels of oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska; photographer Robert Mapplethorpe dies.
- April: The U. S. government seizes the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, headed by Charles Keating, for mismanagement and fraud; Poland legalizes the Solidarity union; the death of reformer Hu Yaobang sparks protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square; activist Abbie Hoffman and boxer Sugar Ray Robinson die.
- May: Hungary dismantles the fence along its border with the West; Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega loses an election which he promptly declares void; the United States begins to deploy troops to Panama; the Tiananmen Square protests continue and China declares martial law; comedian Gilda Radner dies.
- June: Chinese troops quash the Tiananmen Square protests in a massacre; Solidarity wins in elections in Poland; the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C. removes an exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic photography; Ayatollah Khomeini dies.
- July: South African Prime Minister P. W. Botha meets with imprisoned Nelson Mandela; the television show Seinfeld premieres on NBC-TV; actress Rebecca Schaeffer, star of the sitcom My Sister Sam, is murdered by a fan, prompting anti-stalking legislation; Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is placed under house arrest; Nintendo releases the Game Boy portable video game system; Soviet diplomat Andrei Gromyko and actors Mel Blanc and Laurence Olivier die.
- August: Lyle and Erik Menendez shoot their parents; Voyager-2 makes its closest approach to Neptune; Pete Rose agrees to a lifetime suspension from baseball for gambling on the game; physicist William Shockley and Black Panther Huey Newton die.
- September: Vietnam ends its occupation of Cambodia; Baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, writer Robert Penn Warren, composer Irving Berlin, and former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos die.
- October: The 7.1-scale Loma-Prieta earthquake strikes the San Francisco Bay area; Erich Honecker, leader of East Germany, steps down from office for health reasons; Hungary replaces its Communist government.
- November: Douglas Wilder of Virginia becomes the first African-American governor of a U. S. state and David Dinkins becomes the first African-American mayor of New York City; East Germany opens border crossings, and the Berlin Wall is torn down.
- December: The Communist government of East Germany resigns; Czechoslovakia elects a non-Communist government; riots erupt in Romania, eventually resulting in the downfall and execution of leader Nicolae Ceausescu; physicist and peace activist Andrei Sakharov and playwright Samuel Beckett die.
The words of 1989:
abdominizer, n. Yes, even words that appear in infomercials make it into the OED.
APEC, n. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum was founded in 1989.
beat-down, n. This U. S. slang term for a pummeling or beating is recorded from 1989. The next year sees the similar smackdown.
Billary, n. It would be several years before the power couple of Bill and Hillary Clinton became a national topic of conversation, but by 1989 those in Arkansas were using this nickname for the governor and the state’s first lady.
biodome, n. This word began as the name for a specific building in Montreal. In 1989 plans got underway to convert an old velodrome into an ecological science exhibit hall. The Montreal Biodome opened its doors in 1992. Later the word entered general use to denote any such building. The related term biosphere is older, dating to the nineteenth century in reference to the region of the earth in which life exists. In 1987 construction on Biosphere 2 began in Arizona, a research facility that attempts to recreate a closed ecological environment.
B-lister, n.2 (also C-lister, n.) B-list goes back to 1928, but the term for those on it dates to about a half century later.
boomerang baby, n. A term that is first recorded in Toronto, but which was found throughout North America during economic hard times. A boomerang baby is an adult child who returns to live with his or her parents.
Bucky ball, n. The more playful name for a buckminsterfullerene appears.
character issue, n. This political term, referring to a political candidate’s personal morality, is first recorded in a 1989 Newsweek column by George F. Will in reference to the nomination of former U. S. Senator John Tower to be secretary of defense.
cosmo, n. The clipping of cosmopolitan, in the sense of the drink, appears by 1989. The full name for the drink has been in use since at least 1987. A cosmo consists of vodka, orange-flavored liqueur, cranberry juice, and lime.
crowd-surfing, n. Another one that originates in Canada, or at least is first recorded in Toronto’s Globe and Mail. Crowd-surfing is the practice of lying flat while being passed over the heads of a crowd. Crowd-surfing is often practiced by audience members at rock concerts who dive off the stage into the hands of their fellow audience members. The similar stage-diving dates to at least 1984.
Cyberia, n. A pun on Siberia, Cyberia is another name for cyberspace.
datasphere, n. Another synonym for cyberspace, only used in reference to the notional location of online data.
digicam, n. Originally a proprietary name, the term for a digital camera debuts. The OED’s citation records the 1989 price for the original Digicam: $19,000.
eco-friendly, adj. Although environmentally friendly is older, dating to 1971.
Game Boy, n. The hand-held game system by Nintendo hits the market.
gay-friendly, adj. Businesses were starting to become aware of the enormous economic power of the gay community.
hair band, n.2 Heavy metal music was big in 1989, as were the manes sported by the band members.
Helicobacter, n. Scientists split this genus off from Campylobacter in 1989. The species H. pylori has been found to be responsible for gastritis, gastric ulcers, and stomach cancer.
latte, n. 1989 saw the start of the espresso craze. The full caffé latte has been found in English since the mid-nineteenth century, but the clipping is more recent.
LOL, int. and n.2 Most people didn’t know the internet even existed when this abbreviation was coined.
MPEG, n. The name of this group of standards for digital compression and recording of sound and video stands for Moving Picture Experts Group, the committee that manages the standards.
overclock, v. To overclock a computer processor is to increase its speed beyond the design specification. Overclocking improves performance, with the drawbacks of shorter life and the creation of lots of heat, which can damage other components.
peasy, adj.2 (and int.) This is a clipping of the reduplicative children’s rhyme, easy peasy, which dates to at least 1976.
retcon, n. and v. A clipping of retroactive continuity, a term that dates to at least 1983. A retcon is where the author of a serial work introduces new information that alters the preceding narrative. A classic example of a retcon is the 1985-86 season of the TV show Dallas, which was revealed to be a dream of one of the characters, allowing the writers to ignore what had happened during that season when writing later episodes.
scrunchie, n. The name for elastic hairband (not hair band) dates to this year.
SIM, n.3 This abbreviation stands for subscriber identity module, which the European Community created a standard for in 1989, allowing phone numbers and billing information to be transferred to new mobile phones.
smash-mouth, adj. The term describing violent and aggressive play in sports makes its debut.
spillionaire, n. While the Exxon Valdez oil spill was unmitigated ecological disaster, many people got rich on the clean-up efforts, and they were dubbed spillionaires.
take, n. The word take can mean “attitude toward, opinion on, interpretation of.” Surprisingly, this rather common sense is not in the OED. Often found in combination with on, as in one’s take on X, it dates to at least 1989.
tea partier, n. It would be a few more decades before the Tea Party became an organized force in American politics, but the term tea partier has been applied to those who demonstrate against tax increases since at least 1989. It’s a reference to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when American colonists dumped tea into Boston harbor rather than pay British taxes on it.
wilding, n.2 A wilding is a violent rampage against bystanders by a gang of youths. In April 1989 Trisha Meili was assaulted and raped while jogging in New York City’s Central Park, reportedly by a gang of street youths engaged in a wilding. In 2002 DNA and other evidence proved that the youths were innocent, the attack had been committed by a single individual, and the practice of wilding was largely a fiction created in the hysteria over the case.
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.
Copyright 1997-2017, by David Wilton