1992 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 99 words with first citations from 1992. In that year, the digerati were in nerdvana over URLs and P2P; university students used facebooks to find the bootylicious grrls; Frankenfoods started scaring people; the cultural elites could be found in the red states; and a host of Clintonian terms appear.

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Events of 1992:

  • January: Computer scientist Grace Hopper and actor Judith Anderson die.
  • February: Miss America pageant host Bert Parks and writer Alex Haley die.
  • March: War breaks out in Bosnia; Israeli politician Menachem Begin and economist Friedrich Hayek die.
  • April: Euro Disneyland opens outside of Paris; Yugoslavia is officially dissolved; riots break out in Los Angeles after four police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King are acquitted; Walmart founder Sam Walton, writer Isaac Asimov, and comedian Benny Hill die.
  • May: Actor Marlene Dietrich and band leader Lawrence Welk die.
  • June: The remains of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra are positively identified;
  • July: Journalist Eric Sevareid dies.
  • August: Hurricane Andrew devastates southern Florida.
  • September: The United States conducts its last nuclear test.
  • October: Pope John Paul II apologizes and lifts the edict of Inquisition against Galileo; German politician Willy Brandt and sportscaster Red Barber die.
  • November: William Jefferson Clinton is elected president of the United States; Former Czechoslovakian leader and reformist Alexander Dubcek dies.
  • December: U. S. military forces land in Somalia to protect famine relief workers; Charles and Diana, the prince and princess of Wales, separate.

The words of 1992:

achy-breaky, adj. Billy Ray Cyrus released the song Achy Breaky Heart in 1992, spawning the term.

auto-complete, n. This software feature is great when implemented correctly, or it can be truly embarrassing as any owner of an iPhone can tell you. (It’s amazing that auto-complete has been around for twenty years and Apple still can’t get it right.)

blue state, n. (also red state, n.) In the 1992 U. S. presidential election, political commentators started talking about blue states and red states, after the colors used by the television networks to denote whether the Republican George H. W. Bush or Democrat Bill Clinton won the state. But in 1992, the networks used blue for the Republicans and red for the Democrats. It wouldn’t be until 2000 that the networks reversed the colors and blue state became synonymous with liberal leaning and red state with conservative leaning.

bootylicious, adj. When this term originally appeared in Snoop Doggy Dogg’s 1992 song Fuck Wit Dre Day, it meant “weak, bad.” But by 1994 bootylicious was being used to refer to a sexy woman.

civil union, n. The term civil union has been used to refer to a secular marriage since the early nineteenth century, but in 1992 the term begins to be used to encompass gay relationships as well.

Clinton terms (Clintonian, n.2 and adj.2; Clintonista, n.; Clintonite, n.2 and adj.; Clintonize, v.; Clintonomics, n.) The 1992 election spawns a host of these.

cultural elite, n. Conservative politicians in the United States begin to use this term in 1992 to denote the supposed target of their anti-intellectualism.

cyberwar, n. Cybersex appears in 1991, and cyberwar isn’t far behind.

digerati, n. We’ve discussed the -erati combining form before, but here is the term for elites of cyberspace.

e-business, n. E-business starts chalking up sales. E-commerce will appear in 1993.

facebook, n. No, this is not an anachronistic reference to the social media site, but rather to the medium that inspired the name. The original facebooks were photo-directories of students attending a particular university.

facilitated communication, n. This is the banal name of a particularly unforgivable scam that preys on some of society’s most emotionally vulnerable people.  In facilitated communication the practitioners pretend or delude themselves into thinking that they can help severely autistic or otherwise disabled people to communicate with loved ones by guiding their responses on a computer keyboard.

FOB, n. Another Clinton term. This one is an initialism for friend of Bill, a reference to the then-Arkansas governor’s wide network of personal associations.

Franken-, comb. form (esp. frankenfood, n.) Modeled after Mary Shelley’s creature, this prefix refers to genetically modified food products. The term Frankenstein food appears by 1989, but by 1992 had been clipped to frankenfood. Other, less common, terms using the form include frankenfruit and frankenplants.

grrrl, n. This alternative spelling of girl appears in 1991 as part of riot grrl, but by 1992 is being used on its own. It denotes a young, strong, and independent woman.

Gulf War syndrome, n. This name for the constellation of symptoms exhibited by some U. S. veterans of the war, including skin diseases, headaches, fatigue, and respiratory problems, appears by 1992. The phrase had a short-lived earlier incarnation, starting in 1991, to refer to the geopolitical impact of the war, but that sense was quickly killed by the medical one.

Hill-Bill, n. Another 1992 Clinton term, this supercouple portmanteau presages the Bennifers and Brangelinas to come.

magnetar, n. Astronomers coined this name in 1992 for a neutron star with a strong magnetic field.

Microsoft Millionaire, n. Originally applied to the original employees of the software giant, Microsoft Millionaire becomes used more generally to refer to anyone who becomes rich as a result of employee stock options.

nerdvana, n. Okay, this one is such an obvious blend that I’m surprise it isn’t recorded earlier. And indeed, a Google Books search turns up an appearance of nerdvana in 1991 Dilbert comic strip. Still, that’s not much of an antedating.

on-message, adj. and adv. (also off-message, adj. and adv.) Yet another term that arises out of the 1992 presidential election. “It’s the economy, stupid,” was campaign manager James Carville’s continued mantra to Bill Clinton to keep the candidate on-message.

P2P, adj.2 This abbreviation stands for peer-to-peer, a type of computer network where each computer acts as a server, allowing the sharing of files and computing resources. The term peer-to-peer appears as early as 1979, as does P2P, adj.1, which stands for person-to-person, an entirely different context.

partner reduction, n. This term is the name for a strategy of controlling the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. Partner reduction refers to reducing the number of different sexual partners a person has.

phoenix firm, n. This one is British business slang for a firm that enters voluntarily into bankruptcy to liquidate its debts, and then arises again with a new name. The term phoenixism as a name for the unethical practice is a bit earlier, dating to 1989.

Photoshop, v. Thomas Knoll created the image-editing program in 1987, selling it to Adobe in 1988. And by 1992 Photoshop had become a verb meaning “to manipulate or alter a digital image.”

post-Diana, adv. and adj. Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated in 1992, and this term began to be used to date events affecting the British royal family. After Diana’s 1997 death, the term has been used to refer to events after that date.

road luge, n. (also street luge, n.) This term refers to going downhill on a road in a sled equipped with wheels.

slug, n. This term, especially common in the Washington, D. C. metro area, refers to a commuter who hitches rides with other commuters, with the driver gaining the advantage of being able to use carpool lanes. Slug is also used as verb, and in compounds like slug line, which refers to a place where slugs await potential drivers.

take-no-shit, adj. I would have thought this one was older too, but evidently not. Take-no-shit means “uncompromising, no-nonsense.”

technical, n. This noun is from the conflict in Somalia. A technical is an armed jeep or light truck.

URL, n. The abbreviation stands for uniform resource locator.

V-mail, n.2 The original V-mail, or victory-mail, was a U. S. term for photographically reproduced mail sent to service members overseas during World War II in order to conserve space. But this incarnation of v-mail is video mail, sent over the internet.

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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