1994 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 62 words with first citations from 1994. In that year, Nelson Mandela is elected president of South Africa; investigators begin to look into the U. S. President Clinton’s involvement in the Whitewater development project; Russia sends troops into Chechnya; Olympic skater Tonya Harding tries to have rival Nancy Kerrigan kneecapped; Kurt Cobain, frontman of the grunge band Nirvana, commits suicide; comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 strikes Jupiter; the Netscape Navigator web browser is released; Lorena Bobbitt is found not guilty by reason of insanity of mutilating her husband’s genitals; and former American football star O. J. Simpson is arrested for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman.

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The words of 1994:

2.0 and go, c.phr. This catchphrase, especially common at U. S. military academies like West Point, Virginia Military Institute, and the Citadel, is a reference to graduating with a mediocre grade point average. A 2.0 is a C average on the standard zero to four scale.

Astroturf, n. The use of the term to mean an artificial grass, used primarily in sporting venues, dates to 1966, but by 1985 Astroturf was being used to refer to political lobbying by corporate interests that simulates or creates the perception that it comes from a popular, grass-roots, movement. Grass roots/astroturf, get it? (Among the New Words cites it from 1994, but the OED has subsequently antedated it to 1985.)

back door, n. Among the New Words records this computer hacker slang term from 1994, but back door is at least as old as the 1983 film WarGames, which has this bit of dialogue, “Mr. Potato Head! Mr. Potato Head! Back doors are not secrets. [...] Whenever I design a system, I always put in a simple password that only I know about, that way whenever I want to get back in, I can bypass whatever security they’ve added on. That’s basically what it is.” And the use of back door to refer to anything secret or clandestine goes back to the early sixteenth century.

Benjamin, n.4 The slang term or a U. S. $100 bill, from the image of Benjamin Franklin on the front side, makes its debut.

Bobbitt, n. In 1993, after an alleged incident of marital rape, Lorena Bobbitt of Manassas, Virginia cut off her husband John’s penis, which was surgically reattached shortly thereafter. The 1994 trials of both Bobbitts were media sensations, and the name Bobbitt achieved brief currency as a slang term for penis—of course, it didn’t help that the name could be interpreted as the phrase bob it. Other related terms were bobbittectomy and to bobbittize.

chat group, n. Among the New Words has chat group from 1994, referring to an internet location where users can converse, although the OED has chat room dating back to 1989.

corporate welfare, n. The term for government subsidies and other economic support to private enterprise makes its debut.

cybercafé, n. (also Internet café, n.) Cybercafés, where one could use a computer over a coffee and a snack became big in 1994.

Dadrock, n. Popular music that appeals to the older generation.

dotcom, n. 1994 was the year that the Internet exploded into public consciousness, and nothing is more emblematic of this than the word dotcom. Used at first as a reference to the .com suffix used on corporate web sites, by 1996 the word had taken on the meaning of an internet business itself.

e-zine, n. Originally used to refer to special-interest or even underground electronic journals, the term e-zine has gone mainstream and is now more widely applied to any magazine published electronically.

feature creep, n. The bane of software product managers, feature creep is the gradual and unplanned addition functionality to a computer product that usually results in bloated and late product releases. The similar military term mission creep appears in 1991 and may be the inspiration for the software term. (Although dating the coinage of slang terms is problematic, and it’s possible that these two evolved simultaneously.)

flesh-eating disease, n. The form of antibiotic-resistant streptococcal bacteria that devours tissue also made big news in 1994. The more common flesh-eating bacteria appears by 1995.

go postal, v. The early 1990s saw a number of incidents where employees of the U. S. Postal Service shot at their colleagues, giving rise to the verb phrase to go postal. Among the New Words records it from 1994, although the OED antedates it by one year to 1993.

home page, n. Ditto for home page. Among the New Words has the term for the base page of a web site from 1994, while the OED has it from 1993.

horizontal tango, n. Among the New Words has horizontal tango from 1994. While this particular formulation may be new this year, the use of horizontal as a reference to sexual intercourse is much older. The OED records the earlier horizontal refreshments (1889), horizontal polo (1959), horizontal jogging (1983), and horizontal dancing (1992).

hot desk, v. This verb refers to sharing a desk with a coworker who works another shift. The noun hot desk, referring to the desk itself is a bit older, dating to 1990. The term is probably from the Navy term hot bunk, which dates to 1939, and refers to sailors on different watches, particularly on submarines, using the same bed.

Infobahn, n. The metaphor of the internet being an “information superhighway” was popular in the 1990s. This version of that metaphor references the high-speed German autobahns.

jack in, v. To jack in is to connect to the internet.

Megan’s Law, n. In 1994 seven-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and murdered in New Jersey by a man who was a convicted sex offender. The crime inspired Megan’s Law, which required all those convicted of sex offenses in New Jersey to appear on a public register, so neighbors could know who they were. Similar laws followed in other states. The effectiveness of such laws is debated to this day.

metrosexual, n. and adj. A metrosexual is a heterosexual man who adopts the grooming and fashion habits stereotypically associated with gay urban men. In an early age, a metrosexual would have been called a fop or dandy.

mullet, n.9 The hairstyle is one which is cut short in the front and sides and left to grow long in the back. The term mullet was probably coined, and at the very least popularized, by the hip-hop group The Beastie Boys in the 1994 song Mullet Head.

nerdcore, n. Playing on the combining form -core, from hardcore, used for various musical styles, nerdcore is music, often punk, that appeals to the studiously inclined. Prototypical nerdcore groups are They Might Be Giants and Nerf Herder.

Netscape, n. The first big, commercially available web browser, formally Netscape Navigator, was released by the Netscape company in 1994.

OxyContin, n. The painkiller hit the market in 1994.

peak oil, n. The idea that oil production would reach a maximal point after which it would decline got this name in 1994.

po-po, n. This clipped and reduplicated word meaning “police” gets its start in hip-hop slang.

push poll, n. Newspapers began to notice this political term in 1994. A push poll is not a legitimate survey of opinion, but rather a propaganda tool that seeks to influence opinion through the use of loaded questions.

smoke-easy, n. Modeled after the Prohibition-era speakeasy, a smoke-easy is a bar that permits patrons to smoke tobacco in contravention of public anti-smoking laws.

spinning, n. This term, which is proprietary in the United States, simply refers to riding a stationary bicycle.

squeegee man, n. 1994 saw the emergence of a new form of panhandling, cleaning the windshield of a stopped car without permission and then asking for money.

starter marriage, n. Probably modeled after starter home, a starter marriage is one where a young couple marries, only to divorce a few years later.

supersize, v. McDonald’s started supersizing its meals in 1994, but the verb goes back a few more decades. The OED has fashion designers supersizing the accessories accompanying their creations from 1977. The adjective dates to the nineteenth century.

Tae-Bo, n. The fitness regimen that combines tae kwon do and boxing makes its debut.

testilying, n. This term is U. S. police slang for perjury by an officer.

time porn, n. Another in the porn collection, time porn is television programming or other media that features characters who don’t seem to have jobs and have copious free time.

webzine, n. Another term for an online publication.

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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