1998 Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has 16 words with first citations from 1998. In that year, Suharto resigns the presidency of Indonesia after thirty-two years in office; India and Pakistan conduct a series of nuclear weapons tests; the Second Congo War begins, which will to go on to become the bloodiest since World War II; Hugo Chavez is elected president of Venezuela; U. S. Senator John Glenn returns to space aboard the space shuttle Discovery, at seventy-seven the oldest person to go into orbit; the game show The Price is Right airs its five thousandth episode; and singer Frank Sinatra dies.

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The words of 1998:

bike rage, n. By 1998 road rage and air rage had extended to bicycles.

Bluetooth, n. The short-range wireless technology for computers and mobile devices makes its debut in 1998. The medievalist in me is cheered by the fact that this late-twentieth-century technology is named for the tenth-century King Harald I, a. k. a. Harald Bluetooth, of Denmark (c. 910–85).

chav, n. This term is a British slang appellation for a lower-class youth characterized by bad behavior and designer clothes. The origin is uncertain, but it’s probably from either the Romany chavo, “boy, unmarried man,” or the Anglo-Romany chavvy, “child.”

cherries and blueberries, n. A U. S. slang term for the flashing lights atop a police car.

derp, int. Like duh, this interjection connotes dull wittedness.

douche chill, n. This slang term refers to an embarrassing moment, and is often used as an interjection to break the uncomfortable silence following such a moment.

flexitarian, n. This rather useful term denotes someone who is primarily vegetarian, but will eat meat upon occasion.

Furby, n. These electronic animals that could move and speak with a blend of English and an invented language were the must-have toy of 1998.

grup, n. A grup is a young adult who acts like a child. The term is taken from an episode of the original Star Trek television series. It was used in the 1966 episode Miri, but did not become a slang term until the late-1990s.

Holyrood, n. This metonym for the Scottish Parliament, taken from Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh where it meets, arose with the devolution of powers from London to the regional level in 1998.

K-pop, n. This term refers to Korean pop music. It’s modeled after J-pop, or “Japanese pop,” which is recorded as early as 1989.

kthxbye, int. This rather curt signoff, short for okay thanks bye, began appearing in email and on Usenet in 1998.

Monica, n. This short-lived term for the act of fellatio was inspired by President Clinton’s 1998 political woes. It appears here as a stand-in for the host of Monica Lewinsky-related terms that cropped up during this year.

snivel gear, n. This one is military a slang term for equipment that makes life more comfortable in the field, but is not strictly necessary, such as extra gloves or a poncho liner.

taikonaut, n. This word is a blend of the Chinese tai kong ("space") + the English (originally Greek) -naut, and is used to denote Chinese astronauts, especially by the Western press. Although, in actual Chinese usage, the terms hangtianyuan ("sky-person") or yuhangyuan ("universe-person") appear to be more common.

unagency, n. 1997 saw the appearance of unmarketing, and in 1998 entire advertising agencies that pretended not to advertise started to appear.

Viagra, n. The first syllable of the brand name of this well-known drug, which hit the market in 1998, is from virile. But the later elements are not, as has been guessed by some, taken from Niagara. It is most likely simply an arbitrary formulation.

wallpaper, n. This familiar term began to be used as a term for the background image on a computer screen as far back as 1990.

zoomer, n. A zoomer is an active older person. The baby boomers turned into zoomers.

These words are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, based on that dictionary’s earliest citation for that word. I’ve also taken words from the Among the New Words column in the journal American Speech; and in many cases these words have been antedated by the OED.  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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