40 Words Turning 40 In 2016
By Arika Okrent
If you were born in 1976, not only are you the same age as Apple, Hair Club for Men, Laverne & Shirley, and Rocky, you were the first to grow up with these words as part of your vocabulary. Here are 40 words that have their first Oxford English Dictionary citations in 1976.
1. BEER GUT
While beer belly had been around since 1942, we first saw the beer gut in 1976.
2. SPIDER VEINS
We got a new cosmetic problem to worry about when the term spider veins was coined 40 years ago for tiny, broken, superficial blood vessels.
We also got to opportunity to feel self-conscious about having an underbite when it was created on analogy with overbite, but, as the OED notes, it is “not a term used in dentistry.”
4. BLACK HELICOPTER
In 1976, conspiracy theorists added black helicopters to the list of unidentified flying objects hovering over the countryside with sinister intentions.
This blend of Bombay and Hollywood, used to refer to the Indian film industry, was first used in a 1976 Inspector Ghote mystery novel by H.R.F. Keating.
While we already had baby boom to describe the increase in births after World War II, and were already referring to the members of this generation as baby boomers by 1970, in 1976, the generational label was shortened to just boomers.
The use of startup for “a business enterprise that is in the process of starting up” is first attested in a 1976 Forbes article mentioning the “unfashionable business of investing in startups in the electronic data processing field.”
8. FAN FIC
Stories “written by a fan rather than a professional author … based on already existing characters” were called fan fic as long ago as 1976.
The first citation we have for Trekkie, “an admirer of the U.S. science fiction television programme Star Trek,” comes from a 1976 New Yorker caption reading, “of course, I didn't know George was a Trekkie when I married him.”
10. CHICKEN NUGGET
The earliest citation for chicken nugget is from a 1976 ad in a Jackson, Missouri phone book for Troy’s Fish House. “Catfish ‘All You Can Eat.’ Shrimp—Oysters—Steak. Chicken Nuggets—Burgers.” It wasn’t until the early '80s that the McDonald’s Chicken McNugget came on the scene.
11. DISASTER MOVIE
In the '70s, movie audiences thrilled to horror scenarios of shipwreck (The Poseidon Adventure), plane crashes (the Airport movies), and fire (The Towering Inferno), among other catastrophes, which led to the coining of a specific term for this genre: disaster movie.
Hackers were calling themselves hackers before 1976, but the first print citation of hacker showed up that year and was defined by various publications around that period as a “compulsive programmer,” a “home-computer nut,” or “someone who spends much of his time writing computer programs.”
The verb download, meaning to copy data from one computer to another device, is first attested in an article from Science in 1976 which explains that “software at any level can be developed on a host minicomputer and ‘down-loaded’ without code conversion.”
PIN stands for Personal Identification Number and was just starting to be “used for the validation of electronic transactions” in places like bank drive-thrus in 1976.
15. DRUM MACHINE
The era of disco and electronics came together with the drum machine, “a programmable electronic device for reproducing the sounds of drums and other percussion instruments, from which rhythms can be created.”
16. LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE
An outbreak of a dangerous flu-like illness at a convention of the Pennsylvania State American Legion in 1976 led to the discovery of a specific lung-infecting bacteria (which had spread through the conference center's air conditioning system) and the naming of the illness caused by the bacteria Legionnaires’ disease.
The first Ebola outbreak occurred in a village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, and the virus was identified and named after the river.
18. ALTERNATIVE BIRTH
The '70s saw the rise of a philosophy of childbirth where “technology is avoided and the delivery occurs at home or in a similar natural environment.”
PMS was first used as an abbreviation for “the premenstrual syndrome,” in a 1976 Lancet article.
20. THE ZONE
The use of the zone for “a state of perfect concentration leading to optimum mental or physical performance” showed up in a San Francisco Chronicle article describing how “Arthur Ashe's experience in The Zone during his last Wimbledon championship bordered on the surreal.”
21. FREE WEIGHT
It wasn’t until weight machines became widespread that good old fashioned barbells and dumbbells needed their own category name, free weights.
22. ADRENALINE JUNKIE
This term for someone who has “a compulsive desire for extreme excitement” was first recorded with the comment “I’m an adrenaline junkie” in an interview in the Los Angeles Times.
23. FUN RUN
A 1976 issue of Runner’s World reported that “fun running is about to take off nationwide,” and soon these just-for-fun races became a weekend staple for the casual runner.
Why just exercise when you can jazzercise? This blend of jazz and exercise, building off an older use of dancercise, has its first citation in 1976.
In 1976, scientists discovered a substance produced in the brain that acted similarly to morphine. The French named it endorphine, from endogène (endogenous) and morphine, and we used the name endorphin.
A 1976 article in British music weekly Melody Maker called ABBA “the current kings of Euro-pop,” now defined by the OED as “pop music performed by musicians from continental Europe; esp. (occasionally mildly depreciative) that which is largely synthesized, with simple, usually upbeat melodies and lyrics, often sung in English.”
27. BABY TEE
This term for “a small, snugly fitting woman's T-shirt” has its earliest citation in a Lima News (Ohio) photo caption about how “this spring will focus on the fresh-looking woman in Carol Horn's wrap skirt and blue cotton baby-tee.”
28. EXIT POLL
It was during the 1976 presidential election race between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford that the term exit poll came to be used to describe “a poll asking individually how people leaving a polling station have voted, used in predicting the result of an election.”
29. SUPER TUESDAY
The phrase Super Tuesday was first used to refer to the general election, but during the 1976 presidential race we first saw it in reference to the primaries in a New York Times article about how “New York ... would open up a string of victories ... on super-Tuesday, June 8, in California, Ohio and New Jersey.”
30. GOING FORWARD
It seems like relatively recent annoying management-speak, but going forward started as a substitute for "in the future" 40 years ago.
Though the phrase “good macro, but dismal micro, management” is attested in a 1975 Economist article, the verb to micromanage showed up as its own form in a 1976 article in Aviation Week in a mention of “our tendency to micro-manage research and development programs.”
32. BUCKLE UP
This casual phrase meaning to fasten one’s seat belt first came on the scene just as people started to actually use their seatbelts.
33. JUMP START
People were jump starting their cars with “jump leads” more than 40 years ago, but we first see the verb jump start in 1976, after which it also became a noun.
Richard Dawkins introduced the word meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene like this: “We need a name for the new replicator, a noun which conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. Mimeme comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like gene. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme ... It should be pronounced to rhyme with cream. Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.”
The OED defines s***show as “a situation or state of affairs characterized by chaos, confusion, or incompetence; a mess, a shambles, a debacle. Sometimes expressing contempt for bad organization, poor execution of a task, etc.” It is first attested in the phrase “we don't want this shit-show any longer.”
36. DOG DO
We’ve come up with plenty of things to call it—dog dirt (1543), dog muck (1804), dog mess (1927), dog crap (1942), dog s*** (1944), and dog poop (1972)—but we still added dog do (or doo) to the list in 1976.
Iconic is an old word for “pertaining to an icon or image,” but it was 40 years ago that it first came to be used as a way to refer to “a person or thing regarded as representative of a culture or movement; important or influential in a particular (cultural) context.”
Gloppy invokes both gluey and sloppy and is so perfect for some types of unappetizing food that it’s a wonder it doesn’t show up before 1976.
The origin of this term for silly or scatterbrained is unclear, but the first printed evidence for it is from an article in Texas Monthly, which reads, “besides menus of ‘ditzy ladies' things’, these places had loads of cozy charm.”
Edgy was already in use for meanings like “having a lot of sharp edges,” or nervous and “on edge,” but in 1976 it took on the additional meaning of “cutting edge” or what “challenges received ideas or prevailing aesthetic sensibilities; at the forefront of a trend.”