A Word A Year
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A Word A Year : Choosing a word or phrase that sums up a particular year is a complicated task: some would say impossible.
What seems crucial to some will have passed others by while the choice of a word which was prominent in an area of popular culture may seem flippant to those seeking something more momentous.
As a short-hand summary of a period in time, however, a word which came to prominence is hard to beat. It scarcely matters if that word proved ephemeral or if it arose out of an activity of little political or sociological importance. The very fact that it became high-profile can shed as much light on the preoccupations of its time as any photograph or historical summary. Be it the garden town of 1915 or Big Brother in 1949 (of the literary rather than the TV kind, although one could make a strong argument for its inclusion as a word of the 2000s). The following choices of a single word for each year in the last century are surprising and revealing.
If the journey from permanent wave (1909) to liposuction (1983) and Charleston (1923) to Britpop (1986) seems a long one, the move from power politics (1933) to off-message (1992) and from superstar (1925) to bling (2000) seems the shortest of steps. Today's pizzas, ganglands and fat cats, meanwhile, made their linguistic mark long ago.
1906 : muckraking
1907 : cat burglar
1908 : Rolls Royce
1909 : permanent wave
1910 : double jeopardy
1911 : phone number
1912 : vitamin
1913 : migrant labour
1914 : war zone
1915 : garden town
1916 : blood group
1917 : camouflage
1918 : multinational
1919 : peace rally
1920 : T-shirt
1921 : potato crisps
1922 : class divisions
1923 : Charleston
1924 : gangland
1925 : superstar
1926 : fridge: refrigerator dates from 1824.
1927 : non-stick
1928 : fat cats: first used to describe political backers.
1929 : fuzz: as slang for a policeman or detective. The origin, alas, is uncertain.
1930 : genome
1931 : gossip-writer
1932 : seat belt
1933 : power politics
1934 : Gestapo
1935 : pizza
1936 : male chauvinism
1937 : hobbit: the term, coined by J. R. R. Tolkien to describe the imaginary tiny people of his stories, means 'hole-dweller'.
1938 : tween-age
1939 : atom-splitting
1940 : Mae West
1941 : hi-de-hi: an exclamation, used chiefly by army instructors to greet, or attract the attention of, their troops. It later became associated with greeters at holiday camps thanks to a British sitcom of the same name.
1942 : news conference
1943 : passion killers: unattractive underwear which was standard issue in wartime. The modern equivalent might be the big knickers much discussed in Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary.
1944 : DNA: the American Oswald Avery proved that DNA carries genetic information and laid the path for the later description of 'deoxyribonucleic acid' by James Watson and Francis Crick.
1945 : bebop: a development of jazz, begun in the US at the end of the Second World War, and characterized by complex harmony, dissonant chords, and a highly syncopated rhythm.
1946 : garden gnome
1947 : bikini: originally the name of an atoll in the Marshall Islands where an atomic bomb test was carried out in July 1946. The beach garment was so called because of its perceived explosive effect.
1948 : TV
1949 : Big Brother: the name of the head of state in George Orwell's novel 1984.
1950 : big bang: a great or loud explosion; specifically, the explosion of a single compact mass in which, according to one cosmological theory, the universe originated. The term was coined by Sir Fred Hoyle who challenged the belief.
1951 : Scrabble
1952 : Generation X: a generation of young people about whose future there is uncertainty; a lost generation. The term was later popularized by Douglas Coupland's 1991 novel of the same name.
1953 : teleconference
1954 : Palooka Ville: an imaginary town characterized by mediocrity, stupidity, or failure. The term 'palooka' denoted (as it does today) a stupid, clumsy, or uncouth person, and was popularized by the US comic-strip character Joe Palooka, a well-meaning but clumsy prizefighter.
1955 : Rastafarian
1956 : 1984
1957 : Mr. Nice Guy: the OED's first example is a description of the singer Perry Como. Later, the phrase 'No more Mr. Nice Guy' became more popular.
1958 : film noir
1959 : hair spray
1960 : pirate radio
1961 : downshifting
1962 : drinks party
1963 : Dalek: a type of cyborg which appeared in Doctor Who, the science-fiction TV series.
1964 : vox pop
1965 : garden centre
1966 : tower block
1967 : football hooligan
1968 : reggae
1969 : microchip
1970 : Big Mac
1971 : breakfast television
1972 : Watergate
1973 : F-word
1974 : shuttle diplomacy: diplomatic activity by a mediator travelling between disputing parties. The term was particularly associated with Henry Kissinger's efforts in the Middle East. In 2003 Tony Blair talked of his own 'mobile phone diplomacy' in the build-up to war in Iraq.
1975 : Page Three girl
1976 : PIN number
1977 : bottle bank
1978 : satellite dish
1979 : karaoke
1980 : nip and tuck: minor cosmetic surgery, performed especially for tightening the skin.
1981 : Stepford: the name of the fictional American suburb in Ira Levin's 1972 novel The Stepford Wives, in which the men have replaced their wives with robots. 1981 marks the point at which Stepford began to mean lacking in individuality, emotion, or thought.
1982 : Kissogram
1983 : liposuction
1984 : shopaholic
1985 : full monty
1986 : Britpop
1987 : to email
1988 : roller blading
1989 : doughnut ting: the clustering of politicians round a speaker during a televised parliamentary debate, especially in order to give the impression that the speaker is well supported or to conceal low attendance.
1990 twocker: a car thief, especially one who steals for the purpose of joyriding. Twoc is an acronym for 'taken without owner's consent'.
1991 : ethnic cleansing
1992 : off-message
1993 : DVD
1994 : metro sexual
1995 : chuddies: underpants. The word, from Hindi, was popularized by the TV comedy series Goodness Gracious Me and its catchphrase insult kiss my chuddies.
1996 : Viagra
1997 : WAP: abbreviation for 'wireless application protocol', a specification which supports the transfer of data (especially for Internet access, including text and images) to and from a hand-held wireless device such as a mobile phone.
1998 : to Google
1999 : blogger
2000 : bling
2001 : 9/11
2002 : metatarsal: any of five bones in the foot between the ankles and the toes. The term came into general use when the England football captain David Beckham broke one in his left foot just before the World Cup in Japan. In 2006 it was Wayne Rooney's metatarsal fracture which dominated the headlines.
2003 : to sex something up
2004 : chav
2005 : biosecurity
2006 : bovvered
2007 : locavore
2008 : Hypermiling
2009 : unfriend – verb – To remove someone as a friend on a social networking site such as Facebook
2010 : refudiate
2011 : squeezed middle
2012 : omnishambles
2013 : selfie
2014 : vape
2015 : pictograph
2016 : post-truth
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