Word Play – Part One

March 2, 2014 at 1:36 pm

By Terry Watada

2013’s Word of the Year was the decidedly inelegant “selfie”.  President Barack Obama made it famous and controversial at the same time when he had one with Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt during Mandela’s memorial service.  We are constantly obsessed by newly coined words.  Look at the furor over “twerking”.  Well maybe the act rather than the word itself.  Such words do represent all that is new and perhaps shocking.  Many of them come from pop culture.  They indicate the mindset, the trends, fads and innovations of our age.  Look at some of the new words of the 21st Century: chip and pin, Sudoku, defriend, bromance, flash mob, and pod cast.  It might be interesting to look at the words coined during the Nisei, Sansei and Yonsei years.  They say a lot about us.

The following has been compiled by the Oxford English Dictionary as a kind of game for birth years and words.  These are no way the only word coined that year, but they are a significant sign post of the times.  Some have survived and some not.  I will start in 1930 when most Nisei were born or were in their formative years.

1930            clone  (concept has been around a long time)
1931            photomontage
1932            eek  (must’ve been from a cartoon)
1933            mathlete  (math competitions became popular)
1934            baddie  (still used today)
1935            al dente  (did spaghetti become pasta?)
1936            do-gooding
1937            freeloading  (perhaps as a reaction to the Great Depression)
1938            bunny hop  (I’ve seen many Nisei and Sansei do this dance at weddings)
1939            face-lift  (Really? People were doing this back in the 30s?)

Other words coined in the 1930s: caffeinated, BBQ, babysitter

1940            acronym
1941            bad-mouth
1942            ear-bending
1943            beanie
1944            gobbledygook
1945            mobile phone  (now that is interesting)
1946            orbit
1947            queue-jumping
1948            TV  (!)
1949            Newspeak  (a great tribute to George Orwell – some of these words must reflect the war years and political speeches)

Other words of the 1940s: skinny-dip, binge drinker

1950            big bang  (the comedy show had to come from somewhere)
1951            blast-off
1952            noshery
1953            frenemy
1954            nowheresville  (cool man, cool)
1955            artificial intelligence
1956            nitpick
1957            oenophilic  (having to do with a fan of wine)
1958            photo call
1959            beat poetry

Other words of the 1950s: digital television (really?), droid, hands-free, decaf, brainwash

The terms and phrases of the ‘30s really are a reaction to or reflection of the Great Depression.  The ‘40s, the Second World War.  The ‘50s, the scientific revolution and the beat generation.  As the decades rolled on, there seems to be an emphasis on leisure time, the dangers of the Cold War and the possibilities of science fiction becoming a reality.

Next month, I’ll look at the new words of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.  Should be fascinating.