A Word A Year

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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