The 1970s ushered in a decade of revolution, from the pioneering of digital technology to the resurgence of a counterculture that sparked a wave of musical innovations. With these new developments and inventions came a lexicon of new words, from A to Z—and it's not just words like “groovy,” “rad,” or “funky.”
While the average English speaker already has more than a million words at their disposal, it's reported that 1,000 new words are added to the English vocabulary every year. The most recent additions to the dictionary? Crowdfunding, sudoku, twerk, and Brexit.
Even though an estimated 5,400 new words are born each year, only 1,000 or so make the cut as permanent dictionary additions. The most common method of forming new words is to add prefixes, such as de-, bi-, co-, and pre-, to the beginning of existing words. Some examples of words that have formed from this practice include demean, bipartisan, coexist, and prepay.
However, there are several other methods of word formation, like compounding two existing words, abbreviating a word, or borrowing words from other languages, and another method of word creation is “nonce words,” or words that don't have incredibly clear meaning, like “quark,” “bling,” or “fleek.”
Some words have even originated from mere errors or misspellings. For instance, the word “ammunition” comes from the French “la munition,” which was mistakenly heard by French soldiers as “l'amonition” during the Middle Ages. Even the word “sneeze” was originally a typo, with the root word being “fneze” in Middle English. Linguists have suggested that people may have misread the “f” as an “s,” thus giving rise to the word “sneeze.”
Using Merriam-Webster's Time Traveler feature, Stacker compiled a list five words from each year of the 1970s; some are synonymous with the decade itself, while others appear to be newer terms.
Click through to learn when the word “meme” came into existence and how the “carpaccio” dish got its name.
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“Dorky” comes from the word “dork,” which was used by college students in the Midwest as slang beginning around 1967 to describe a silly, oddly behaving person. The term originated during the 1950s or 1960s and was first used as a slang term for male genitalia. The first time “dork” was printed was in 1961 in Jere Peacock's book “Valhalla,” but was spelled as “dorque.”
“Mau-mau” is a verb that means to intimidate someone through hostile confrontation or threats. The word was originally a noun that referred to a 1950s-era secret society in Kenya that sought to push out European settlers through terrorist activities, but became used as a verb after Tom Wolfe's book, “Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,” was published in 1970. Wolfe used the term “mau-mau” to describe a corrupt government office in San Francisco that administered programs to combat poverty.
“Granola” was actually first used in the 1870s, when Dr. John Kellogg took the crumbs that fell to the bottom of his oven when he baked whole grain bread and served them for breakfast. He originally called his invention “granula”—which referred to the granular texture of the food—but the word was already trademarked, so he changed the “u” to an “o.” Granola came back into popularity in 1970, when food companies started using the word to describe breakfast cereals and snack bars.
“Shambolic,” meaning obviously disorganized or confused, is an adjective popularized in the United Kingdom and was first printed in the Times of London on June 18, 1970, although some suggest the word was used decades earlier. The word is thought to be a combination of the words “shambles” and “symbolic,” and while it is mainly still used across the pond, it has popped up in recent years in American publications. Today, most dictionaries recognize “shambolic” as slang or an informal term.
Kwanzaa is an African-American cultural celebration held every year from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, and is derived from the Swahili word “kwanza,” meaning “first.” The holiday was the brainchild of Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 in California and was originally celebrated by cultural nationalists, but it is now celebrated by 18 million people across the globe from all backgrounds. Kwanzaa became incorporated into American culture between its first celebration in 1966 and 1970.
A “tchotchke” refers to a knickknack or inexpensive souvenir and originally came from the Yiddish language, where it was spelled “tshatshke.” The Yiddish word came from the now-obsolete Polish word, “czaczko.” Although the word's origins are extensive, “tchotchke” wasn't absorbed into the English language until the 1970s.
An octothorpe is the # symbol, also commonly called a hash or the number sign. The exact origin of the word is unknown, but the “octo” part of the word is thought to refer to the eight points of the symbol. One of the legends around the word claims that it came to be at Bell Labs in the 1960s, where an engineer supposedly decided that the # symbol needed a new name so decided to name it after Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe.
The word “gonzo” was first printed in a 1971 Rolling Stone article by Hunter S. Thompson, but Thompson has credited Boston Globe editor Bill Cardoso with using the word first to describe something bizarre or strange. Today, the word is most often associated with “gonzo journalism,” which is defined as reporting that is particularly subjective because of the writer's familiarity with a subject. Gonzo is also an Italian word with a similar meaning: fool or simpleton.
A “trifecta” refers to a group of three desirable things and first popped up in the 1970s in the world of horse-racing, where the term was used to describe a horse-racing bet in which the first place, second place, and third place winners are chosen in the correct order. The prefix of the word “tri” means three, while the suffix is a version of the word “perfecta,” which is an American-Spanish word that describes a horse-racing bet in which the first- and second-place winners are correctly picked.
“Fintech” is short for financial technology and describes services and businesses that use digital and online technology in the banking industry. While fintech has been around since 1970, the term especially took off in the 1990s after an article in American Banker used the word to describe a project undertaken by Citigroup to facilitate technological cooperation efforts. Today, fintech has expanded to include concepts that would have been considered outrageous in the 1970s, such as cryptocurrency and bitcoin.
“Winningest” is simply defined as having the most wins and has deep roots in American sports culture. One of the first instances of “winningest” appearing in print was in 1974, when a Columbia, S.C., newspaper described Maryland-Eastern Shore as the “winningest college basketball team in the nation.” Since then, it has continued to be used often by sports reporters and avid followers.
“Hazmat” is a combination of the words “hazardous” and “material,” and as its roots suggest, refers to a material that would endanger life or the environment if it were to be released. “Hazmat” first appeared in print in 1980, and was used—and still continues to mainly be used—as an adjective, even though the word itself is a noun. For example, “hazmat” is often used in front of the word “team” or “suits.”
“Blaxploitation” is a blend of the words “blacks” and “exploitation” and is used to describe the treatment of blacks by movie or film producers, particularly to perpetuate a stereotype. The term originated in the early 1970s in response to action movies featuring black actors, which horrified critics with depictions of graphic violence, but often resonated with black communities eager to see themselves represented on screen. 1972 saw a sharp increase in blaxploitation films, most notably with the movie “Super Fly” directed by Gordon Parks Jr.
“Retro” was a Latin word originally used as a prefix, meaning “backward” or “behind,” in the sense of “retrogress.” The prefix was incorporated into the English language beginning in the mid-20th century, but in the 1970s, it became a word itself to nostalgically refer to the vintage fashions or styles of the past.
Many full-time employees are familiar with the concept of flextime, which is a system that allows workers to pick their own schedule within a broad range of time. The word is a translation of the German word “gleitzeit,” which literally means “sliding time.” However, many also call this system flexible time or flexible working. The word popped up in workplace culture around 1970 to 1975.
“Affluenza,” which is a blend of the words “affluence” and “influenza,” is defined as the negative psychological and social effects of affluence, such as the feeling of guilt by wealthy people. The term was coined by a San Francisco man, Fred Whitman, in the 1950s as a humorous way to describe children of wealthy parents. However, in the following decades, the word became more prominent and evolved from its comedic origins to become a serious term.
Norman Mailer first used the word “factoid” in his 1973 book “Marilyn” about Marilyn Monroe. He described factoids as "facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion in the Silent Majority.” The suffix of the word, “oid,” can be traced to a Greek word that means “appearance or form.”
“Speciesism” refers to the discrimination based on species, particularly the assumption of human superiority over animals. The word was first published in Richard Ryder's 1975 book, “Victims of Science: The Use of Animals in Research,” which dedicated an entire chapter to speciesism.
Before 1972, Watergate was just an apartment and office building in Washington D.C., but following a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters during the year, it became synonymous with scandal and a government cover-up by President Richard Nixon's administration. Today, Watergate is defined as a scandal involving the abuse of power, and the “gate” suffix has been attached to scandals ever since, such as “Deflategate” and “Spygate,” in reference to the New England Patriots, or “Bridgegate,” which denoted a scandal involving former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.
“Triathlon,” like its cousins “biathlon” and “decathlon,” refers to a combination of athletic events or races. The prefix “tri” means three, while the suffix, “athlon,” is Greek for contest. Originally, a triathlon could be a combination of any three events—sometimes including fishing, horse-jumping, or shooting—but beginning in 1981, it started signifying a swim race, bicycle race, and marathon specifically.
Dr. John Oliven published a medical paper in 1965 that is considered one of the first uses of the word “transgender,” a term that refers to someone whose gender identity differs from the sex the person was assigned at birth. However, the word “transgender” was popularized beginning in the 1970s by activist Virginia Prince, and a 1974 conference at the University of Leeds in England made the distinction between the previously used terms “transvestite” and “transsexual” with “transgender.”
“Nuyorican” is a word for someone with Puerto Rican roots who is a current or former resident of Puerto Rico and is a blend of the Spanish word for New Yorker—neoyorquino—and “Puerto Rican.” In the 1950s during the midst of the largest migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States, “Nuyorican” popped up originally as an insult toward Puerto Ricans who had become assimilated with American culture. But in the 1960s and 1970s, the Nuyorican Movement was born in an effort for Puerto Ricans to reclaim the word for themselves and produced a wealth of art, poetry, and literature.
“Carpaccio” is an Italian term for thin slices of raw beef or fish served with a sauce, created in 1950 by Giuseppe Cipriani. The Venetian chef named the dish after the painter Vittore Carpaccio because the red of the beef matched the colors in the Renaissance paintings, he wrote in his memoir. Cipriani first served carpaccio to a countess who was under a doctor's orders to avoid eating cooked meat. Since then, the term has taken off in the culinary world and evolved to refer to the practice of thinly slicing anything, from fruits to vegetables.
Despite its name, “Moonie” has nothing to do with the moon. Actually, the word refers to a member of the Unification Church founded by South Korean industrialist Sun Myung Moon in 1954. It is also thought to be a play on the word “moony,” an adjective meaning dreamy or silly.
Ringette is a Canadian game that is played on ice, in which two teams of women on skates compete to drive a plastic ring into the other team's goal with a straight stick, similar to hockey. The sport was invented in 1963 by Sam Jacks, who introduced the game in Ontario. Ringette grew in popularity and in 1974, the national governing body for the sport was formed.
The word “brainiac” is used to describe an extremely intelligent or smart person, and can likely trace its roots back to 1938 in the “Superman” comic books. In the comic series, Brainiac was a genius villain who faced off against Superman, and some think that he was the inspiration for the word. However, the term decades to evolve, and the word “brainiac” as we know it today didn't appear in print until 1982.
Hans Selye coined the word “stress” back in 1965, but introduced the concept of “eustress,” or positive stress, in 1974, expanding his work to emphasize the difference between eustress and distress. Selye defined eustress as the “healthy, positive, constructive results of stress events and stress response.” He first published the word in the release of his 1974 book, “Stress Without Distress.”
“Wetware” is another word for the human brain and especially as it relates to logical and computational functions. During the 1970s, the word made its way into circles of tech-savvy folks as a way to compare the brain to hardware or software, which were becoming more and more commonplace. Other words like “meatware” or “liveware” have surfaced to describe human knowledge but quickly faded out of fashion.
“Fractal” is an adjective defined as any shape or element of a figure, of which each has the same character as the whole, and is used to describe patterns in snowflakes and modeling structures. The term was developed in 1975 to describe shapes that exist both in the small and large-scale levels of objects, and fractal geometry is used today in a number of academic fields including astronomy, chemistry, and fluid mechanics.
“Downsize” was first used in 1975 to refer to U.S. automakers building smaller cars and trucks and was reportedly coined by automobile manufacturer General Motors. Since then, it has come to mean the shrinking of a company's workforce or the shedding of certain assets. As many people might guess, the world is a blend of the words “down” and “size.”
An endorphin refers to any group of peptides in the brain that bind to opiate receptors and reduce the sensation of pain. The word comes from the French word, “endogène,” which means “growing within,” and the word “morphine.” Choh Li, a chemist from California, coined the word “endorphin” after scientists in the 1970s isolated the biochemical from the pituitary gland and observed that it had analgesic properties.
The word “grawlix” refers to a series of typographical symbols—such as “#!$%*”—that is meant to represent profanity in text. The word was coined by Mort Walker, the creator of the “Beetle Bailey” comic strip, in the 1960s as a nonsense word. Walker first used the word in a 1964 article titled “Let's get down to grawlixes,” but further defined the word in his 1980 book, “The Lexicon of Comicana,” in which he gave words to other popular symbols used in comics.
Though many people associate memes as being a recent innovation with the rise of the internet and social media, the word has actually been around for decades. British scientist Richard Dawkins invented the word “meme” in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene,” where he defined a meme as “a unit of cultural transmission.” He had originally called the word “mimeme,” with the Greek prefix meaning “mimic,” but ultimately decided to shorten the word to make it monosyllabic.
“Skeevy” is a slang word meaning morally or physically repulsive. The word—although spelled as “skeevie”—was first printed in 1955 as a noun, but beginning in the 1970s, the word evolved into the adjective we know it as today. Its first appearance in print can be traced back to a 1976 edition of Philadelphia Magazine, which read: “The word ‘skeevie' used by South Philadelphians to indicate something disgusting is from Italian ‘schifare,' to loathe.” Historians generally agree that the slang his Italian roots, which is bolstered by its first appearances in Italian-American communities.
Before “Wannabe” was a hit pop song by the Spice Girls, it was a slang word (and still is) meant to describe someone who aspires to be someone or something else or who tries to look or act like someone else. Unsurprisingly, “wannabe” is a phonetic shortening of the phrase “want to be,” and originated as American surfer slang. However, the word was popularized beginning in 1984 by fans of the singer Madonna, who referred to themselves as “wannabes.”
“Palimony” is a word that refers to a form of alimony paid by a former member of an unmarried couple. The term, which blends the words “pal” and “alimony,” originated in a California court in 1977, where celebrity divorce lawyer Marvin Mitchelson first used the word in a suit his client Michelle Triola Marvin brought against her former partner, American film star Lee Marvin.
“Shopaholic” first popped up in print in 1977, as a take on the word “alcoholic.” While alcoholism is a serious condition, other words created in a more playful sense mirror the word “alcoholic,” including “workaholic” and “chocoholic,” both of which originated in 1968. Shopping was compared to alcoholism as another activity that could be addicting and thus gave rise to the term.
“Karaoke” comes from two Japanese words: “kara” comes from the word “karappo,” meaning “empty,” while “oke” comes from the word “okesutura,” meaning “orchestra.” Legend has it that the concept of karaoke originated in a Japanese snack bar in which a scheduled performer never showed up, so the bar owner invited patrons to sing, but others trace it back to the 1970s where Japanese singer Daisuke Inoue recorded songs for people to sing along to.
Audism is the practice of discriminating against people based on hearing loss and was coined in 1975 by communication and language researcher Tom Humphries in an unpublished article. Humphries wrote that audism is rooted in the practice of people who judge deaf people's intelligence and success solely by their hearing abilities. The term grew more popular in 1992 when speech researcher Harlan Lane published his book “Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community.”
“Grapholect” is a noun which describes a standard written language. The term is a blend of the words “grapheme” and “dialect,” and was coined by linguist Einar Haugen in 1964. Haugen was a distinguished professor in Scandinavian languages, and he authored numerous publications on the subject throughout his academic career.
Permaculture is a method of food or energy production that doesn't deplete natural resources. The word is a combination of the words “permanent” and “agriculture” and was coined in 1978 by Australian ecologists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in an effort to develop communities that seek to improve the environment for generations to come. By 1996, the practice of permaculture became so popular that Mollison started a Permaculture Institute in Santa Fe to expand the concept to the Western Hemisphere.
A genogram is a type of family tree that outlines the history of behavioral patterns of a family—such as divorce or suicide—across multiple generations. The word “genogram” was proposed by Dr. Murray Bowen in 1978 to replace the term “family diagram.” Bowen used the word throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and starting in the late 1970s, a group called the North American Primary Care Research Group began an effort to standardize the various symbols used in a genogram to distinguish between different life events. The first edition of the standardization of genograms was published in 1985.
“Lookism” is a noun that refers to prejudice or discrimination based on physical appearance, especially in terms of society's standards of beauty. The word was first used beginning in the 1970s to describe how people viewed others of a heavier weight, but today, it has extended beyond just body type and is defined as judging someone based on how they look in general. The Washington Post Magazine was the first to publish the word in 1978, describing it simply as “discrimination based on looks.”
A voxel is a unit of graphic information that makes up a three-dimensional object—essentially, the 3D version of a pixel. Doctors and researchers today often use voxels to better understand X-rays and MRI scans, while geologists use voxels to create 3D models of the Earth. “Voxel” is a combination of the words “volume” and “pixel.”
A “ditz” is slang for a person who is eccentrically silly or giddy, and the word is a back-formation from the word, “ditzy,” which first appeared as a word in popular culture in 1973. While the origin of the word is unknown, some etymologists have theorized that the word came from the 1920s-era African-American slang word “dicty,” which meant conceited or snobbish. However, some also believe that the word evolved from “dizzy” because of its similar meaning and pronunciation.
Hip-hop became a global sensation in 1979 with the smash hit “Rapper's Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, but it originated in the late 1970s in the South Bronx. Some point to the name “hip-hop” as coming from the pairing of the word “hip,” meaning “trendy,” with the word “hop,” referencing a jumping movement. Others say that the name originated from rap group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five where a member mocked his army recruit friend, telling him he would soon be marching to the sounds of “hip, hop, hip, hop,” and incorporated the phrase into the group's music.
“Biophilia” is defined as the hypothetical human tendency to engage with other forms of life in nature and is a combination of the prefix “bio,” meaning “life,” and “philia,” meaning “friendly feeling toward.” The word was first used in the 1960s by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm to describe the human draw to self-preservation, but in the 1970s, biologist Edward Wilson expanded on Fromm's definition to describe a sense of pleasure that is derived from being surrounded by elements in nature. However, “biophilia” remains a somewhat uncommon word today, with Merriam-Webster reporting that it falls in the bottom 40% of words in terms of look-up popularity.
Codependency refers to the psychological condition or relationship where a person is manipulated by another who has a pathological condition, such as an addiction. The term came to be in the 1960s to describe the significant others of alcoholics, with the original word being “co-alcoholic.” However, as drugs became more commonplace leading into the 1970s and alcoholism treatment centers evolved into chemical dependency treatment centers, “co-alcoholics” became “codependents.”
Skateboarders are sure to be familiar with the word “ollie,” which is a maneuver where the skater kicks the tail of the board down while jumping. In 1977, 14-year-old Alan Gelfand performed this trick, calling it an “ollie pop.” In 1979, he debuted an even more impressive trick, which he called the “ollie air,” and shortly after, Gelfand and his new maneuver were featured in Skateboarder Magazine, thus giving rise to the ollie.
Surf's up—ocean lovers know a bodyboard as a short surfboard in which the user lays flat to ride the waves. The bodyboard was invented in 1971 by Tom Morey, but the inventor wasn't a huge fan of the word “bodyboard.” In fact, Morey said the word “sounds like a board they'd use to slide a corpse down into a body bag,” and preferred the term “boogie board” because of the way it sounded.