New words that were born in the '80s
Each year, thousands of new words enter our mainstream vernacular—but only a lucky few are added to the dictionary each year. In order to be appended to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, words are judged by their usage rates, with only the most-used and most-cited terms making the cut.
In September 2018, Merriam-Webster added more than 840 new words to the dictionary. These new words often give insight into American culture. For example, words like “Instagramming,” “airplane mode,” and “biohacking” indicate the importance of technology in society while abbreviated terms like “guac” and “adorbs” showcase shortened terms permeating colloquial speech.
To see which words helped to define decades past, Stacker compiled a list of 50 new words born in the 1980s. To do this, Stacker used Merriam-Webster's Time Traveler feature to find five new words first written or published for each year from 1980 to 1989. The list is ranked chronologically by Merriam-Webster's first known use date and then by alphanumeric order.
It's important to note that words on this list were written or printed in English for the first time in the 1980s. However, these words could have been used for decades before being documented for the first time. For example, “Benedict” has been used for centuries as a forename as and a term to describe newly married men, but its first known use date to describe eggs occurred in 1984. Merriam-Webster's first known use date is subject to change.
While some words appeared in print in the 1980s, some weren't officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary until decades later. Case in point: FLOTUS is thought to have originated as a nickname for former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, yet the acronym wasn't inducted into the dictionary until 2014.
From ubiquitous terms like SUV and 401(k) to lesser-known words like topoisomerase and planogram, here are 50 words born in the 1980s.
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Now synonymous with American retirement savings, the 401(k) was invented almost by accident. Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1978; two years later, Ted Benna found a way to create an employee retirement account using section 401(k) of the law.
1980: Voice mail
A man named Gordon Matthews invented the first voice mail system in 1979 and so formed the company VMX (voice message express). By 1980 the phrase had made its way into the English language, even though the technology was still new and cost-prohibitive for many companies. Today, voice mail comes standard with any cell phone plan.
The comb-over is a hairstyle in which men comb their hair from one side of their head to the other, covering their bald spots. During the 1980s many leaders including Neil Kinnock and Leon Brittan sported the look, but since then, the comb-over has declined in popularity.
Topoisomerase is defined as a type of enzyme that stops or reduces supercoiling in DNA. This is done by the enzyme breaking down and rebuilding strands of DNA molecules. James C. Wang discovered the first topoisomerase in E. coli topoisomerase I.
Yuppie is a slang term referring to young, educated adults with well-paying jobs. The word is thought to be a combination of the words young, urban, and professional. Dan Rottenberg coined the term in an article for Chicago magazine when describing a new demographic moving into the city.
1981: Acid snow
Acid snow is a type of snow that has acidic properties due to environmental pollutants. A 1981 New York Times article chronicled acid snow and its effects on wildlife in the Adirondack Mountains.
1981: Gateway drug
A gateway drug is a drug thought to lead people to abuse harder, more serious drugs. While the gateway theory was seen as viable in the 1980s, it has since inspired controversy, as critics say people may be less likely to try hard drugs after using marijuana.
1981: Golden parachute
According to Merriam-Webster, the term golden parachute was coined by an employee describing the large severance packages given to executives after they were let go during a corporate merger. In recent years, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes received a golden parachute worth $40 million, and Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Airlines, was given close to $37 million after both being forced to leave their positions at their respective companies.
Sleazeball is one of the first slang terms to make the list. The word is used to describe a dishonest person. Other slang terms with the suffix "-ball" conceived in the 1980s and 1990s include goofball, oddball, and dirtball.
Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston invented VisiCalc, the world's first electronic spreadsheet, on the Apple II while in school. Spreadsheets today are an integral part of accounting, data analysis, and more.2018 All rights reserved.