For more than forty years now, Americans have been engaged in a furious culture war, disputing the significance and worth of that fast-receding decade, the “Sixties.” What were the Sixties about and what did they mean?
Fortunately, the good folks at Merriam-Webster have been keeping track. Back in 1961, Merriam-Webster created a mini-culture war of its own by releasing Webster’s Third International Dictionary, the first major American dictionary with the temerity to discuss the English language as it was spoken, rather than as a bunch of tight-assed New England headmasters said it should be spoken.
Merriam-Webster last updated the Third in 1993, with a fascinating “new words” section in the front, letting us know what Americans have been talking about since the almost-virgin year of 1961. It’s definitely time for a new update, but the record for 1961–1993 is pretty clear: Americans have been about sex, surf, drugs, food, computers, and cats.
The list is now complete. Read, and learn.
Abort (“premature termination of an action”), absolute convergence (“convergence of a mathematical series when the absolute values of the terms are taken”), acapulco gold, absurd (“having no rational or orderly relationship to man’s life”), access, AC/DC, ace, acid, acidhead, acoustic, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, action, action painting, adult, aerobic, african-american, afro, aioli (“garlic mayonnaise”), airtime, airhead, a la grecque, al dente, aleatory, algorithm, alley-oop (referring to the “alley-oop” pass in basketball; Webster’s identifies the source as the French acrobat’s cry of “allez-voux” [“you go up”], but makes no mention of Alley Oop, the vine-swinging apeman of the comic strips, also the subject of a pop song in the Fifties, who’s probably the direct source of the term), anchor (as in “TV anchor”), andouille, androgynous, angel-dust, angel-hair pasta, anorexic, anti-missile, anti-feminist, apple-pie, après-ski, arcade, arguable, aromotherapy, around the world (“the action of orally stimulating many parts of the body for sexual gratification”), art deco, art moderne, argula, asphalt jungle, -ass (“often considered vulgar”), asshole (“usually considered vulgar”), au bleu, audio-cassette, auntie (“a usu. middle-aged homosexual who seeks the companionship of younger men”)
bad, badass, bad-mouth, bag, backpacker, balls (meaning “nerve” is OK, the verb “to ball,” “often considered vulgar”), banach space (“a normed vector space for which the field of multipliers comprises the real or complex numbers and in which every Cauchy sequence converges to a point in the space”), B and D, barf, bar mitzvah, batch, baud, bazoom, beach bunny (“a girl who joins a surfing group but does not engage in surfing”), beat off (“usually considered vulgar”), beaver (“often considered vulgar”), beddable, bedworthy, beef wellington, beehive, beeper, bell curve, benchpress, benign neglect (coined by Sen. Pat Moynihan, who meant to say “salutary neglect” a la Edmund Burke but who receives no credit from Webster’s), braless, burre blanc, burre manié, bloop, blow (“usually considered vulgar”), body bag, body count, bollito misto, bolo tie, bong, boob (“often considered vulgar”), borscht belt, braciola, bull dyke (“often used disparagingly”), bummer, butch, buttoned-down, BYOB
calamari, calzone, camp, can (“ounce of marijuana”), candy-ass (“sometimes considered vulgar”), car bomb, cellophane noodles, cellulite, centerfold, chartreux (“any of a breed of short-haired domestic cats of French origin having a bluish gray coat and gold or orange eyes”), Chinese fire drill, chutzpah, ciao (lit., “I am your slave”), ciggie, cilantro, circular file, circusiana, cocksucker (“usually considered offensive”), cockteaser (“usually considered vulgar”), come-backer, come (“usually considered vulgar”), come out, computernik, concrete jungle, confit, coquille saint jacques, cordon bleu, corn-fed, cornhole (“usually considered vulgar”), cornichon, Cornish rex (“any of a breed of rex cats with a short plushy coat that curls esp on the back and tail and a face that is straight in profile”), couch potato, coulis, counterculture, cover-up, CPU, crash, crash pad, cream (“usually considered vulgar”), crème anglaise, crème brûlée, crème caramel, crème fraîche, cruise, crunch, cui-ui (“endangered sucker found only in Lake Pyramid, Nev.”), culture shock, culture vulture, cumberland sauce (“a cold sauce flavored with orange, lemon, currant jelly, port wine, and spices that is often served with game”), curate’s egg (“something with both good and bad parts or qualities [so called from a cartoon in the weekly Punch depicting a curate who was given a stale egg by his bishop and declared that parts of it were excellent]”), curl, cursor, cutting edge, cymric (“any of a breed of domestic cats that probably originated as a spontaneous mutation of the Manx and differs from it only by having a long coat”)
DA, duck’s ass, dacquoise(“a dessert made of layers of baked nut meringue with a filling usu. of buttercream”), daisy chain (“a group sexual activity in which each person attends to the one in front while being attended to by the one behind”—apparently neither vulgar nor offensive), dashiki, data bank, date rape, Day-Glo, debrief, debug, decaf, déjà vu, delts, demos, designated hitter, designer drug, desktop publishing, Devon rex (“any of a breed of rex cats with a very short curly coat and a strongly marked stop”), dexies, dime bag, dim sum, disco, disc, diskette, doo-wop, dork (“usually considered vulgar” when meaning penis), double gloucester (“a firm mild orange-colored English cheese similar to cheddar”—why double gloucester only made it into Webster’s after 1961 is anybody’s guess; devotees of Dickens will remember that the fiendish Mr. Murdstone sends David Copperfield over the edge with a word problem involving double gloucesters), dot matrix, double knit, dove, downer, download, downrange, downside, downsize, downtown, drag queen, dreadlock, dullsville, dweeb, DWI
earl gray (it’s flavored with bergamot oil, in case you’re interested), ecstasy, Egyptian Mau (“any of a breed of short-haired domestic cats developed in the U.S. and characterized by a spotted coat and light green or amber eyes”), embattled (like double gloucester, another late arrival that’s been around for centuries), esbat, escalate, eurotrash, Exotic Shorthair (“any of a breed of stocky short-haired domestic cats developed in the U.S. by crossing the American Shorthair with the Persian”), faggotry, faggoty (“often used disparagingly”), fag hag, far-out, femme, fern bar, film noir, finger (“the”), finger-popping, firebase, firefight, five-o’clock shadow, flash, floppy, flower child, folkie, format, fortune cookie, frabjous (coined by Lewis Carroll in “Jabberwocky,” but apparently Webster’s doesn’t know that), frag, freak, freebase, freedom ride, free-fire zone, free lunch, fuck (“usually considered vulgar” and also “usually considered offensive”), fun fur, funky, fusili, fusion, futon, future shock, friedmanite
galbraithian, gang bang, gangbusters, geek, gelato, get it on, get it together, get one’s act together, get one’s head together, get one’s back up, get one’s rocks off, get on the stick, get off, gig, GIGO, glasnost, glitch, glitz, glam, glory hole (look it up, but don’t try it), go with the flow, go-go, golden oldie, gonzo, good old boy, goody two shoes, goofy foot (“a surfer who rides a surfboard with the right foot forward”), granny glasses, granola, grass, green, green beret, green card, greenhouse effect, grok, groove, gross out, grotty, groupie, grunge, gun (“a long heavy surfboard”)
hacker, hang loose, happening, hardass, hardball, hard core, hard copy, hard charging, hard edged, hard-eyed, hardhat, hard-line, hare krishna, harvey wallbanger (a Seventies classic, the mood ring of drinks), hash, hassle, havana brown (“any of a breed of short-haired domestic cats developed in England and having a mahogany-brown coat and char-treuse eyes”), head, head dip (“a surfing feat in which a surfer squats on the board, leans forward, and dips his head into the wave”), head shop, head trip, heat, heavy, herpes genitalis, herstory, hetero, hickey, hidden agenda, high five, himalayan (“any of a breed of domestic cats developed by crossing the Persian and the Siamese and having the stocky build and long thick coat of the former and the blue eyes and coat pattern of the latter”), hip, hip-hop, hip-huggers, hipness, hippie, hodad (“a nonsurfer who frequents surfing beaches and pretends to be a surfer”), hog heaven, homeboy, honkie (“usually used disparagingly”), hot, hots, hot dog, hot pants, hot shit, hot tub, hot-wire, house-nigger (“usually used disparagingly”), hung (“often considered vulgar”), hummus, humongous, hung up, hunk, hype
identity crisis, in, in-ness, interface, Japanese bobtail (“a domestic cat of a breed that originated in Japan and is characterized by a short stumpy tail resembling a pompom and a coat often marked with solid patches of black, white, and red”), jerk-off (“usually considered vulgar”), Jesus freak, Jewish princess (“usually used disparagingly”), karma, key, kilo, kick ass, kick butt, kick out (“to turn a surfboard around and drive it over the top of a wave by pushing down on the rear of the board with the foot”), korat (“a breed of short-haired domestic cat that originated in Thailand and are characterized by a heart-shaped face, a silver-blue coat, and green eyes”), lid, light show, liposuction, love beads, love in
malibu board (“a lightweight surfboard 9 to 10 feet long”), megillah, mellow, mini, midi, maxi, mind-bending, mind-blowing, mind-expanding, mini-ski, mister charlie (“usually used disparagingly”), mood ring, moon, motherfucker (“usually considered offensive,” as you guess), mouse, mousse, nark, nelly, nerd, new age, new left, nickel and dime, nitty gritty, no brainer, nod out, nose-ride (“to ride or perform stunts on the nose of a surf-board”), no way, obsess, OD, old lady, old man, out, out of sight, overkill, panama red, paparazzi, paranoid, pate brisée, pay one’s dues, peace sign, peace symbol, pearl (“to make a nose dive into the trough of a wave”), pig (“usually used disparagingly”), pig out, pill (the), piss off (“sometimes considered vulgar”), the pits, pixel, po-lyester, pop-up, pop wine, porno, pothead, preppy, progressive rock, psychedelic, pull-down, pump up, punk, punk rock, radical chic, radicchio, Rag-doll (“trademark used for a breed of domestic cats”), rap, rat’s ass (“‘a minimum amount or degree of care or interest,’ often considered vulgar”), rat fink (an almost-forgotten epithet, once considered hysterically funny), real time, reds, retard, retro, rhythm and blues, rib-tickler, ride shotgun, ricky tick, righteous, rinky dink, rinky tink, right on, rip off, ripped, rough trade, rouille (“a peppery galice sauce of Mediterranean French origin”), running dog, rush
safe sex, salsa, saltimboca, scene, schlepp, schlock, schmeer, schmuck, scottish fold (“any of a breed of short-haired domestic cats that originated in Scotland where the breed characteristic of ears folded over the top occurred as a spontaneous mutation”), sensitivity training, sex object, shazam (“incantation used by the comic book hero Captain Marvel, fr. Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury, on whom he called”), shit, shithead (“usually considered vulgar”), shitkicker (OK, for some reason), shitless (“usually considered vulgar”), shtick, silver bullet, sinsemilla, sissy bar, ska, skinflick, skinhead, slam dance, sleaze, sleazeball, sleazo, sleazoid, smack, smartass, smashed, smoke-in, smoking gun, soft-core, soft rock, something else, soul, soul brother, soul food, soul sister, sound bite, space cadet, spaced out, spacey, spaghetti western, speed, spin doctor, split, spritz, steak au poivre, STP, straight, streaker, street-smart, street theatre, strung out, super star, suck (“usually considered vulgar” when used with “off”), sucker (“generalized form of reference”), swinger, switched-on
talking head, tank top, tearoom, teeny bopper, tequila sunrise, tex mex, theatre of the absurd, thing, ticky-tacky, tight-assed, toke, toker, tonkinese (“any of a breed of short-haired domestic cats developed in the U.S. by crossing the Siamese with the Burmese that have a brown or bluish gray body with darker points and blue-green eyes”), top 40, tough, trade (“male homosexuals who are prostitutes and often of aggressively masculine manner”), trashsport, tree ear (a mushroom), trip, truck (“to roll along, esp. in an easy, untroubled way”), tube, tune out, tunnel, turkey, turn off, tush, uncool, underground, unglued, unhip, upper, uptight, veggie (but no vege or vegged out), vibes, wacko, wahine (“girl surfer”), waitperson, wanna-be, WASP, way-out, whack off, whacked-out, whitey (“usually used disparagingly”), weirdo, where it’s at, wimp, witch of Agnesi (a cubic curve first described by the Italian mathematician Gaetana Agnesi; so called because the Italian word for “cubic curve,” versiera, can also mean “female demon,” as a back formation from avversario, “the Adversary, Satan”), woodie (surprisingly, no mention of surfing, despite the best efforts of Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, et al.), wrecked, yecch, yenta, yippie, yucky, yuppie, zaftig, zilch, zing, zit, zonk, zuppa inglese, and zydeco
© Copyright 2009 Alan Vanneman