Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Happy 50th Birthday to these words!

I was pleased to see recent media fuss when it was announced that “OMG” and “LOL” were born last week.
Of course, these obnoxious words have been around for it seems like years or maybe I’m just confusing the words themselves with the people who use them.
I’ve always known people who, “OMG!” were shocked by things like the daily sunrise and would “LOL!” at banal Facebook observations.
But there’s nothing I can do within the crush of laws concerning unlawful imprisonment of people who say those things so we might as well celebrate the birth of two new words, even words that connote dimwits.
And by birth, I mean recognition of the words by the Oxford English Dictionary. 
We don’t think words and phrases have birthdays, but the venerable Oxford English Dictionary does. It lists exactly when almost all of the nearly 600,000 words in the English language entered the lexicon.
Some of these singular words say as much about society and our advances as entire essays. 
For instance, both “Weight Watchers” and “all-you-can-eat” were born in 1961. So were “doomsayer,” “moonshot,” “rehab” and “advertorial.” Some words that were new then are passe already (“dial-up” and “splashdown”).
I am looking forward to my 50th birthday in 2013 and will be pleased to blow out the candles with the word “boink.” I’m tickled that the OED says both boink and I were born the very same year.
Boink is a splendid word, not to mention pastime, so it pleases me that we’re aging together hand-in-hand. 
Of course, you won’t hear me doing a lot of bragging that the OED felt the need to recognize the word “dipshit” the same year I was born.
It pains me to think that the word was in its embryonic stages for years and didn’t need barnyard liberation until the year the docs told my folks, “It’s a boy!”
Who knows? Maybe I did something to push the popularity of the word as soon as I was born. I know my late father said the word so often that I still turn around and say, “Yes?” anytime I hear it spoken in my vicinity.
But I have a busy week and am going to take the easy way out today by presenting you with a list of words that are turning 50 this year.
What interests me is that many of these words seem to stem from a Madison Avenue heyday of when rampant consumerism was really starting its American roar, and how many of the words stem from space exploration.
It must have been an exciting time to be alive and not just some little dipshit awaiting delivery.
• advertorial -- This is advertising masquerading as advertising. I’ve sneered at advertorials, but only when I’m not being paid to write them. I’ve done maybe two or three of these in what for a lack of a better word I call my “career.” Guaranteed, I’d be a lot better off if I’d done a lot less sneering and a lot more selling.
• all-you-can-eat -- I wonder what they called this before they coined this now-common phrase. Probably gluttony.
• A-OK -- The space program gave us so much. In hindsight, it seemed like such an  exciting time. I think right now things are about C-OK, which is an improvement over F-OK from just a few years ago. 
• back-talk -- How come there’s still not a goody-goody front-talk?
• bionic -- That means the word to describe him is about 25 years older than the man who came to represent it: Astronaut Steve Austin.
• dial-up -- Even the reading the seven-character name makes me tap my fingers in impatience today.
• doomsayer -- It took until 1961 to get to this word? I’d have thought doomsayers would have been around since Pontius Pilot started toweling off his dripping hands.
• fab -- The word would have faded into obscurity had it not been for John, Paul, George and Ringo.
• gillion -- Someday I’m going to get around to doing a story about the biggest number known to man. I’m pitching a piece now about the shortest time measurements. I’m going to call it: “No Time At All.” Just wait. No one will snap it up and I’ll write a half-assed version of it for the blog in a New York minute.
• incapacitate -- A word that was launched just in time for a decade when access to and consumption of mind-bending drugs made the word so necessary.
• intel -- This must have coincided with when the CIA was devoting more time to snappy acronyms and abrevs. than actual intelligence of what was going on in Southeast Asia.
• moon shot -- Baseball fans ought to relate to this. The meaning, of course, is another space program coinage adapted to mean what guys like Mickey Mantle was blasting them out of the old Yankee Stadium.
• no-win -- How did this once come about? You mean before this there were just win-wins? It feels like I’ve been no-win on every March Madness pool I’ve entered since before Mantle was blasting moon shots.
• off-air -- Imagine a simpler time when every TV set could receive just three stations and they were on the air for just about 14 hours or so a day. What did people do with the spare time? Read? Drink? Boink? Ah, the good ol’ days.
• omigod -- It took us 50 years to condense this one? All I can say is, OM--, er, amazing!
• randy -- Austin Powers rules, baby!
• rat fink -- It’s just the perfect pairing. Go ahead and try substituting any other loathsome animal and watch it fail. Things like skunk fink or roach fink just don’t cut it. Didn’t James Cagney corner the market on this one with “Dirty Rat Fink?”
• rehab -- You mean rehab predated Betty Ford?
• retro -- As mentioned, this word is still cool. I don’t watch much “Mad Men,” but I sense its retro appeal.
• skyjacker -- Oceanic pirates have been around for centuries. How did we get skyjacker instead of sky pirate? I like sky pirate better.
• wazoo -- I’d say I’d have to look more into this one, but I’m fearful of what the ol’ research would require. 
• Weight Watcher -- Fascinating. Both Weight Watcher and all-you-can-eat were born the same year. To me, it’s the chicken and the egg argument all over.
• woody -- This, I guess, refers to the old station wagons bands like the Beach Boys sang about. I like the newer meaning, but it would be fun to time travel back to 1961 and tell mom I was going to run my big old woody down to the beach to meet the bikini babes.

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