Carbon date your language – the 1960s

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The confidence of the sixties decade brought with it a flock of new vocabulary. Moving on from the nuclear fears of the fifties, the Cold War era brought us body count, damage limitation, the black box, hawks and doves, ‘surgical’ strikes and peaceniks.

Developments in space meant the arrival of moon walks, splash-down, module, pulsar and black hole. The world of computers was even more a field of discovery for new words: digital, database, software, chip, byte and even computer dating. The business world coined golden handshake, conglomerate, consumerism and deregulation.

As is often the case, the young were the creators of much of the new language, especially when it related directly to their lives. Each of the following were easy to interpret and instantly identifiable: grotty, gear, switched on, aggro, naff, groupies, bovver, teeny-boppers, with it, freak out and, of course, vibes.

Fashion brought with it thongs and caftans, dreadlocks, tights, flares and hipsters. The drug world, always a main source of slang and argot, saw the arrival of mind-expanding, of uppers and downers, poppers, tabs and angel dust; drink-driving brought about the breathalyser and sexual habits the missionary position.

The media world developed with paparazzi, image makers, chat-shows, pagers, sitcoms, videos, cassettes, answerphones and phone-ins. The environmental movement added impetus with biodegradable, endangered, global village and unleaded and those aligned to the ‘mind, body and spirit’ outlook found words to translate the notions of cellulite, biorhythms, lotus position, aerobics, ego-trip, lateral thinking, lige-style, extra-terrestrial, shiatsu and holistic medicine,  body language and born-again.

Prosperity engendered microwave ovens, garden centres and jet lag, and greater access to foreign lands assimilated au pair girls, chicken kiev, crudités, Jacuzzis and Kiwi fruit.

Compound words, blending or merging two words, were abundant with docudrama, identikit, faction and advertorial. Other words of no obvious topical consequence were orchestrate, midlife crisis, kiss of life (which supplanted the old arm-pumping technique and which tidied itself up to become mouth-to mouth resuscitation in due course) and gender (being the sex of a human being, from the point of view of the social and cultural, rather than the biological distinction).


Other articles in this series: Carbon date your language 1950s | 1970s | 1980s


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