Carbon date your language – the 1980s

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The Eighties, and the birth of Thatcherism, saw the widespread development of a new era for the business world. In came new words: golden hello, dawn raids, derivatives, telebanking, cashback and smart cards. There wereacronyms such as yuppies and dinkies and, epitomised by Thatcher herself, power-dressing and handbagging. The decade saw in the enterprise culture and the feel-good factor, the poll tax and political ‘wets’. But victims of this cultural change brought dependency culture, help-lines, cardboard cities and income support.

On the world stage we translated straight into our vernacular the following. From Russia we got perestroika and glasnost, fromCzechoslovakia: the velvet revolution, from the Falklands’ conflict: gotcha and yomp and elsewhere: no-fly zones.

Computer developments introduced us to cyberspace, spreadsheets, downloading, laptops and teleworking and saw in the beginnings of the Internet, the information superhighway and e-mail. Products abounded with satellite dishes, camcorders, Pac-man and Game Boy, ghetto-blasters and Walkmans.

Environmentalists coined biodiversity, wind farms and the carbon tax and there were New Age travellers, crop circles and eco-terrorists. Safe sex was espoused as a result of the spread of Aids and elsewhere in the medical and biological worldscame keyhole surgery, ME (or yuppie flu) and repetitive strain injury and the feared BSE (mad cow disease).

Youth culture brought high-fives, break dancing, hip-hop, moonwalking, warehouse parties and raves with ecstacy, prozac and crack the new drugs. Fashion saw fashion victims, bondage trousers, the medallion man, liposuction, go-faster stripes and shell suits and mousse for the hair.  As for their general slang, there was gobsmacked, massive, radical, crucial, wicked, mega and brill.

Foodies talked of ciabatta, estate agents of des res near wine bars, parents were accused of hothousing, drivers of road rage and wheel clamps. The sex industry introduced sex workers (politically-correct speak for prostitutes), stripagrams and lap dancing.

In this mixed up decade of enterprise and welfare concerns, Eighties’ society created the champagne socialists, the chattering classes, air-kissing, eye-candy andthe A list. We disparaged lager louts, celebrated brat packs, inflated bouncy castles and hunted for bargains at car-boot sales.


Other articles in this series: Carbon date your language  1950s | 1960s | 1970s

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