It's very likely, of course, that someone, someday will come up with a catchy
label for the 1970s, a tag that will do for the decade what "Gay" did for the
1890s, what "Roaring" did for the 1920s. This is the sort of tidy packaging that
journalists and even historians find virtually irresistible, and we wouldn't
hesitate with a tag ourselves if we had a good idea. But the decade of the '70s
evades easy characterization. The years, in retrospect, tumbled after one
another with stunning changes of tone and mood. The divisive bitterness over
Vietnam was followed by profound shock at the spectacle of a President
conspiring in his own downfall and disgrace. Americans were caught in a
deepening crisis of trust about our government. Then, somehow, with the coming
of our 200th birthday, hope and optimism returned. We elected a new President
whose born-again directness and sense of moral conviction promised needed
change. The outlandish prospect of peace in the Middle East bloomed with the
initiative of Egypt's Anwar Sadat. The U.S. itself was not involved in any war.
Still, all the good news did little to diminish the big, lasting troubles of the
decade: worldwide inflation and the energy crisis. And these would clearly be
problems of the '80s as well.
"Tumultuous" might be a plausible label for such a wildly varied time. Or
"Roller Coaster." Or "Dangerous." Or even "Astounding," for surely no one would
have predicted much that happened in these years. But perhaps the titling of the
period is best left to such an innovative and perceptive commentator as Tom
Wolfe, who has just written an article for this magazine called "The Sexed-Up,
Doped-Up, Hedonistic Heaven of the Boom-Boom '70s." For what is a decade,
anyway? Merely a calendric bookkeeping device, a convenient way to measure the
sequence of time. A sequence of time that is marked forever by the actions and
voices of the men and women who lived it, as represented in the 75 examples of
"SeventiesSpeak" listed below. Soon the '70s will exist only in books and films
and the records, such as this issue of Life. The years will be gone, except for
our memories, the trees and hopes that we planted them, and the broken windows
Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr.
ADIDAS - Brand-name graffiti appearing primarily on running shoes, including a
pair that glows in the dark.
AGEISM - Discrimination against the elderly for being old.
AIR SUPPORT - "It's not bombing -- it's air support" - U.S. Air Force colonel in
Phnom Penh. See also RURAL PACIFICATION.
ANGEL DUST (a.k.a. phencyclidine, PCP, Hog, Crystal, Rocket Fuel, Killer Weed) -
Originally for veterinary use only, it can be smoked, eaten, injected or
snorted. Highs include increased blood pressure, indifference to pain, drooling,
distorted vision and sometimes death.
BANANA - Chastised for the scary language he used about the recession,
inflation-fighter Alfred Kahn vowed to substitute more soothing terms, like
"banana." Kahn has since been heard to speak of "double-digit banana."
BIOETHICS - The ethical ramifications of organ transplants, genetic engineering
and other such biological niceties.
BLACK HOLE - A hypothetical hole in outer space into which massive stars
collapse upon themselves, leaving behing only gravity so strong that nothing,
not even light, can escape.
BLOWS ME AWAY - Replaces "knocks me out."
BOOM BOX - Portable music system, traditioally operated on crowded city streets
at peak volume.
BOTTOM LINE - An irreducible reckoning.
CELLULITE - Another compelling priority of the "moi" decade -- the dimpled flesh
sometimes found rippling round women's thighs.
CONEHEAD - Fomer inhabitants of Saturday Night Live who spoke in monotones and
had sex by tossing cones onto each other's -- what else? -- coneheads. Coneheads
bear no resemblance to Alexander Cohen or George M. Cohan.
DECRIMINALIZATION - The not-quite legalization of marijuana.
DESIGNER JEANS - Thanks to Gloria Vanderbilt, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein et al.,
you can look sensational shoveling out the barnyard.
DISCO - "The noun, verb and adjective of the 1970s" - Robert Vare
DYN-O-MITE - Fab-u-lous.
ECOCIDE - Man's murder of the environment.
FACTOID - A fact having no existence outside its appearance in the news media;
attributed to Norman Mailer.
FLASH ON - Have an insight, inspiration, memory or revelation. Frequently drug-
induced, e.g., to flash on the meaning of life.
GASOHOL - One part alcohol to nine parts unleaded gasoline. Its advocates
believe gasohol will save drivers money and save the U.S. from OPEC.
GAY POWER - Out of the closets and into the streets.
GET DOWN - Get serious.
GOOD BUDDY - Fellow traveler, in CB-ese, especially when "handle" is unknown.
See also BEAR IN THE SKY (police helicopter), BIG DOG (Greyhound bus) and GREASY
SIDE UP (overturned vehicle). Ten four.
GO WITH THE FLOW - Ease on down the stream.
GREENHOUSE EFFECT - Air pollution is preventing some of the earth's surface heat
from escaping into space. The resulting greenhouse effect could, within several
decades, cause swift and possibly catastrophic changes in the global climate,
making it somewhat more difficult to go with the flow.
HAVE A NICE DAY (or, western-style, HAVE A GOOD ONE) - Once meant to have a nice
day; now means nothing.
HEIMLICH MANEUVER - A procedure (named after the U.S. surgeon who devised it) to
assist choking victims by manually forcing air up through their windpipes.
HOPEFULLY - The most misused adverb of the decade. Proper usage, such as "He
faced the future hopefully," will eventually come back into use -- hopefully.
INTERFACE - Connect, interact, operate together -- "They interfaced happily ever
JOINT CUSTODY - Sharing your toke or your tyke.
KIDVID - Corporatese for children's television.
KNEECAPPING - Bred in Ireland, perfected in Italy, something new and different
in terrorism: shooting to cripple.
LAETRILE - A chemical derived from crushed apricot pits believed by many to cure
cancer, although the medical and legal establishments remain unconvinced.
LAID BACK - Opposite of uptight. Self-image of many southern Californians. Henry
Fonda is laid back. Jane is not.
LAUNDER - Old Mafia gambit, clumsily resurrected during Watergate, of running
money through a foreign account to camouflage its dubious origins.
LED - Light-emitting diode. Electronic readouts that give a space-age look to
pocket calculators, digital watches and movies about interplanetary flights.
LEISURE SUIT - "How many polyesters did you kill to make that suit?" - Steve
LETTER BOMB - Terrorist explosive inside an envelope, designed to kill the
recipient upon opening. The ultimate in junk mail.
'LUDE - Quaalude, disco-biscuit. An addictive downer supposedly obtainable by
prescription only, but in fact readily available in ghettos, fashionable salons
and on campuses all over America. A particular favorite of Elvis's.
MACHO - Descriptive of a man who shuns deodorants and buttons his shirt at the
MEDIA - Plural of medium, though the news media has never figured that out, has
MELTDOWN - The melting of a nuclear reactor core and release of radiation
following a cooling system breakdown. See CHINA SYNDROME.
MISSPOKE - Lied. A favorite of Nixon presidential press secretary Ron Ziegler.
NEGATIVE INCOME TAX - An idea whose time has not yet come -- guaranteed income
paid by the government to the poor.
NO-FAULT - Now you, too, can walk away blame-free from accidents and divorce.
NOSE WHEELIE - Riding on the two front wheels of a skateboard. Not to be
confused with a tail wheelie, an apple turnover or a two-board daffy.
ONE THOUSAND PERCENT - Give or take a thousand. "I'm one thousand percent for
Tom Eagleton and I have no intention of dropping him from the ticket" - George
OPEC - Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The bad guys.
PRE-OWNED - Used.
PRO-LIFE - Anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia. Antomym: pro-death.
PSYCHOBABBLE - I'm going through some heavy energy, man, I mean, wow, it's
beautiful if you're unhappy, but now I'm getting behind my feelings, like into a
new reality, a space for me to be me, and it's an outasight head trip, you know,
going with my process, getting clear or where I'm coming from, just laying the
vibes out there and really it just blows me away, dig?
PULL THE PLUG - Let the patient die.
PUNK - Momentarily hip nihilism of the mid-'70s, characterized by rainbow-dyed
hair and pin-pierced flesh. Very punk.
QUADROPHONIC - Four-channeled sound transmission. Quad was highly touted in the
early '70s as the heir to stereo, indeed to all preexisting hi-fi systems, but
consumers refused the bait.
QUARK - The nucleus of an atom begat neutrons and protons, which themselves are
now believed to be made up of sub-subatomic particles called quarks. (Derived
from Finnegans Wake: "Three quarks for Muster Mark.")
REALLY! - I agree with everything you've just said and everything you are likely
to say in the future. Really!
REBIRTHING - A therapy involving naked immersion in a hot tub, a snorkel and the
alleged reexperience of one's birth as a key to enlightenment, prosperity and
bliss. About $50 a session. Cash.
RED DYE #2 - Coloring agent used in hundreds of American foods and cosmetics
until banned by the federal government as a possible carcinogen in 1976.
RELATIONSHIP - Once upon a time people met, fell in love, got married and lived
happily ever after. Now they have relationships.
REVERSE DISCRIMINATION - Discrimination against whites in order to reverse long-
term discrimination against blacks and other minorities. The underside of
SHOWER ACTIVITY - Term favored by TV weatherpersons to denote rain.
SHUTTLE DIPLOMACY - Well-publicized flights between foreign capitals in pursuit
of peace and material for memoirs.
SICK-OUT - A new labor tactic: large numbers of employees staying home from work
on the pretext of illness, in order to avoid the corporate and legal
ramifications of a formally called strike.
SKYJACK - Kidnap an airplane, usually for political or psychopathic reasons.
SMOKING GUN - Ultimate, indisputable evidence of a crime. As Watergate unfolded,
Nixon's hard-core supporters kept citing the absence of a smoking gun -- that
is, until the tapes finally provided one.
STONEWALL - Whatever happens, admit nothing.
STROKE - To soothe with flattery, to lay it on thick.
SUNBELT - The transcontinental South, stretching from Virginia to southern
THEME PARKS - Amusement parks based on central motifs, including everything from
Mickey Mouse to rattlesnakes. Whatever turns you on.
TOUCH DANCING - Counterrevolutionary disco.
ULTRASUEDE - Sixty percent polyester, 40 percent nonfibrous polyurethane...
VIABLE ALTERNATIVE - Alternative.
VISION CENTER - Optician's shop.
WHAT'S HAPPENIN'? - All-purpose greetin'.
XYZ ZERO-BASED BUDGETING - Budgeting anew each year, without reference to
previous budgets. Another potent weapon in the war against the double-digit
- Life, December 1979
comments powered by Disqus|
Archives Intro | Main Page | Seventies Almanac | The Classic 500 | Search The RockSite/The Web