Saturday, July 17, 2010

July 17: Words from the 1960s Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1968 release of the Beatles animated film Yellow Submarine. To many filmgoers the psychedelic animation and upbeat music of the film were a welcome respite from the turbulent events of 1968: the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

Ironically the Beatles themselves had very little to do with the film; in fact, all the dialogue for John, Paul, George, and Ringo was provided by actors; thankfully, however, the songs were recorded by the actual Beatles. After seeing the finished version of the film, the Beatles agreed to make a brief non-animated appearance at the end of the film.

When the film was re-released in 1999 on DVD, reviewer Roger Ebert commented that the film had more than just visual appeal:

This is a story that appeals even to young children, but it also has a knowing, funny style that adds an undertow of sophistication. The narration and dialogue are credited to four writers (including Love Story's Erich Segal), and yet the overall tone is the one struck by John Lennon in his books 'In His Own Write' and 'A Spaniard in the Works.' Puns, drolleries, whimsies and asides meander through the sentences:

There's a cyclops! He's got two eyes. Must be a bicyclops. It's a whole bicloplopedia! (1)

The 1950s was the decade of the missile gap, but the 1960s -- especially the late 1960s -- was the decade of the generation gap. Flower power and the flower children stood for peace and love. The word psychedelic first appeared in the 1950s to mean, according to 20th Century Words: "(A drug) producing an expansion of consciousness through greater awareness of the senses and emotional feelings . . . ." Its meaning later broadened to denote the "vivid colors, often in bold abstract designs or in motion" (2). With the explosion of colors in films like Yellow Submarine, psychedelic became one of the words that characterized the 1960s landscape.

Change also characterized the landscape of the 1960s, and a chronology of words that first appeared in print in that decade provides insight into some of those changes. Here is a list of other words (and one suffix) that were children of the '60s:

cassette (1960)

software (1960)

global village (1960)

Velcro (1960)

DJ (1961)

lite (1962)

bar code (1963)

Third World (1963)

zip code (1966)

Beatlemania (1963)

BASIC (1964)

-aholic (1965)

hypertext (1965)

microwave oven (1965)

body language (1966)

cultural revolution (1966)

generation gap (1967)

love-in (1967)

Age of Aquarius (1967)

be-in (1968)

reggae (1968)

'Nam (1969)

orchestrate (1969) (2)

Today's Challenge: Psychedelic Idioms

The '60s were psychedelic, but English has always used all the colors of the rainbow to construct common expressions. Although these expressions (idioms) use color words, the colors have nothing to do with the literal meaning of the expression. For example, the expression red tape means official forms and procedures, especially those that are complex and time consuming. Notice that the modern definition has nothing to do with literal red tape. The origin of the expression goes back to the early 1800s when British bureaucracies were known for using literal red tape to tie up official documents (3).

1. _______ elephant

2. _______ herring

3. _______ mail

4. True _______

5. _______ thumb

6. _______ area

7. _______ horn

8. _______ moon

9. _______ prose

10. _______ journalism

Quote of the Day: I wish people would get hip to it already, so I don't have to talk about it anymore and explain what the '60s were all about and explain psychedelic and all of that. --Ray Manzarek

Word of the Day: Variegate (verb) - to make varied in appearance by differences, as in colors.

Write: The word psychedelic is word the characterises the 1960s. What new word would you select from this decade to best characterize life in this decade? Why?

Answers: 1. white 2. red 3. black 4. blue 5. green 6. grey 7. green 8. blue 9. purple 10. yellow

1 - Ebert, Roger. Great Movies. Chicago Sun Times. 9/5/99.

2 - Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1999.

3 - Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

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