The Meaning of Life (1914) & AIDS (1981-1982)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Jan 9 02:07:43 UTC 2002

>>>     I checked "AIDS" in OED, and the first citation is 24 September 1982.
>>>  This seems late.
>>Nexis has a slightly earlier citation (New York Times, 8 Aug. 1982).
>>Fred Shapiro
>That article makes it clear that the term must have already been well
>established by 8 Aug. '82, with its references to the A.I.D.S.
>Project (note the dots still used; the acronym hadn't yet become
>AIDS) at the Center for Disease Control.  Perhaps the chronicles of
>the disease (Randy Shilts's _And the Band Played On_, or one of the
>more scholarly books) would have earlier cites, and a history of how
>the term evolved.

The acronym is for "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome". This was/is a
label attached to a constellation of odd diseases associated with depressed
T-cell count etc. Even the components of AIDS were not noticed/reported
until June 1981 (IIRC), although in retrospect isolated instances were
found in earlier records. The earliest use in print might be sought by
"Med-Line" or other search of the medical literature. The CDC made its
"official" definition of AIDS in late 1982, I think, but the expression was
used earlier, probably early 1982, surely not before mid-1981 since the
entity was not known nor even suspected earlier. The acronym and the
pronunciation "aids" appeared in print and speech virtually immediately
upon the introduction of the full name of the syndrome, as I recall ... as
is frequent in medicine and other fields. I think the printed form "AIDS"
without dots probably appeared at the same time as the full syndrome name:
this would be the typical medical-journal approach (define the long
expression in the first paragraph, give it an abbreviation/acronym, and use
the short form throughout the text). [It is my impression that acronyms
without dots are much more common than dotted ones in the pertinent
literature although I haven't really thought about this; one could check
"JAMA" or the "New England Journal of Medicine" for examples of the
prevailing style.]

-- Doug Wilson

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