Antedating of Speed (=Methamphetamine)

Sun Apr 14 16:10:55 UTC 2013

The OED's earliest example of "speed" to mean an amphetamine drug, especially methamphetamine, is from the Avatar (Boston), September 1967.  It was used earlier in Nicholas von Hoffman, The 'Golden Dream' May Be Little More Than a Nightmare, Washington Post, Aug. 21, 1966, at E5, col. 1:

<<It [sc. methedrine] is a powerful drug, an amphetamine, that starves the brain of oxygen and sends the soul scudding before misty winds.  They call it "Speed, "Battery Acid," "Fast Freak.">>

There are no further uses of "Battery Acid" or "Fast Freak" in the article, which describes use of methedrine (i.e., methamphetamine) at an apartment in Berkeley, but there are several more uses of "Speed," always capitalized.  There are also several references to it as "meth," sometimes referring to the drug itself but more often as a modifier ("meth scene," "meth heads," "meth freaks").

It may be that the OED knows about this use of "speed" already, since its "meth" article cites to another article by von Hoffman in the Post from the same day.

John Baker

The American Dialect Society -

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