Question: Big C, cancer, and John Wayne

paul johnson paulzjoh at MTNHOME.COM
Fri Dec 27 18:25:23 UTC 2013

In the 60's and 70's I clearly remember my older relatives whispering
"he's got c"

It wasn't Big c but it was whispered.
On 12/27/2013 12:16 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
> Perhaps some list members (and/or Barry) would be willing to explore
> the following interesting question about the term "Big C" received via
> a tweet request. (My ability to perform research right now is
> limited.) A BBC website article is linked in the tweet below.
> [Begin tweet]
> Richard Evans @RichardJaEvans
> @QuoteResearch Do you happen to know whether John Wayne really did
> coin the term "Big C" to describe cancer (see )?
> [End tweet]
> The Oxford English Dictionary has “Big C” for cancer with a first
> citation in 1967 (“Big C” for cocaine occurs earlier).
> [Begin excerpt]
> big C n. orig. U.S.  (a) slang cocaine;  (b) colloq. (euphem.) (usu.
> with the) cancer.
> 1959   J. E. Schmidt Narcotics Lingo & Lore 16   Big C, cocaine as a
> drug used by addicts.
> 1967   W. Murray Sweet Ride vii. 99   ‘He's had a lung removed.’ ‘The
> Big C?’ ‘Yes.’
> 1984   H. D. Weaver Confronting Big C ii. 22   He is no longer afraid;
> he knows it is possible to conquer ‘the big C’
> [End excerpt]
> Here are four citations from GenealogyBank (the only database I
> searched). Apparently, the term “Big C” was being used before John
> Wayne employed it.
> Date: June 17, 1963
> Paper: Cleveland Plain Dealer
> Article: New Attitude on Mental Ills
> Author: Howard Preston
> Quote Page: 17
> Location: Cleveland, Ohio
> [Begin excerpt]
> Spurred by the American Cancer Society, no longer do we consider
> cancer to be taboo and we can say the word outright without whispering
> "Big C."
> [End excerpt]
> Date: January 4, 1964
> Paper: Boston Record American
> Article: Drum Beat: One Grade A 50-Karat Man
> Author: Bill Duncliffe
> Quote Page: 21
> Location: Boston, Massachusetts
> [Begin excerpt]
> If you remember, we said that George had been hit with cancer twice,
> had beaten it twice, and was again feeling poorly. We called him the
> toughest man alive, and any man who's licked Big C twice deserves a
> rating like that.
> [End excerpt]
> Date: May 23, 1964
> Paper: Rockford Register-Republic
> Article: Tough Competitor Fights It: Big 'C' Usually Wins
> Author: Bill Gleason in Chicago's American
> Quote Page 6A
> Location: Rockford, Illinois
> [Begin excerpt]
> We all know about Hutch, a large and sometimes violent man who manages
> the Cincinnati Reds. We read last winter that he had Big "C". You may
> not have thought about it just this way, but it long has seemed to me
> that cancer is the class disease.
> [End excerpt]
> Date: December 30, 1964
> Paper: Aberdeen Daily News
> Article: John Wayne Licks the Great Killer
> Quote Page: 1
> Location:Aberdeen, South Dakota
> [Begin excerpt]
> Movie hero John Wayne ... says he now has conquered the great killer—cancer
> ...
> "I licked the Big C," the all-time movie boxoffice king grinned Tuesday.
> [End excerpt]
> Garson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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The American Dialect Society -

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