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Logo of thijTexas Heart Institute JournalSee also Cardiovascular Diseases Journal in PMCSubscribeSubmissionsTHI Journal Website
 
Tex Heart Inst J. 2007; 34(3): 392–393.
PMCID: PMC1995051

The History of Aspirin

To the Editor:

I thoroughly enjoyed the superb historical perspective article on aspirin by Miner and Hoffhines.1 They described in detail the discovery of aspirin's antithrombotic effects and mentioned Felix Hoffman's role in creating acetylsalicylic acid and naming it aspirin. To make their article more complete, I wish to describe briefly the origin of the word “aspirin.”

Aspirin was originally a trademark name that required a capital “A,” given by the German company Bayer to its preparation of acetylsalicylic acid.2 Salicylic acid was first extracted from the plant Spiraea ulmaria, and the principal component of this extract was known by the German term spiroylige Säure, which was later shortened to Spirsäure.2 An “A,” to designate acetyl, was added to “spir,” and this was followed by the suffix “-in”.2 Thus, the name aspirin was born.

Aspirin, which was originally a proper noun, later became a common noun, so the initial letter was no longer capitalized. The word has now joined the general language, in the company of many other well-known proper nouns that are no longer proper.3,4 I published a partial list of these in 1997.3

Over the years, I have discovered a few more and have accumulated a small list of scientific proper names that I would like to share with your readers. The list is as follows:

  • bunsen burner (after Robert Bunsen, 1811–1899)
  • caesarean section (after Julius Caesar, 100–44 BC)
  • celsius (after A. Celsius, 1701–1744)
  • curie (after Marie Curie, 1867–1934)
  • doppler (after Christian Johann Doppler, 1803–1853)
  • fahrenheit (after G.D. Fahrenheit, 1686–1736)
  • galenical (after Claudius Galenus, 130–200)
  • galvanization (after Luigi Galvani, 1737–1798)
  • gauss (after Karl-Friedrich Gauss, 1777–1855; 10,000 gauss = 1 tesla, vide infra)
  • hertz (after Heinrich Rudolph Hertz, 1857–1894)
  • kaolin (after the Chinese place of that name, meaning “high hill”— where the claylike silicate of aluminum was first found)
  • kelvin (after Baron William Thompson Kelvin, 1824–1907)
  • marconigram (after Guglielmo Marconi, 1874–1937)
  • masochism (after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, 1836–1895)
  • mercury (after the deity in Roman mythology, the god of science)
  • mesmerism (after F.A. Mesmer, 1734–1815)
  • narcissism (after the mythical Narcissus)
  • pasteurization (after Louis Pasteur, 1822–1895)
  • petri dish (after J.R. Petri, 1852–1921)
  • roentgenogram (after Wilhem Konrad Roentgen, 1845–1923)
  • sadism (after Alphonse François de Sade, 1740–1814)
  • seltzer (truncated version of the German Selterser-wasser, named for its origin in the village of Selters near Wiesbaden)
  • stent (after the London dentist Thomas Stent [?], 1845–1901)
  • tesla (after Nikola Tesla, 1856–1943)

I am sure your readers can think of many more such instances, and I would welcome their contributions to my list. I have placed a question mark after the explanation for “stent,” because not every interventional cardiologist agrees to this interpretation.5

Tsung O. Cheng, MD
Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University, Washington, DC 20037

Footnotes

Letters to the Editor should be no longer than 2 double-spaced typewritten pages and should contain no more than 6 references. They should be signed, with the expectation that the letters will be published if appropriate. The right to edit all correspondence in accordance with Journal style is reserved by the editors.

References

1. Miner J, Hoffhines A. The discovery of aspirin's antithrombotic effects. Tex Heart Inst J 2007;34:179–86. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Haubrich WS. Medical meanings. A glossary of word origins. Philadelphia: American College of Physicians; 1997. p. 23.
3. Cheng TO. When a proper noun becomes a common noun. Am J Cardiol 1997;80:976.
4. Cheng TO. Another common noun derived from a proper noun. Am J Cardiol 1998;82:1562. [PubMed]
5. Cheng TO. Origin of the word “stent.” Hospital Medicine 1999;60:763.

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