Shortly after I qualified MB, ChB in 1963, I had a position in the pathology department of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. I was surprised to discover there that there was a word that I didn't know – ‘clone’. I did realise that I did not know everything in medicine, but I remember that I felt aggrieved that my medical education had missed telling me about clones and even about ‘tiger lymphocytes’ – a term that I am sure I would have remembered had I been told about it. I did some reading about these things and realised that immunology was using these terms and had introduced them to medicine. Apparently, according to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘clone’, coming from the Greek word for branch, or twig, was first used in English by botanists at the beginning of the 20th century. Well, in 1957, when I started my medical education, we had to pass an exam in botany in our first year – and nobody ever mentioned ‘clone’ then. According to Fowler, the word “swept into popular use” in the 1970s.
This made me feel much better, as I was ahead of the general populace, learning about the word before the rest of them. Except of course for the immunologists, who were surging ahead on a tidal wave of enthusiasm. Like tigers. Well, like lymphocytes really.