If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the word “wellness”, wonder no more. In his Sunday On Language column in the New York Times Magazine, Ben Zimmer explores the subject in depth. And, interestingly, there’s a strong Berkeley connection to the answer.

In 1984, Tom Dickey launched the Berkeley Wellness Letter, a monthly newsletter on health based at Cal.

Zimmer reports that the term wellness was initially a tough sell at the school, not least because it was associated with the “flakiness” of Mill Valley and surrounding Marin County. The Wellness Resource Center in Mill Valley had opened in 1975. The center promoted self-directed approaches to wellbeing as an alternative to the traditional illness-oriented care of physicians.

Zimmer writes:

The NBC newsman Edwin Newman had televised an exposé of Marin County’s hedonistic lifestyle, which notoriously opened with a woman getting a peacock-feather massage from two nude men. The Berkeley Wellness Letter, however, managed to avoid such unseemly associations by publishing serious, evidence-based articles on health promotion, while debunking many of the holistic health fads of the day.

Read the full, fascinating tale here.

[Hat tip: Nancy Friedman]

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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  1. I remember that Edwin Newman special. I believe the title was “Marin County: I want it all now” (and I think it was broadcast before I left for college back East, in ’78, because I remember being asked about it), and it followed on the heels of Cyra McFadden’s “The Serial” which covered the same territory in a fictional but less sensational way.