By Stan St. Clair
Even before the beginning of the California gold rush, prospectors and dealers alike needed a sure way to distinguish pyrite and base metal from the genuine article. A test was developed, originally in the late 18th century, with only nitric acid, which was able to dissolve other metals more readily than gold. Later acid tests used a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids.
Standing or passing the acid test quickly came to refer to holding up under extreme conditions. The earliest known citation of a figurative use of this phrase is from the Wisconsin paper The Columbia Reporter, November, 1845:
“Twenty-four years of service demonstrates his ability to stand the acid test, as Gibson’s Soap Polish has done for over 30 years.”
In the 1960s hippy community, the “acid test” in a punned context determined whether LSD users could cope with the psychological demands of taking the drug. This is cited in Maurer and Vogel’s Narcotics and Narcotic Addiction, 1967:
“A common phrase amongst users is ‘can you pass the acid test?’”
In today’s uncertain world, we are having to hold up under extreme conditions, indeed. Each day brings new challenges. As Americans we are strong. We need to unite, forget our differences and show the world that we can “pass the acid test.”
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