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December 1994

Parkinson and the Plum Tree

Author Affiliations

New York University Medical Center 15 W 12th St New York, NY 10011

Arch Neurol. 1994;51(12):1182-1183. doi:10.1001/archneur.1994.00540240026010

In 1817, Dr James Parkinson published an essay, "On the Shaking Palsy." Parkinson practiced medicine in Shoreditch, a comfortable community near London, England, but was no ordinary general practitioner. In addition to describing the disease that now bears his name, he wrote a classic and early account of acute appendicitis.1 He was also well known and respected as a writer on nonmedical subjects, a geologist, a political reformer, and a churchman.2

The choice of the words "shaking palsy" in the title is an unusual one. Parkinson latinized the expression into "paralysis agitans" as an alternative at the opening of his account. (The eponymic title "Parkinson's Disease," by which we know the condition today, did not come into use until the end of the 19th century and was first so used by the celebrated French neurologist Charcot.)

Before 1817, the term shaking palsy had been vaguely employed by medical writers