Anxiety about Aids has generated a spate of rumours, gruesome jokes, and a *con-temporary legend based on the notion that those infected deliberately infect others, in revenge or despair. The story has often appeared in press reports in the USA, Britain, and Europe. One version, which was 'all over the city' of Sheffield in February 1987, told how a young man picked up an unknown girl at a nightclub and took her home for sex; when he woke she had left, after writing in lipstick on the bathroom mirror, 'Welcome to the world of Aids!' (Bennett and Smith, 1990: 113). In other variants the victim is a girl who, returning from a holiday abroad, unwraps a 'parting gift' from a casual partner, and finds a miniature coffin with the same message. Currently (1998), there is a third version:
   Worthing nightclubbers are being asked to be on their guard against sick pranksters who fool them into thinking they have contracted the deadly HIV virus. Rumours have been spreading throughout Worthing that groups of people have been stabbing late-night revellers with needles containing blood contaminated with the virus. Small notes are then left in the revellers' coats or handbags with the sick message, 'Welcome to the Aids club.' ... [Police commented]: 'There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest this is really happening . . . if people do find one of these notes it is likely to be no more than a very sick joke.' (Worthing Herald (5 Feb. 1998), 25)
   Despite the rational police warning, six months later another local paper reported as factual a 'cruel and vicious attack' on a girl in a nightclub, who allegedly felt a sharp jab in the back, and found a card in her pocket with the usual message. Neither the girl's name nor that of the 'family friend' who told the press is given (Worthing Guardian (17 Sept. 1998), 1).
   In an article on this story-type, Paul Smith pointed to a precedent in Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year (1722):
   A poor, unhappy gentlewoman, a substantial citizen's wife, was (if the story be true) murdered byone of these creatures [plague victims] in Aldergate Street, or that way. He was going along the street, raving mad to be sure, and singing . . . and meeting this gentlewoman, he would kiss her [He] mastered her, and kissed her; and, which was worst of all, when he had done, told her he had the plague, and why should not she have it as well as he? (Defoe, 1722; Penguin edn., 1986: 173)
   Similarly, Pepys's Diary for 12 February 1666 records that his son's lutemaster had just told him how 'in spite to well people [those already sick] would breathe (out of their windows) into the faces of well people going by'.
   There was an old principle that one could cure oneself of a disease by deliberately transferring it to another, which survives in *wart cures and the casual expression about 'giving' someone one's cold. To rid a child of whooping cough or fever, according to various 19th-century sources, one should wrap a few of his hairs in bread and butter and throw it to a dog, which would eat it and die, and the child recover (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 63). The most cruel application concerned venereal diseases; it is discreetly mentioned by Mabel Peacock (Folk-Lore 7 (1896), 272), when she says it is widely thought by 'the ignorant and debased' that 'certain cures are only to be effected by doing violence to a girl yet in her childhood'. Paul Smith, in Bennett and Smith, 1990: 113-41.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.


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