Q: What’s the history of typical AA slogans like “First Things First” and “One Day at a Time”?
A. We don’t have a great deal of information about the origins of AA’s slogans and acronyms, but we can provide some sharing and preliminary information. Many of these slogans, as with other practices in AA, were simply passed along verbally to other members, so it is impossible to know who started using them first. It is possible that some of the slogans may have originally stemmed from a part of the Oxford Group Movement language, but it could also be that they were original with Bill and Dr. Bob and the early members.
Members have always inquired as to the origins of various slogans, and it has always been difficult to narrow down; in our research, we discovered a letter written by former GSO Archivist, Frank M., dated 1989, who responded to a similar question that was posed to him. This was Frank’s response, “Your interest in the origins of ‘One Day at a Time’ is shared by many of us. Like hand-holding, however, it’s difficult to pin-point the exact ‘moment.’” That is the problem we find with most of our AA slogans, unfortunately!
We do know, however, that many slogans commonly heard have been around since the early days of the Fellowship.
In December of 1958 Ruth Hock (non-alcoholic), who was AA’s first secretary, wrote a response to a similar question concerning different slogans. In her reply Ruth wrote:
“…Bill [W.] and I first worked together in January 1936 when he had been sober just a little over one year and at that time ‘Easy Does It,’ ‘Live and Let Live,’ and ‘First Things First,’ were part of the daily conversation. They were also used in the very first drafts of the book, but probably only Bill himself could tell you where he picked them up…
“As far as I’m concerned all of the above were introduced into A.A. by Bill W. himself although not original with him.
“Some of these could have been used in Oxford Group meetings but there is no way for sure.”
In addition to Ruth’s response, page 220 of Bill W.’s biography, Pass It On, also addresses this topic:
“Some ‘A.A. saws’ were also used as long ago as the late 1930s: ‘First Things First,’ ‘Easy Does It,’ ‘Live and Let Live.’ Because these appear in the first edition of the Big Book (at the end of the chapter on ‘The Family Afterward’), it’s probable that the use of the slogans originated with Bill and that he brought them with him from Vermont – old saws with new teeth.”