This political term is originally French. Tiers Monde was coined in 1955 by French demographer Alfred Sauvy and first used in print the following year by Georges Balandier in his book of that title. The English is a literal translation, or calque, of the French. Sauvy used the archaic tiers instead of the modern troisième as a parallel construction to the Tiers état, or Third Estate. From Balandier’s 1956 Tiers Monde:
La conférence tenue à Bandoeng en avril 1955, par les délégués de vingt-neuf nations asiatiques et africaines...manifeste l’accès, au premier plan de la scène politique internationale, de ces peuples qui constituent un “Tiers Monde” entre les deux “blocs,” selon l’expression d’A. Sauvy. (The conference held in Bandung in April 1955, by the delegates of twenty-nine Asian and African nations...marks their entrance to the foreground of the international political scene of these peoples who constitute a “Third World” between the two “blocs,” to use the phrase of A. Sauvy.)
The “two blocs” are the industrialized West of the First World and the Soviet-dominated nations of the Second World.
The term quickly entered English soon after its coining. From The Economist of 26 October 1963:
Relations between Europe and the third world nowadays.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2017, by David Wilton