The group consisting of countries with names that end in "-stan," such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
"Collectively, they are sometimes called 'the stans.' Individually, as the United States prepares for possible military action in their neighborhood, the stans are suddenly the focus of intense attention in Washington and Moscow."
Maura Reynolds, "Crisis Puts New Focus on 'Stans' of Central Asia," Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2001
Pakistan president Mohammad Zia ul-Haq ... said Canada-Pakistan relations 'show how two diverse countries can combine their efforts and resources for their mutual benefit and for the creation of a better international environment.'
The 58-year-old military dictator also displayed a surprising sense of humor when he confused the name of Baluchistan with a neighboring province.
'Sometimes I get confused with all these 'stans,' But as long as I don't say Hindustan, I'll be okay,' Zia said of the province of northern India.
—Bill Beacon, United Press International, December 15, 1982
Today's word has usually been applied to the five Central Asian countries that used to make up a big chunk of the south part of the Soviet Union Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In light of recent events, both Afghanistan and Pakistan are now usually included in the stan clan, as well. The suffix shared by these country names comes from the Persian word stan (or istan) which means "place of" or "home of."
I was all set to pronounce a 1992 New York Times articles as the earliest citation for stans, but then at the last minute I found it in a UPI article from 1982. Groan! That would normally mean this word is too "old" to be Word Spy-worthy but, heck, I'd done a lot of work that I didn't want to waste, so here we are.