Thanks to Dr Catherine Watts, Principal Lecturer, School of Language, Literature and Communication, University of Brighton, for recommending this essay. Dates in parentheses following words indicate the years of their first recorded use. Page numbers unless otherwise indicated refer to Chambers Dictionary of Etymology (2000).


The Industrial Revolution, which began early in the eighteenth century when British society began to move away from a cottage industry towards an industrial society, had, as Melvyn Bragg points out, a major impact on language (2004: 238). Indeed, Bragg notes that the Industrial Revolution displayed a new vocabulary. For example, in 1851 at the Great Exhibition the English language showed the world what it made of the machine age and how trade terms denigrated by Johnson now powered the language as empathetically as Tyndale's Bible (Bragg, 2004: 238). These are some of the words that appeared at the Great Exhibition, some plain English and others coinages from other languages: 'self-acting mill'; 'power looms'; 'steampress' and 'cylindrical steampress' (Bragg, 2004; 239) to name a few. The standardisation of spelling was just one aspect of a more general attempt to regulate the language, an attempt especially prominent in the second half of the eighteenth century when there was a growing feeling that English needed to be 'ruled' or 'regulated', as classical Greek and Latin were believed to have been (Barber, 2000: 203). Commentators like Swift wanted to protect English against the charge of 'barbarism' . . . to 'fix' language so that it no longer varied (Graddol, Leith and Swann 1996:157).

I have chosen to focus on the Victorian era, specifically on the impact the Industrial Revolution had on the English language. I find it fascinating that standard English, the language we use today, derives from the language standardised during the Industrial Revolution, and I have therefore organized this essay around six words fields each of which social changes created by the Industrial Revolution made prominent:

Each of these word fields contains eight or more words that the Industrial Revolution adapted, changed, customised and invented and that became common currency in Victorian England.


The word crinoline was first recorded in 1830 (235). It was borrowed from the French word crinoline meaning 'hair cloth,' and adapted from the Italian word crinolino, from crino 'horsehair,' which in turn was from the Latin word crinis 'hair' + lino 'flax, thread,' from the Latin linum. Crinoline was primarily described a stiff fabric with a weft of horse-hair and a warp of cotton or linen thread. However, by 1850 the meaning of the word had changed and had come to mean a stiffened petticoat or rigid skirt-shaped structure of steel designed to support the skirts of a woman's dress into the required shape (235).

The word aniline (1850) describes a chemical used in the making of colourful dyes. It was borrowed from the French aniline, which was perhaps reinforced by the German Anilin. The word aniline was coined in 1841 by C. J. Fritzsche (1808-1871) which he ultimately coined from the Portuguese anil 'the indigo shrub,' from Arabic an-nil 'the indigo,' assimilated from al-nil. Some philogists have suggested that the word aniline is a formation in English from the word anil 'indigo dye', a word which had been known in England since 1581 (35).

The word magenta (1860) describes the brilliant purplish-red aniline dye that was entitled magenta in allusion to the Battle of Magenta in Italy where it was first discovered (621). Magenta was adopted to describe the bright purplish red, blood red, colour that covered the battlegrounds. In 1859 the French and Sardinians defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Magenta, supposedly liberating Italy and helping to advance its cause of independence, which in turn fired the imaginations of European Liberals ( 2009).

The word mackintosh (1836) was coined as a tribute to Charles Macintosh (1766-1843), who invented a waterproofing process. Many had attempted to invent water proofing, the earliest being the Spanish explorers, but they made a clumsy move in the wrong direction (Funk, 1998: 85). Then there was Joseph Priestly, a chemist, who in 1770 discovered by accident that a congealed blob of white sap could rub out pencil marks. Unsurprisingly, he named this invention a 'rubber'. So it was not until 1823 when a young man who devoted all his spare time to science, particularly chemistry, discovered that if you cemented two layers of fabric with the thicknesses of Indian-rubber you could create a waterproof material. The discovery of waterproofing led to the invention of raincoats, which became hugely popular. To honour the man who made them possible, they were given the name mackintosh as a tribute to his hard work and dedication (Funk, 1998: 85).

The word leotard (1886) alludes to the French acrobatic performer Jules Léotard (1830-1870), who performed in such a garment and made it famous (589). It was actually many years after Léotard's death that the first known use of the name leotard was used. Léotard himself actually called the garment a maillot, which in French has now come to be the word for a swimsuit (Wikipedia, 2009).

According to Barnhart, raglan (1863), alludes to Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, Lord Raglan (1788-1855) who gave his name to a loose-fitting overcoat with sleeves extending to the collar (2000: 882). Lord Raglan was a British Field Marshal in the Crimean War, aide-decamp, secretary to the Duke of Wellington, and an English nobleman who eventually married the Duke's daughter (Funk, 1998: 87).

The word lingerie (1835), a borrowing from the French lingerie 'things made from linen', derives from the Old French linge meaning 'washables' as in faire le linge 'do the laundry'. The word ultimately comes from lin for 'washable linen', the fabric from which European garments were initially made before the general introduction of cotton from Egypt and then from India (599).

The word peignoir (1835) describes a 'women's full or very loose dressin gown' (771) usually sheer, made of chiffon, and sold with matching nightgown, negligee, or panties, but more often than not a peignoir is worn with no underwear. The word peignoir is a borrowing of the French peignoir, which comes from Middle French peignouer meaning 'garment worn over the shoulders while combing the hair' (771). This word comes from the Middle French peigner 'to comb', derived in turn from the Latin pectinare 'a comb'. The French peignoir was a gown put on when going to and from the bath, but in English the meaning changed to a women's morning gown ( 2009).


The word toffee was first recorded in 1825. Before then it was known as tuffy or toughy, which was a Southern British English variant of the word taffy. McGee (1984: 410) claims that the word toffee comes 'from the Creole for a mixture of sugar and molasses' and that it entered the language early in the nineteenth century (1984: 410). The modern spelling of the word toffee was first recorded in 1862, in one of Charles Dickens' letters (1147).

The word pasteurize (1881) honored Louis Pasteur (1822-95), the French chemist and bacteriologist, who discovered of the germ-theory of illness and invented the process of heating food, milk and wine in order to kill most of the micro-organisms in them (762). (Whereas pasteurization kills most micro organisms sterilization kills all of them.) Although we would normally associate Louis Pasteur with the pasteurization of milk, in fact the fermentation of beer and wine first caught his attention, so only seems right then that amongst all his great achievements he should also be referred to as 'God's gift to the French brewery' (Funk, 1998: 174). His many experiments in the little town of Lille, in the heart of the grain and beet-sugar industries gave us pasteurized milk, which we should grateful for when were having a nice cup of tea.

The word cereal (1832) meanis 'grass yielding edible grain' (155), originally from the earlier adjective meaning 'having to do with corn or edible grain'. The word cereal comes from the French word céréale, which was adapted from Latin Cerealis 'of grain,' originally 'of Ceres,' from Ceres, the Roman Goddess of agriculture (Funk, 1998: 366). So when you are eating your morning bowl of cereal, you are actually paying a small tribute to the ancient Goddess Ceres. The story behind the origin of this word goes back to 496 B.C., when the Roman countryside was cursed by a terrible drought that was killing all the crops, so the high priests of the day turned to the divinatory oracle and asked for help. As a result of this convergence, the priests announced that a new goddess Ceres must be adopted and that immediate sacrifices must be made to her to bring rain. She became the protector of the crops from then on. So the Latin adjective Cerealis, which meant 'of Ceres,' gave us our word cereal (Funk, 1998: 167).

The word pasta (1874) and comes from the Italian word pasta, first used in a book about Rome (762). The word derived from the Late Latin pasta pastry cake 'dough, pastry cake, paste,' from Greek pasta meaning 'barley porridge,' which was probably originally 'a salted mess of food,' from neutral plural of pastos 'sprinkled, salted,' from passein 'to sprinkle' (762).

The word vermouth (1806) is borrowed from the French vermout which was an adaptation of the German wermut, which means 'wormwood' (1199). The English pronunciation with (th) at the end was initially influenced by the spelling. However in the French and German pronunciation of the word the (th) is pronounced (t), because the sound (th) is foreign and uncommon in these languages (Funk, 1998: 179).

The word salami (1852) borrowed from Italian salami. The plural of salami is salamen meaning 'spiced pork sausage', which comes from Vulgar Latin salamen from salare meaning' to salt' (952). The word salami originates from the word sal 'salt' with a suffix -ame that is used in Italian as an indicator of collective nouns ( 2009). Originally salami meant was all kinds of salted meats, but over time the word salame specialised to indicate only the most popular kind of salted and spiced meat.

The word kosher, 'right or fit according to Jewish law' (570), was first recorded in 1851. It is a borrowing from Yiddish kosher, from the Hebrew word k�sh�r meaning, 'fit, proper, lawful' (570). Food that is not in accordance with Jewish law 'kosher' is called 'treif' meaning 'torn' and refers to meat which either comes from an animal killed by another animal, or killed with a dull knife which means the animal felt pain at the point of death or having a defect such as a disease that renders it unfit for slaughter (Wikipedia, 2009).

The word hobnob (1831) is an extended sense of the earlier hobnob (1828), 'to drink together, taking turns toasting each other' ( 2009). The word hobnob is most likely from Middle English habbe 'to have' and nabbe, a contraction of ne + habbe, meaning 'to have not,' hence the word hobnob means, 'to have and have not, to give and take'. The phrase hobnob 'give or take' can be found in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (Shakespeare, 1975: 105).


The word toboggan (1829) — previously referred to as tobogin in 1820 — describes a simple sled used as traditional means of transport for people and goods. Toboggan or 'long, flat-bottomed sled,' comes from Canadian English, which was borrowed from Canadian French tabagane, from Algonquian tobakun 'a sled' (1147). The word toboggan was also used as American English colloquial for a type of long woollen cap, which has been recorded from 1929 (earlier toboggan cap, 1928), presumably because one wore such a cap while tobogganing (1147).

The word badminton (1874) , after an estate in Gloucestershire, the country seat of the Duke of Beaufort, where it is thought the game was first played (71). Beauforts' Estate, Badminton, was apparently the scene of several innovations of English living in the late nineteenth century. The game badminton was first played in England in 1873, after British Officials who had been stationed in India imported and introduced the game into English society. Everyone has played or heard of the game badminton. There was also a drink named badminton after the game s made from claret and soda (Funk, 1998: 313). Unlike the game, it has long been forgotten.

The word bridge (1843) supplanted the earlier name for the game — biritch (116). The game was enthusiastically taken up by British men in the lush 1880s, when it became as much a man's game as poker (Funk, 1998: 314). Although women were initially excluded from the game, by the turn of the century they played the game. In fact, the popularity of bridge made women's clubs even more popular and widespread than men's clubs. The symbols used on British cards came directly from the French, but the names are a mixture of French, Spanish and Greek. For example the spade is from the Spanish espade, or 'sword', which ultimately comes from the Greek spathe which meant 'wooden sword' (Funk, 1998: 314)..

The word marathon (1896) alludes to Marathon, a plain in Greece about 25 miles west of Athens, where an army of 10,000 Athenians defeated 100,000 Persians, at the Battle of Marathon (Funk, 1998: 316). After the battle an unknown courageous runner left the battlegrounds and brought the news of the thrilling victory to the city of Athens that lay some 26 miles away. In 1896 when the Olympic Games were revived for the first time, a long-distance race was planned to cover the same ground in order to commemorate the distance the runner had travelled to bring the news of the victory (632).

The word polo (1872) describes the game referred to as somewhat like hockey only played on horseback with a ball and mallet (814). Anglo-Indian polo originated from Baltic, a Tibetan language of the 'Indus Valley' (Funk, 1998: 318) and is related to the Tibetan term pulu, which means 'ball.' The game initially seemed to originate in the East and spread across from Persia to Constantinople to Tibet, and then to China and Japan. Finally in 1871 the British imported polo from India and played it on their own soil for the very first time (Funk, 1998: 318).

The word rugby (1864) describes an 'English game somewhat like football' (943). The word rugby came about when it was used to name the game played at Rugby, the famous English pubic school for boys situated in a city in Warwickshire, central England which is unsurprisingly called Rugby (943).

The word hike (1809) and comes from English dialect hyke or heik meaning 'to walk vigorously, tramp or march' (482). The informal understanding of the word hike means to 'raise with a jerk, pull up' (482), was first recorded in 1873 in American English.

The word croquet (1858) describes a game played with wooden balls and mallets ' (237), and borrowed from Northern French dialect crouquet meaning 'hockey stick', which is derived from Old Northern French croquet meaning 'Shepherd's crook'. Originally a variant of Old French crochet, from Old Norse krokr 'hook'. Croquet originated in Brittany and was popularised in Ireland in 1830 and then in England in 1850, where it was very popular and played often in the summer months (237).


The word acne (1835), a medical term that describes a specific skin condition, comes from New Latin which was borrowed from the Late Greek aknas, and originally came into existence because of a sixth century Latin misreading by the author Aetius of the Greek word akmas 'point' (9).

The word streptococcus (1877) refers to a kind of 'spherical bacterium that causes serious infections' (1075). The word was coined and named by the Austrian surgeon and bacteriologist Dr. A. C. Theodor Billroth (1829-1894), a friend of the great composer Brahams (1833-1897). The word streptococcus comes from the New Latin terminology, but the elements are formed from pure Greek, streptos 'a twisted chain' and New Latin coccus spherical bacterium, which is derived from the Greek kokkos berry, 'a seed'. Billroth's chose the name because under the microscope these bacteria seemed to resemble long necklaces or chains (1075).

Stethoscope (1820) describes 'an instrument used for listening to sounds in the lungs and heart' (1067). The word was first coined in 1819 by René Théophile Hyacinthe Lannec (1781-1862), a French physician generally considered the father of pulmonology (, 2009). The word stethoscope is borrowed from the French stéthoscope, derived from Greek stethos meaning 'chest, breast' + the French -scope.

The word ambulance (1809) refers to a 'mobile or field hospital' (29). The word comes from the French ambulance, from hôpital ambulant — iterally 'walking (hospital) — derived from Latin ambulantem meaning 'to walk.' The word ambulance was not commonly used until the meaning transferred from 'hospital' to 'vehicle such as a wagon or cart used to carry the wounded from the field'. This switch happened during the Crimean War when ambulances as we know them today came into general use, as was cited in the Manchester Guardian in 1854 (29).

The word diphtheria (1857), which describes a 'contagious disease of the throat' (280), was first coined in France by the French physician Pierre Bretonneau (1778-1862), who also identified typhoid fever and distinguished scarlet fever from diphtheria. The word diphtheria comes from New Latin diphtheria, from the French word diphthérie, which derived from the Greek word diphthér� meaning 'hide, leather', so named because of the tough membrane that forms in the throat (280). In England however the disease was formally known as the Boulogne sore throat, because it initially spread from France ( 2009).

The word aspirin (1899) was coined as a trademark name in Germany (56). However it was actually in 1897, whilst German chemist Felix Hoffmann (1868-1946) was searching for something to relieve the pain of his father's arthritis ( 2009), that a stable form of acetylsalicylic acid was produced that is now more commonly known as aspirin.

The word leukemia (1855) was coined by the renowned German pathologist Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) in 1856 (591). Virchow , the first to describe the abnormal excess of white blood cells in patients, was uncertain as to the cause of these excess blood cells, and so used the purely descriptive term leukemia from Greek leukos meaning 'clear, white blood' to refer to the condition. The word leukemia was formed in English from leuk 'white' +-emia 'blood' which derived from earlier German leukämie in 1848. There was also another form, leucocythmia which occurred in 1852, but disappeared from the record of the English langauge in early 20th century (591).

The word gynecology (1847) was borrowed from French gynécologie, from the Greek gynaiko-, which combined the form gyne meaning 'women' + French -logie 'study of' (458). Unlike today when there is no shame in being a gynecologist or going to see one, the historic shamefulness associated with the examination of female genitalia in the nineteenth century long inhibited the science of gynecology.


The word benzene or benzine (1835) describes 'volatile chemical compounds obtained from hydrocarbons' (89), which are the central compounds of the field of organic chemistry. The word benzene is borrowed from the Germen benzin derived from Benz (oesaure), benzoic acid obtained from benzoin. The compound benzene has been the subject of many studies by scientists, ranging from the English chemist and physicist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) to Linus Pauling (1901-1994), an American scientist, peace activist, author and educator. In 1825 Faraday first isolated and identified benzene from the oily residue derived from the production of illuminating gas, giving it the name bicarburet of hydrogen. It was then later in 1833 that the word benzine was coined by the German chemist Eilhard Mitscherlich (1794-1863), who produced the compound via the distillation of bezoic acid from benzoin and lime ( 2009). So Mitscherlich gave the compound the name benzin, which we still use today despite the minor spelling changes.

The word halogen (1842) is used to describe 'any chemical element, such as iodine or chloride that combines directly with a metal to form a salt' (462). The word, a borrowing from Swedish halogen, which comes from the Greek háls, means salt + modern scientific suffix -gen. This is so because of the salt that is formed after the chemical reaction (462). It was coined by Swedish chemist Friherre Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848), one of the fathers of modern chemistry along with John Dalton (1766-1844) English chemist, meteorologist and physicist, and Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) French Nobleman, Chemist and biologist ( 2009).

The word petri dish (1892) is named after the German bacteriologist Julius Petri (1852-1892), who invented such a dish for incubating germ cultures and introduced it in 1887 when working as an assistant to Robert Koch (1843-1910). The word describes 'a shallow circular glass dish for keeping bacterial culture' (783).

The word germinal (1808), which describes a germ 'of or in the earliest stage of development' (429), derives from New Latin germinalis 'in the germ', which derived in turn from Latin germen meaning 'sprout or bud' (420).

The word thallium (1861 describes 'soft, malleable metallic chemical element' (1130). Thallium is New Latin, from Greek thallós meaning 'green shoot' which comes from the Greek word thóllein meaning 'to bloom' + the Latin form -ium (a chemical suffix). Thallium was given the name and is so called because of a bright green emission line in its spectrum (1130). The English chemist and physicist, Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), coined the word thallium in 1861. This was his first important discovery that was made possible by the help of spectroscopy (, 2009). Because of this work, his reputation as a valued chemist became firmly established and, in 1863, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society ( 2009).

The word hydrate (1802) coined by the French chemist J. L. Proust (1754-1826) (500) describes a 'compound produced when certain substances unite with water.' It is borrowed from the French hydrate, which comes from the Greek hydr- meaning 'water' (500).

The word palladium (1803) was coined by English Chemist and physicist William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828) (749) and comes from New Latin Pallas, an asteroid discovered two years earlier in 1802. 'This was so called after Pallas Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom, industries, arts and sciences' (749). Wollaston was also famous for the discovering other chemical elements, one of them being Rhodium ( 2009).

The word rhodium 'metallic chemical element' (926) (1804), which the English chemist and physicist, William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828) discovered in 1803 (926). Wollaston made the discovery of rhodium in England, by using crude platinum ore that was most likely obtained from South America (, 2009). The word rhodium is formed from Greek rhódon 'rose' + New Latin -ium (a chemical suffix); this is because of the rosy colour of the elements salts (926).


The word agoraphobia (1873), which refers to the morbid fear of open spaces, public places, and unfamiliar situations (20), was coined by German psychiatrist Carl Westphal (1833-1890) in 1871, as the German word agoraphobie, which was formed from the Greek agora 'marketplace' and phobia 'fear' (20). The American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86), who only had about a dozen of her own poems published in her lifetime, may have suffered from some form of agoraphobia or anxiety disorder. She was known as an eccentric recluse and after 1860 she never left the bounds of the family property ( (2009).

The word ethos meaning 'characteristic spirit of a people or community' (346) (1851 and may have come from New Latin, although it is more likely to have come directly from Greek ethos meaning 'moral character, person's nature or disposition' (346) from the Indo-European swedhos. This concept of ethos was an important concept in Aristotle's work ( 2009).

Hypothalamus meaning 'the part of the brain under the thalamus controlling the temperature, the pituitary gland' (502) (1896) comes from New Latin hypo- 'under' + thalamus the part of the brain where a nerve emerges.

The word hysteria (1801), used to describe 'fit of emotional outburst, imaginary illness and even real disability' (502), comes from New Latin, which was borrowed from Middle French hystérique and originates from Greek hysterikós and hystéra meaning 'womb'. The term hysteria was thought to be more specific to women and referred to a medical condition which was believed to be caused by disturbances of the uterus and lack of sexual intercourse which caused suffocation and madness ( 2009). The term hysteria was coined by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (502). The novelist Charlotte Gilman (1857-1935), famous for "The Yellow wallpaper" and Herland suffered from ongoing hysteria and in 1887 was treated with 'rest cure' by S. Weir Mitchell (1829-1914) (Gilman, 1995: viii).

The word psychiatry (1846), which is used to describe 'the study and treatment of mental disorders' (858), was coined in 1808 by Johann Christian Reil (1759-1813) a German physician, physiologist, anatomist, and psychiatrist. It refers to a field of medicine that focuses specifically on the mind, and aims to study, prevent and treat mental disorders in human beings.

The word psychiatry, which comes from the French psychiatrie, in turn formed from the Greek , meaning 'soul and mind', combines the two forms psyche + iatreía from iatrós meaning 'healing, cure' (858).

The word hypochondria (1839), 'imaginary illness or illness without a specific cause' (502) , is borrowed from Late Latin hypochondria meaning 'the abdomen' which comes from Greek hypochondria; hypo- 'under' + chróndros 'cartilage of the breastbone'. This reflects the ancient beliefs that the viscera of the hypochondria were the seat of melancholy. The noun hypochondriac in the modern sense (502) first appeared in 1888.

The word claustrophobia (1879) is used to describe 'an abnormal fear of enclosed spaces' (177), and is typically classified in medical terms as an anxiety disorder, which can often result in panic attacks. Claustrophobia iusually has two main symptoms, one being the fear of restriction and the other being the fear of suffocation. The word claustrophobia comes from New Latin claustrophobia, which is formed from Latin claustrum meaning 'closed spaces' + New Latin phobia meaning 'fear' (177).

The word psychosis (847 describes a 'severe form of mental disorder or disease' (859). psychosis is New Latin and comes from Greek psyche meaning 'soul, mind'. It is a combination of two forms psyche + -osis from New Latin meaning 'abnormal condition'. In 1890 the word psychotic 'suffering from psychosis' was coined from psychosis (859).


JC: This handful of words represents a minuscule portion of all those adapted, changed, customised, and invented in the nineteenth century — many as a direct result of the Industrial Revolution. What I find fascinating, apart from the discovery and invention of something new, is why Victorian physicians, chemists, psychiatrists, and others coined these names for their discoveries and inventions. For example why did Carl Westphal choose agoraphobia and why do such words seem so complicated and strange to us in the twenty-first century? It is evident from the handful of words that 'English went back to Latin and Greek in many of its descriptions of the new' (Bragg, 2004: 240).

GPL Why? Because, beginning in primary school, every educated person in the U.K, Europe, and America studied classical languages, they believed that basing technical terms on Latin and Greek provided a way to make new words d easily understood by all educated Europeans. The Latin and Greek roots of these words allowed people who spoke different modern languages in their everyday life to understand the new coinages. For example the use of suffixes, such as -ology and -osis in words like gynaecology and psychosis may seem odd to those without a knowledge of the classical languages, but to someone in England, France, Germany, or Italy with a rudimentary knowledge of Latin and Greek could quickly decipher even newly invented words.

Although those who coined new words thus used classical languages as a means of both communicating effectively and guaranteeing rapid acceptance of their neologisms, most of them might also have been aware that new words with obvious Latin and Greek roots distinguished their users from the poorer and less educated. Although Oxford undergraduates famously used slang themselves — ain't was particularly common — slang was by and large considered 'the language of crime, poverty and ignorance, useful only as comic relief in the less distinguished dramas on the London stage' (Bragg, 2004: 243). One could, of course, consider words such as agoraphobia, gynaecology, and psychosis examples of the jargon or slang of the educated classes.


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Last modified 16 July 2009