Date: Mon, 7 Oct 1996 05:28:17 -0400
From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: AUTOMOBILE: an antedate
"Automobile" is a crazy combination of Greek ("auto") and Latin
("mobile"). The French probably thought it up. OED has one 1883 citation.
This comes from Harper's Weekly, 10 February 1883, pg. 91, col. 3:
The Hartford _Courant_ takes the law-makers in Washington to task for
using the alleged word "auto-mobile" with reference to torpedoes. It says
that "auto-mobile" is an improper combination of Greek and Latin roots, and
suggests that "self-moving" would convey the meaning which the etymological
monstrosity is intended to convey.
The Congressional Record--House, 47th Congress, 23 January 1883, pg.
1518, states: "For the purchase, after full investigation and experiment of
automobile torpedoes of the latest and best American invention, manufacture,
and construction, with appliances for their use, $100,000."
Pg. 1519 continues "that this Whitehead torpedo is a fraud, that it is
the only torpedo that goes by the name of 'automobile'" and "But the term
'automobile torpedo' has never been used except with reference to the
One Congressman objected that the thing was a waste of money and would
never work, and that other torpedoes could do the same job cheaper. Where
have we heard that before?
One item on pg. 1518 interested me to bring this up now: "For necessary
repairs to ordnance buildings, magazines, gun-parks, boats, lighters,
wharves, machinery, and other objects of the like character, including
breakwaters at the magazine, Ellis Island, New York...$15,000."
The U. S. Supreme Court is meeting today, and one of the cases being
considered is whether Ellis Island is in New York or New Jersey. Of course,
this item comes from 1883, and the major issue is the landfill created from
building the subways at a later date. But the Ellis Island magazine and its
breakwaters would appear to be in "New York."
New York City is basing its case on the uncontested usage of the term
"Ellis Island, New York" for over 100 years, but to the best of my knowledge,
Mayor Giuliani is not using ANYONE from the American Dialect Society, nor the
American Name Society. I'd like to be involved with the brief.
Anyway, there it all is, in the Congressional Record, pg. 1518, of
January 23, 1883.
Damn these automobile torpedoes! Full speed ahead!!