Victorian contraptions


The 19th century was an age of great change. Advances in science and technology had transformed the country, paving the way for the Industrial Revolution. And as the world became ever more crammed with contraptions and technologies the language was in desperate need of new words.


During the Renaissance, scholars had taken a renewed interest in the ideas of the ancient Greeks and Romans. As a consequence, many of the new words coming into the language at this time were derived from Greek or Latin.

For example, the word telescope comes from the Greek tele (meaning 'far') and scope (meaning 'to look at').

The word education comes from the Latin educat - ppl. stem of educa re (meaning 'to rear, bring up')

The word microphone comes from the Greek mikros (meaning 'small') and phone (meaning 'voice')

Scientists in the 18th and 19th centuries also borrowed from Greek and Latin to create new words.

Use an etymological dictionary to explore the origins and meanings of the following words:

  • stethoscope
  • photography
  • camera
  • civilisation
  • bicycle
  • formula (in the sense of a set of ingredients)
  • biology
  • taxonomy
  • centigrade
  • jurassic

Imagine you were a scientist of the future. In the year 2070 you are busily working away in your laboratory. You come up with all sorts of ingenious ideas, inventing numerous new contraptions. Describe the inventions you would create, explaining their purpose and the form they would take. Now try and find entirely new names to give these objects. You might combine two or three existing words. Or you might use words from other languages to make your contraptions seem even more impressive and mysterious.