The Origin of the Word "Scientist"

At one meeting, chaired by William Whewell, Coleridge was drawn into a passionate discussion of semantics. It revolved around the question of what exactly someone who works ‘in the real sciences’ (as he had phrased it) should be called. This is how Whewell reported the British Association debate in the Quarterly Review of 1834:

Formerly the ‘learned’ embraced in their wide grasp all the branches of the tree of knowledge, mathematicians as well as philologers, physical as well as antiquarian speculators. But these days are past … This difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the BAAS at Cambridge last summer. There was no general term by which these gentlemen could describe themselves with reference to their pursuits.

‘Philosophers’ was felt to be too wide and lofty a term, and was very properly forbidden them by Mr. Coleridge, both in his capacity as philologer and metaphysician. ‘Savans’ was rather assuming and besides too French; but some ingenious gentleman [in fact Whewell himself] proposed that, by analogy with ‘artist’, they might form ‘scientist’ — and added that there could be no scruple to this term since we already have such words as ‘economist’ and ‘atheist’ — but this was not generally palatable.

The analogy with ‘atheist’ was of course fatal. Adam Sedgwick exploded: ‘Better die of this want [of a term] than bestialize our tongue by such a barbarism.’ But in fact ‘scientist’ came rapidly into general use from this date, and was recognised in the OED by 1840. Sedgwick later reflected more calmly, and made up for his outburst by producing a memorable image. ‘Such a coinage has always taken place at the great epochs of discovery: like the medals that are struck at the beginning of a new reign.’


"Philosopher" was too lofty and indistinguishable from the soft science. "Atheist" was fatal. "Savans" (French for "learned) was too assuming, but "science" (from the Lating "scientia" meaning "knowledge") combined with "ist" was perfect, like "artist" or "economist."

Folksonomies: history science scientist etymology origin

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/religion and spirituality/atheism and agnosticism (0.500993)
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Charles Darwin (0.945663): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Scientist (0.936843): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Science (0.840739): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Quarterly Review (0.798748): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Consilience (0.786818): dbpedia | freebase
Presidents of the Geological Society of London (0.732321): dbpedia
William Whewell (0.704396): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Epistemology (0.683925): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 The Age of Wonder
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Holmes , Richard (2010-03-02), The Age of Wonder, Vintage, Retrieved on 2012-01-02
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  • Folksonomies: history enlightenment science