21 July 2010

"Step into my elaboratory"

For several days I've been reading Iain Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost, and as one might expect when a novel is set in the 17th century, one encounters some new words.

Robert Boyle is a central character in the book, and part and parcel of the plot is the state of science and scientific investigation in that era.  Studies of human physiology are reported, including some early attempts at blood transfusion.  I was somewhat startled when one of the characters mentioned working in an "elaboratory."  The first time I saw the word, I assumed it was a typo, but when it recurred I had to pull out the OED.

Elaboratory:  "A place where chemical operations are performed, or where medicines are compounded; = Laboratory."  Obs.

The etymology from the Latin is predictable - to "elaborate" is to "work out."  The first citation is dated 1652: "Every great person... pretends to his elaboratory and library."  The word apparently lasted a couple centuries, with a building's rooms in 1873 listed as "Parlour, bedroom, elaboratory, kitchen."

It appears from looking at the "laboratory" citations that both words were in use simultaneously, but at some point the "e-" got dropped, and only "laboratory" survives - although nowadays a Google search for the word yields some eLaboratories and E-Laboratories related to computer technology.

You learn something every day.


  1. You're going to learn more -- and hopefully be even more entertained as you make your way through that great, great book.

  2. I am going to read it again.

  3. I am so thrilled that you followed through. Do you have any comment on the title and your previous finger-post note?

  4. I'm in the early part of the fourth narrative. Will post a review when I'm done - but this is easily a 4+ book (on my standard scale of 0-4).

    I've already requested The Dream of Scipio from the library.

    Tx for the suggestions.



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