When did the term “scientist” came into existence?
What role did William Whewell (1794-1866) play in coining the term?
Science is hitting the headlines once again as the full programme for one of the most prominent science festivals in the world has been released. The British Science Festival, the cradle of the word “scientist” and one of the oldest festivals dedicated to science, being first held in 1831, is taking place from 4th to 9th September in Aberdeen.
The word “scientist” is believed to have been first used at a British Association meeting in 1834. According to the English scientist William Whewell, writing in 1839, members had been complaining about the lack of a good term for those in the profession. “Some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with ‘artist’, they might form [the word] ‘scientist’.” A year later, in his book The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Whewell once again championed the term: “We might say, that as an Artist is a Musician, Painter, or Poet, a Scientist is a Mathematician, Physicist, or Naturalist.”
Highlights of early meetings include the coining of the term 'scientist', the first use of the term 'dinosaur' (1841), the debate on Darwinism between Huxley and Wilberforce (1860), Joule’s experiments (1840s) and the first demonstration of wireless transmission (1894).
Whewell invented the terms “anode,” “cathode,” and “ion” for Faraday. Upon the request of the poet Coleridge in 1833 Whewell invented the English word “scientist;” before this time the only terms in use were “natural philosopher” and “man of science.”
One of Whewell's greatest gifts to science was his wordsmithing. He often corresponded with many in his field and helped them come up with new terms for their discoveries. In fact, Whewell came up with the term scientist itself. (They had previously been known as "natural philosophers" or "men of science"). Whewell also contributed the terms physicist, consilience, catastrophism, and uniformitarianism, amongst others; Whewell suggested the terms ion, dielectric, anode, and cathode to Michael Faraday.