Sunday, 21 February 2010


I turned on the television the other day and in that split second between the sound coming on and the screen warming up I heard a male voice say with the utmost despair "The magazine! It's empty!"

Now I know a chap who works in the magazine business which probably messed with my mind on the subject, but my immediate understanding of the line was that too many journalists had missed their deadlines and that they weren't going to put the issue to bed (lovely phrase) in time for the printers. The voice sounded approximately as panicked as my acquaintance would be in these circumstances.  

Then the screen warmed up and I saw an actor inspecting his gun.

So what was the connection? Once upon a time there was an Arabic word khazana meaning to store up. From that they got makhzan meaning storehouse and its plural makhazin. That word sailed northward across the Mediterranean (the middle of the earth) and became the Italian magazzino, which then proceeded by foot to France and magasin, before jumping into the back of a lorry and getting into Britain as magazine, still retaining its original meaning of storehouse, usually military. Then along came Edward Cave.

Edward Cave wanted to print something periodically that would contain stuff on any subject that might be of interest to the educated of London, whether it be politics or gardening or the price of corn. He cast around for a name for his new idea and decided to call it the Gentleman's Magazine: or, Trader's monthly intelligencer. So far as anyone can tell (and in the absence of a seance we can only guess at Mr Cave's thought process) he wanted to imply that this the information in his publication would arm the gentleman intellectually, or perhaps he wanted to imply that it was a storehouse of information. Anyway, he dropped the monthly intelligencer bit and by 1759 he was publishing this:

Cave's arms depot of information was a great success, not least because he employed a young and penniless chap called Samuel Johnson. But if, dear reader, Cave had decided instead to drop the magazine bit instead, we might all now be buying intelligencers. Thus Cave's caprice altered English. Porn mags might have been called carnal intelligencers and that, I am sure, would make the world a Better Place. And my acquaintance wouldn't be working for part of a gun.

1 comment:

  1. That is genuinely fascinating. And it's very satisfying that an etymological odyssey like this should include a cameo from Samuel Johnson.