WTF Fun Fact 13726 – The Word Scientist


The word “scientist” originated in the 19th century when William Whewell, a Cambridge historian and philosopher, sought to create a unifying term for those engaged in the sciences. Before this, various terms like “natural philosopher” and “savant” were used.

Whewell considered several options before settling on “scientist,” inspired by the word “artist.” This designation emphasized the interconnectedness of different scientific disciplines and reflected the artistry involved in scientific discovery.

In a short time, “scientist” became widely accepted and shaped how we perceive scientific professions today.

The Birth of a New Term

Before “scientist,” the field of science didn’t have a unified term to describe its practitioners. Individuals like Isaac Newton or Charles Darwin were referred to as “natural philosophers,” which suggested their work was rooted in philosophy rather than practical science. Other terms like “savant” and the German “naturforscher” were floated but never gained traction.

William Whewell’s Contribution

William Whewell, known for his contributions to multiple disciplines, sought to encapsulate the essence of scientific exploration. His work on “The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences” paved the way for standardizing scientific methods and terminology. The idea was to encapsulate scientific disciplines into one collective term that reflected the exploratory nature of science.

Whewell suggested “scientist” to refer to those who engage in scientific inquiry, much like “artist” describes those involved in artistic pursuits. Initially, he was concerned that the term sounded too close to “economist” or “atheist,” both having negative connotations in that era. However, he decided to adopt it, and the term quickly caught on, symbolizing a new identity for those exploring various scientific disciplines.

The Legacy of the Word Scientist

The term “scientist” has since gained universal acceptance and shaped how the world perceives individuals in this field. It emphasizes the unity among diverse scientific disciplines and acknowledges the creativity and ingenuity in scientific research.

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Source: “How The Word ‘Scientist’ Came To Be” — NPR


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