Sunday, 22 September 2013

Origins of the Word Concrete

When we say the word concrete today, the first image that jumps to mind is probably that of the well-known rather solid construction material, but has that always been the case?

Well, that has been the most common English use of the word since the renaissance of concrete in the building industry in the late 19th century.

Prior to that however, the earliest English uses of the word concrete were far more likely to relate to the fields of alchemy, philosophy or chemistry.

You Say Concrete, I Say Concrētus

Like many words, concrete has its origins in Latin, the language of English academics since the French language infiltrated Anglo Saxon following the Norman invasion of 1066.

When it first turned up in written text, in 1471, it defined something which had grown together. In 1536, H Latimer described, in a written sermon, "A thing concrete, heaped up and made of all kinds of mischief."

This was a direct translation of the Latin con (together) and crēscere (grow) or rather the past participle concrētus (grown together).

Con appears frequently elsewhere in English with the same meaning of coming together. Think congregation, concoction, concur and conflict. Plus, it is the Italian word for "with". 

Concrete Facts

A hundred years on in the 17th century, academics started referring to things which were concrete to separate them from more abstract ideas.

Hence we have concrete numbers and concrete nouns.  In this instance, the word concrete refers to something real, something that can be observed, so a concrete number would be three stones or seven trowels rather than the abstract numbers 3 or 7, which aren’t counting anything you can see.

A concrete term also refers to something observable, so a fool is a concrete term but foolishness is not because you can’t see foolishness.

A Word of Substance

You might be forgiven for thinking that this latter use of concrete, as something that’s real and observable, is related to the rock hard material we use for our driveways.

After all, it’s heavy and there’s no denying its existence, as anyone who has dropped a bag of it on their toes will confirm.

But of course, concrete is an aggregate of various materials bonded together and therefore the literal Latin translation grown together applies.

In fact, the Romans used concrētus extensively as a building material (see Long Lasting Concrete). The name and the building material were simply lost to us and then re-discovered.

Regula Imprimitur Concretis

If the convoluted history of the English language is too confusing, the same can’t be said for Northern Cobblestone’s regula imprimitur concretis (or pattern imprinted concrete).

A simple coming together of style and technique, gracing properties across Lancashire and the North West!

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