Monday, July 04, 2011

Question from Helen - 16th century term for spyglass

Hello, Lara! Thank you very much for the blog, it's a great job really.

I have a question about language of the time - a sea term, to be precise.
How did they call a spyglass?

As far as I know, this term was fixed only in 1706. By 1580-es they had simple hand-held misrcoscopes and magnifying lenses, but I doubt that these words were used just as they are


Lara said...

There are texts dating back to as early as the 13th century and texts from England and Italy from the late 16th century that discuss the optics principles of making a telescope/spyglass, but it doesn't appear that people actually started building them until the early 17th century. The terms "telescope" and "microscope" date from the 17th century too.

Now the ideas of magnifying lenses and eyeglasses and stuff like that date back much further (Ptolemy has a treatise on optics from the 2nd century) and were apparently in use by the 12th or 13th centuries, but it doesn't seem that a device that combined lenses (and/or mirrors) to see far or small things up close was actually built until the early 17th century.

shtove said...

The elizabeth files had an article on John Dee and the telescope:

It refers to a novelist's speculations, and doesn't fix the terminology.

Try the full Oxford English Dictionary under both entries to find the first published uses of spyglass & telescope in english.