Differences between Car and Motor

As technologies and devices evolve, language must
stay on its toes if we expect to understand each other
when we talk about them. English-speakers are
particularly flexible at adapting to progress. They’re
willing to coin new terms, modify old meanings, and
allow words that are no longer useful to pass from
common usage. “The etymologies of ‘motor’ and
‘engine’ reflect the way language evolves to represent
what’s happening in the world,” says MIT literature
professor Mary Fuller.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “motor” as a
machine that supplies motive power for a vehicle or
other device with moving parts. Similarly, it tells us
that an engine is a machine with moving parts that
converts power into motion. “We use the words
interchangeably now,” says Fuller. “But originally,
they meant very different things.”
“Motor” is rooted in the Classical Latin movere, “to
move.” It first referred to propulsive force, and later,
to the person or device that moved something or
caused movement. “As the word came through
French into English, it was used in the sense of
‘initiator,’ ” says Fuller. “A person could be the motor
of a plot or a political organization.” By the end of the
19th century, the Second Industrial Revolution had
dotted the landscape with steel mills and factories,
steamships and railways, and a new word was
needed for the mechanisms that powered them.
Rooted in the concept of motion, “motor” was the
logical choice, and by 1899, it had entered the
vernacular as the word for Duryea and Olds’
newfangled horseless carriages.
“Engine” is from the Latin ingenium: character,
mental powers, talent, intellect, or cleverness. In its
journey through French and into English, the word
came to mean ingenuity, contrivance, and trick or
malice. “In the 15th century, it also referred to a
physical device: an instrument of torture, an
apparatus for catching game, a net, trap, or decoy,”
says Fuller.
In the early 19th century, the meanings of motor and
engine had already begun to converge, both referring
to a mechanism providing propulsive force. “The first
recorded use of ‘engine’ to mean an electrical
machine driven by a petroleum motor occurs in
1853,” says Fuller.
Today, the words are virtually synonymous.
“Language evolves to take on new tasks,” she
explains. “Without thinking about it, we adapt to new
meanings and leave the old behind.” We talk about
our computer’s dashboard, unaware that in the
1840s, the word referred to the board at the front of
a carriage that stopped mud from being splashed on
the coachman. Similarly, the term “search engine”
harks back to the older meaning of “engine” as a
contrivance, suggests Fuller. First used in 1984 to
mean “a piece of hardware or software,” the phrase
may have been informed by Charles Babbage’s 1822
use of “engine” to mean a calculating machine.
The related word “engineer” was first used in 1380 to
describe the constructor of military engines like siege
works and catapults, and by the early 18th century,
referred specifically to the maker of engines and
machines. The OED lists a second definition of
“engineer” as well. “It is synonymous with the older
usage meaning ‘artifice,’” says Fuller. “An engineer is
an author or designer of something, a person who
contrives a plot, a schemer.” A definition one can
only hope will soon pass from common usage.—
Sarah Jensen


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