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January 3: The New York Times first uses the word ‘automobile’ on this date in 1899

Motoramic

January 3: The New York Times first uses the word ‘automobile’ on this date in 1899

Quadracycle. Hippomobile. Benzene buggy. In the early days of motoring, there was no consensus as to what to call these wheeled, self-powered contraptions that belched smoke as they chugged around horses. The term "car" had long been applied to railcars, and by the arrival of the 20th century the word "autocar" had become the preferred name. But that didn't sit right on the continent, where a French word for steam-powered buses was gaining favor as the catch-all for any horse-free carriage. On this date in 1899, The New York Times ran an editorial inveighing against such vehicles and the ungainly word "automobile." Contrary to recent claims, it wasn't the first time the word "automobile" had been used in print in English; this Scientific American article predates the Times by seven months, and many ads already used the moniker as well. But it did make the name stick:

There is something uncanny about these newfangled vehicles. They are all unutterably ugly and never a one of them has been provided with a good or even an endurable name. The French, who are usually orthodox in their etymology if in nothing else, have evolved "automobile," which being half Greek and half Latin is so near to indecent that we print it with hesitation; while speakers of English have been fatally attracted by the irrelevant word “horseless.”

Despite its protests, the Times soon switched its house style to use automobile as the preferred term.