Battery
Posted: 17 July 2017 04:55 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A word whose meaning (in one particular sense) has altered completely with time, is “battery”. From Latin battuere, it meant originally physical battering. With the development of artillery, it came to be used for an assemblage of cannon. In the 18th century, it came to be used as the name of an assemblage of Voltaic cells (simultaneously, a flow of electricity was called a “discharge”, in obvious comparison with the discharge of a cannon). “Cell” was the name given to a single Voltaic unit, and later to any electrochemical generating unit. “Dry cells”, using a paste instead of a liquid medium, were invented late in the 19th century. Single cells were called “dry cells”: a “battery” was an assemblage of cells, as in Volta’s and Benjamin Franklin’s day. Sometime during the 20th century, the term “battery” gradually came to be applied to a single cell. In my boyhood, more than 70 years ago, you could still run into the expression “dry cell”, in popular science magazines and such. Today, any single electrochemical generating unit is universally known as a “battery”; the expression “dry cell” is, as far as I know, entirely archaic, and would cause nothing but raised eyebrows.

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Posted: 17 July 2017 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It is still fairly common to differentiate dry cell and wet cell in automotive batteries.

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Posted: 17 July 2017 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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lionello - 17 July 2017 04:55 AM

A word whose meaning (in one particular sense) has altered completely with time, is “battery”. From Latin battuere, it meant originally physical battering. With the development of artillery, it came to be used for an assemblage of cannon. In the 18th century, it came to be used as the name of an assemblage of Voltaic cells (simultaneously, a flow of electricity was called a “discharge”, in obvious comparison with the discharge of a cannon). “Cell” was the name given to a single Voltaic unit, and later to any electrochemical generating unit. “Dry cells”, using a paste instead of a liquid medium, were invented late in the 19th century. Single cells were called “dry cells”: a “battery” was an assemblage of cells, as in Volta’s and Benjamin Franklin’s day. Sometime during the 20th century, the term “battery” gradually came to be applied to a single cell. In my boyhood, more than 70 years ago, you could still run into the expression “dry cell”, in popular science magazines and such. Today, any single electrochemical generating unit is universally known as a “battery”; the expression “dry cell” is, as far as I know, entirely archaic, and would cause nothing but raised eyebrows.

Another fascinating etymology, thank you.

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Posted: 17 July 2017 09:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Then there is the informal baseball usage, in which a “battery” is the pitcher and catcher collectively.  The metaphor is obscure, with attempts made to connect it to both the artillery and the electrical senses.  The electrical sense fits better, with the pitcher and the catcher being the cathode and anode respectively.  John Montgomery Ward gave this explanation in 1888.  Attempts to justify the artillery sense are harder, typically with the catcher taking the role of the ammunition supply for the pitcher, who is the cannon itself.  The earliest uses I know of use “battery” in the sense of what the pitcher does: 

[Active of New York vs. Eureka of Newark 7/4/1864] “As regards the pitching, “Walker’s battery” proved to be very effective in aiding to achieve the result...” [N.B. Walker was the pitcher for the victorious Actives] (New York Sunday Mercury July 10, 1864)

Here is an example incorporating artillery:

[Stars vs. Mutuals 5/7/1870] “As it was evident that the Stars had got the range of Wolter’s delivery, and that they were in for punishing him, the Mutual Captain very judiciously brought Martin in to pitch, and as the noted “shell battery” was placed in position the Stars prepared themselves to face the usually telling fire with the determination to soon silence it.” (New York Clipper May 14, 1870)

Just to confuse the issue, here is a similar use, but this time it is the batter hitting the ball:

[Athletics vs. Mutuals 8/20/1867] “McBride then exercised himself in the foul ball line for twenty minutes, the scorers’ stand apparently being his objective point.  By one shot he demoralized friend Meeser, who sat next to us, and by another nearly knocked McAuslan out of time, Gill, of the Clipper, changing his base during the flying of the shells from McBride’s battery.” (Ball Players Chronicle August 22, 1867)

Here is an example of this use as late as 1876:

[Chicago vs. Mutual 6/13/1876] “...Barnes—who became quite the hero of this contest—was the first to face the Mathews [the pitcher] battery.” (New York Clipper June 24, 1876)

The earliest use I know of that is unambiguously in the modern sense is not until 1879, in reference to the Harvard baseball team:

“There is trouble in the college baseball camp, and it all grows out of the fact that Ernst and Tyng are the most effective battery ever presented in the field by a college club.” (New York Clipper May 31, 1879)

By at least 1883 the usage is standard.  It appears multiple times in the Spalding Base Ball Guide of that year, once in quotation marks but several times without.

What to make of this?  The earlier usage is straightforward, and, at least in some cases, influenced by the recent war.  Baseball underwent a shift in pitching in the later 1870s.  Previously, a club would usually have one primary pitcher and a backup “change” pitcher, and similarly a primary and a change catcher.  There was no particular expectation that the starting pitcher would be matched with the starting catcher, or the change pitcher with the change catcher.  This became untenable later in the decade.  Pitching was gradually moving from under- to overhand, with curve balls, greater speed, and more arm strain.  This resulted in greater wear and tear on both the pitchers and the catchers.  Clubs started alternating their two pitchers, or even carrying three.  The same thing happened with catchers.  Pitchers and catchers were matched whenever possible, so that the catcher would learn the peculiarities of his pitcher’s delivery.  This led to thinking of the two individuals--Ernst and Tyng, for example--as a unit. 

My guess is that the earlier use of the pitcher’s battery suggested the extended usage, but it was all very loose:  not a tight-knit metaphor but a vague waving in the direction of a metaphor.  The artillery sense sort of worked, as there was now two elements.  A single cannon does not, after all, an artillery battery make.  And while the electrical sense works better, this looks to me like a retrospective explanation.

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Posted: 18 July 2017 06:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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lionello - 17 July 2017 04:55 AM

the expression “dry cell” is, as far as I know, entirely archaic, and would cause nothing but raised eyebrows

What with over 15 million hits on Google, sites explaining how it differs from other kinds of batteries and items being sold on eBay, it must be more effective than Botox in changing the appearance of the world’s population.

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Posted: 18 July 2017 07:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’d refute the notion that it is archaic. Dry cell batteries are still manufactured and sold under that label.
http://stingerelectronics.com/catalog/batteries/
http://www.odysseybatteries.com/auto.htm

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Posted: 18 July 2017 10:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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thank you both for putting me up to date.  My own ideas are sometimes archaic too, I freely admit

edit: thanks to Bayaker as well

[ Edited: 18 July 2017 10:58 PM by lionello ]
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Posted: 23 July 2017 12:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The Battery is a park in NY from the artillery batteries that were once there cf. Arsenal football club in London from the Royal Arsenal once thereabouts. Hence their nickname the Gunners.

[ Edited: 23 July 2017 12:19 AM by venomousbede ]
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