• gas •
Pronunciation: gæs • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A state of matter lighter than solid or liquid that expands and diffuses infinitely and uniformly. 2. A clipping of gasoline, a liquid fuel refined from crude oil. 3. Flatulence or the discomfort it causes, as to have gas on the stomach. 4. The pedal or other device that controls the amount of gasoline fed to an engine, as to step on the gas in a car. 5. Hot air; pompous, empty talk.
Notes: Although dictionaries allow two plurals for this word, gases and gasses, the former is currently preferred on the Web by a margin of 58 million to 3 million. The spread is even wider for the analogical example, buses. This noun may also be used as a verb meaning "to put gas in". You may either gas up your car with gasoline or let your food gas you up with flatulence.
In Play: Let us start out with two of the most common meanings of today's curt word: "Bertie, step on the gas! I have to get an antacid before the gas on my stomach kills me." This particular word probably has already been ridden as far as it will go metaphorically: "Her speech was so bombastic, we could have flown to Europe and back on the gas!"
Word History: Today's word is an invention of the Dutch chemist, Jan Baptista Van Helmont (1577-1644), who adopted it from Greek chaos. The 1652 edition of his book, Ortus Medicinæ, contains this line: halitum illum Gas vocavi, non longe a Chao veterum secretum (this vapor I have called 'Gas', not far removed from ancient 'Chaos'). The Dutch pronunciation of [g] as a spirant [kh] (like Scottish or German [ch]) accounts for its being employed to represent Greek ch (= kh). Gouda is pronounced [khowdah] in Dutch. The connection may have been suggested by Paracelsus's use of chaos for the element of such spirits as underground gnomes. (It might seem appropriate that a word originally referring to underground gnomes comes to us today from Michael McWilliams of Raytheon, Australia, himself living 'down under' in another sense.)