Thursday, January 27, 2011


No, I didn't misspell the word "physics".

A while back, I wrote about physicists some time being mistakenly called as "physicians", and the confusion that some people have about "physicist", "physicians", and "physical". This article traces the origin and evolution of the word "physic", from which both "physician" and "physics" come from, even though they both diverges into very different areas.

In order to explain the meaning of physician, we must begin with the Latin word, physicum or physicus, and the French word, physique. All of these words mean remedy. In 1212, the Anglo-Normans appropriated these words to coin the word fisike or physic. Even though it is rarely used today, physic can still be found in any English dictionary to define medicine or remedy.

Things get rather complicated when we talk about the branch of science we now call physics. Beginning in the 1300s, physic also began to be used to describe natural science but the meaning would be made obvious by how it was used in a sentence. For example, "Sir Isaac Newton took physic for his stomach pain" is quite different from "Sir Isaac Newton undertook the study of physic to explain the concept of gravity." In 1500, the Germans began calling physical science, Physik, while English-speaking people added an "s," hence physics, to distinguish it from their word for medical remedies.

Well, there ya go. Obviously, physicists and physicians were twins separated at birth! :)


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