If we google ‘batteries’, or search for battery images on Flickr, we are just as likely to get information about field guns. Batteries also mean cages for chickens, and schoolchildren may take batteries of standard tests to check progress. Thus, the common theme seems to be a ‘collection of similar things’. Are these the reasons for calling batteries batteries? Perhaps this is why we call single cells, ‘cells’?
Linguistic Reasons For Calling Batteries Batteries
Linguistics is the study of language. The Old French word ‘baterie’ means ‘the action of beating’. This in turn derived from the Greek word ‘baktérion’ meaning stick. For a while, this meant bombarding city walls with cannonballs.
Ben Franklin first applied this term to sets of electrical cells in 1748. Do you suppose he was thinking of electricity discharging like cannons? Is this the reason to call batteries batteries? Wikipedia thinks multiple leyden jars – such as Andrew Cross made at school – looked like batteries of field cannon to Franklin.
Certainly they were collections of similar things. However, some language specialists think the Old French ‘baterie’ actually came from the Latin ‘battuere’ meaning to beat. To us, this sounds like pretty much the same thing. We do not seem close to the reasons for calling batteries batteries yet.
A Different Reason Why Franklin Used the Word Battery
Benjamin Franklin lived from 1706 to 1790. By 1748, when he first used the term ‘battery’, rounders – an early form of baseball – was beginning to take root in America. In those days, they called the pitcher and catcher a ‘battery’.
We wonder if that was because they were forever throwing balls towards each other like cannons. It’s a nice story, and we repeat it for what it is worth.
Some urban legends state Franklin’s reasons for calling batteries batteries included this thought. The terminals sent electricity to each other the way balls pass between pitchers and catchers. This sounds a good enough reason to us, for today.
Preview Image: Discovery of Leyden Jar