Word of the Week (125): ARGAND (probability 7432), by David Sutton

An ARGAND is a kind of gas lamp, named after its inventor A. Argand (1755-1803), a French physicist. It gets an honourable mention in 'Uncle Tungsten', a fascinating book, half autobiography, half chemistry, by Oliver Sacks: 'The argand burner was well established by 1783; there had been no lamp so efficient or so brilliant before.'

In this age where most of us need only to reach out and press a switch to get effective illumination of whole rooms, it is easy to forget that for most of human history countering the hours of darkness has been a rather more complicated business relying first on firelight, then on candles and lamps of some kind. Yet my own mother, back at the start of the last century, went to bed carrying a candle: there was no electricity in my grandparents' house till the nineteen fifties.

Let's have a look at some other kinds of lamp and lantern from around the world. An ASTRAL is a type of oil lamp. A LAMPION was a kind of oil lamp kept in a decorated glass pot. A LUCIGEN was a kind of lamp burning oil mixed with air in a spray.

A CRUISIE was an open iron lamp with a rush wick: it has variants CRUIZIE, CRUSIE, CRUSY and CRUZIE. This is a Scots word, and Scots also gives us BOWAT, BOWET or BUAT, a kind of lantern.

From further afield, a KUDLIK is an Inuit lamp made of soapstone and burning seal-oil. A DIYA is a small oil lamp used in Hindu worship, especially at Diwali.

Note also that PICKWICK is not merely a charater in Dickens but is a playable word: it is a device for raising the wick in oil lamps.

Next week we'll look at words associated with candles.


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