Feb 10, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Cinematography

Keeping with this week's theme, let's explore some words having to do with the film industry.

Cinematography (from which we get the word "cinema") comes from the French cinématographe, a word invented by the Lumière Brothers. It's a combination of a Latinised form of the Greek kinema "movement" and -graphy  from Greek graphein"to write." Originally graphein meant "to scrape onto clay tablets." So, new word, but it has old roots.

The word film as in "a thin coating of something" has been around since the 1500s, but the meaning of "a motion picture" is only from 1905.  It's from the Old English filmen "membrane, thin skin, foreskin," through West Germanic *filminjan, from Proto-Germanic fello, originally from PIE *pel- "animal skin."

Camera is Latin for "a vaulted room." Through the term camera obscura, "dark chamber," it was adopted as a photography term in the 1840s. Camera obscura as a term is probably familiar to many (it means a black box with a lens that can project images of external objects), but do you know it has a counterpart, camera lucida?  The camera lucida, "light chamber", uses prisms to produce an image on paper beneath the instrument so the image can be traced.

Celluloid is a transparent plastic made from nitro-celluloses and camphor. The word comes from cellulose, "consisting of cells."



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