magazine, n.

Zitadelle-Pulvermagazin Jülich

The term ‘magazine’ and its semantic history make for some interesting contemplation regarding the printed and the built. Stemming from French ‘magasin’, Italian ‘magazzino’ or Arabic ‘maḵzan, maḵzin’, it entered the English language sometime in the sixteenth century to describe a storehouse of some kind, both of civic and military use.[1] The link to print publications seems to have arisen only in the seventeenth century, if at first in the now obsolete sense of a ‘book providing information on a specified subject or for a specified group of people’, according to the Oxford English Dictionay. One of the first uses of the term’s contemporary meaning referring to a periodical occurred apparently in a 1731 issue of the Gentleman’s Magazine; or, Trader’s monthly intelligencer, which printed the following sentence in its introduction: ‘This Consideration has induced several Gentlemen to promote a Monthly Collection to treasure up, as in a Magazine, the most remarkable Pieces on the Subjects abovemention’d.’ At this point, the author still felt a need to explain the use of ‘magazine’ for a print publication, the term in this meaning is therefore still metaphorical. It was only later in the same century and early in the following, that this metaphor became fossilized and ‘magazine’ = ‘periodical’ became common usage.

Furthermore, all senses relating to an actual storehouse are now obsolete or rare, except for those relating to military use, i.e. the storing of explosives. The figurative use of the term meaning a ‘store or repertoire of ideas’ is documented since the 1600s (and still in use!). Between the seventeent and the early nineteenth century ‘magazine’ seems to also have denoted ‘a book [rather than a periodical] providing information on a specified subject or for a specified group of people’ (last entry 1802). In regards to its meaning as a periodical, the characteristics of this seem to be that it is written by various writers, on general subjects, illustrated and aimed at a special-interest readership.

In regards to compounds, ‘magazine article’ was apparently first used in 1820, while ‘magazine editor’ only came up in 1857 in the Ladies Repository (it appears that gentlemen’s and ladies’ magazines were quite avant-garde in their language). Interesting is also the ‘magazine-monger’ (1767: a ‘noted book-maker, magazine-monger, and anti~critic’). ‘Magazine-writer’ was used since the late eighteenth century and seems then to have been synonymous with ‘reviewer’. Finally, ‘magazine writing’ had become an established term (and profession?) by 1835, when one F. Marryat wrote ‘Magazine writing … is the most difficult of all writing.’

[1] This and all following quotations and references are taken from: “magazine, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 27 November 2014.


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