Obscure Historical Figure of the Day #2: Johann (Jan Baptiste van Helmont)
Greetings from Vienna, where I just visited the Esperanto Museum. Know what I learned there? Well, I learned a little about this guy, a Flemish physician and scientist named Jan Baptiste van Helmont (whom the Austrians call “Johann”).
Johann is our Obscure Historical Figure of the Day. You’ll recall our first installment of this service was Edmond Albius.
Johann’s incredible contribution to history was his invention, in 1652, of the word “gas”. In a book written in Latin, he described the vaporous state of matter this way: “Hence I name this spirit, unknown till now, with the new word gas.”
“Gas” has become the standard term for that state of matter in almost every human language. It also now refers to fuel and to that bloated, post-meal feeling, characterized by stinkiness down under.
What is less known is that Johann intended for two distinct but related words to enter the canon. “Gas” was to be partnered with “blas”.
“Blas” was a theorized cosmic substance that Johann thought might influence the thoughts and actions of men. Clearly, “blas” never took hold.
Now don’t you feel all warm, fuzzy and educated?
I leave you with this: