Saturday, 24 October 2009

Mechanics Institutes

The latest edition of the local paper for the Upper Yarra Valley has an advertisement for a building for sale. I don't expect to learn more about the meaning of words from real estate ads, but I did today. The building in question is a Mechanics Institute. I've seen them all around our own state, Victoria, but didn't realise until I started writing this post that they are part of a world-wide movement.

It had never occurred to me previously to wonder whether there were so many mechanics in the nineteenth century that the need to educate them was so pressing that hundreds of institutions were built and staffed.

But I read that the word mechanic in the nineteenth century meant artisan, craftsman or working man. (Hmm...I wonder if women were permitted to attend these early institutions for adult education.)

The Online Etymological Dictionary says the word used to refer primarily to those who were employed in manual labour, handicraft workers or artisans, until the rise of the automobile, when the main meaning came to refer to those who make or repair machinery.

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