One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1A gauge for measuring the depth or some other property of water.
2A gauge that shows the pressure of a gas or vapour relative to ambient atmospheric pressure, typically by means of a U-shaped tube where the difference in the height of the water in the two arms indicates the pressure difference between them.
Late 17th century; earliest use found in Robert Plot (bap. 1640, d. 1696), naturalist and antiquary. From water + gauge.
water gauge/ˈwɔːtə ɡeɪdʒ/
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