Old car

The impact of new technology on nineteenth-century English

While the horse-drawn stagecoach (and indeed the horse-drawn cab) continued in use, new verbs such as to omnibus and to train also succinctly confirm the changing nature of communication and travel in the nineteenth century. By the end of the century, the bus (the form omnibus was swiftly shortened while the plural omnibi proved spectacularly short-lived) was powered by motor rather than horses. The motor car was also in evidence, though what exactly this new mode of transport should be called remained a matter for debate:

A name has not yet been found for horseless carriages … The latest suggestion we have had is ‘motor car’.
Daily Chronicle (25 October 1895)

Rail and railways perhaps offered the most extensive changes, providing a ready means of long-distance geographical mobility which spanned the nation by the end of the century. The first passengers travelled by train in 1825 and within twenty years the Times spoke of this ‘present railway age’ (9 August 1845). A host of other new expressions and idioms testify to the pervasiveness (and popularity) of railway transport in the era of steam. Railway porter, -tunnel, or –platform were, for instance, joined by the railway bookstall from which one could purchase cheap railway novels, or the railway sandwiches one could consume, as well as the hazards of what was known as railway spine (‘a disorder characterized by pain in the back … occurring especially after a railway accident’).

Ships were also revolutionized by steam. By 1821, the writer Sir Walter Scott was already enthusiastically commending the speed by which a journey to London from Edinburgh could be achieved:

[We] can now make the journey in the Steam ship within 60 hours and without any fatigue thus beating the mail coach with the full advantage of sleep and stretching of limbs.
Letter to his son, 6 July 1821

Communication in terms of the written and spoken word meanwhile saw other patterns of transformation. The invention of the electric telegraph (and the telegram—an American coinage which dates from the early 1850s) has been described as the nineteenth-century equivalent of the internet; for the first time, language could be transmitted—at unprecedented speed—without the need for face-to-face interaction. Fast long-distance linguistic communication became a reality. By 1851 France and England were connected by an undersea cable running between Dover and Calais while ten years later in the United States, Western Union had built its first transcontinental telegraph line. The introduction of the telephone (which quickly generated its own verb to telephone) presented similar opportunities for spoken language; direct speech no longer required the physical presence of the speaker in the same room as the person or persons being addressed.

See more from Nineteenth-century English