The chicken or the egg?
April 5, 2011 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Did the word "evolve" exist before Darwin came up with the theory of evolution?
posted by Glendale to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by Jehan at 5:35 PM on April 5, 2011

Checking with the Oxford English Dictionary, yes:

7. a. trans. To generate, develop, or modify by natural processes or gradual alteration, esp. from a comparatively rudimentary to a more highly organized condition; esp. to originate (species of living organism) by gradual modification from earlier forms, to produce or modify by evolution. Chiefly in pass. without reference to an agent.

1805 S. T. Coleridge Notebks. (1962) II. 2444 The difference therefore between Fabrication and Generation becomes clearly indicable/the Form of the latter is ab intra, evolved, the other ab extra, impressed.


Other usage examples follow from before Darwin published his On the Origin of Species in 1859.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:36 PM on April 5, 2011

Well, there's this.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:46 PM on April 5, 2011

[few comments removed - can pedants please either email the OP or find a way to answer his question?]
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

The word has been around for a long time, but its meaning changed in the wake of Darwin. Before, it generally meant "to unroll," including in the metaphorical sense in the OED citation provided by Blazecock Pileon. Darwin used the word only once in the Origin, in the final sentence of the book (in fact, "evolved" is the last word):
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
His usage clearly refers back to the old sense of being unrolled or developed. Darwin himself used "descent with modification" for the concept that we call "evolution." There are several online versions of the Origin if you'd like to search for that phrase.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:52 PM on April 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

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