Down to the eighteenth century physics was called philosophia naturalis.

When were the terms Physics, Science and Scientist, introduced? By whom? When did they supplant the old ones?

  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking about English language usage of these terms only, or more generally for all European languages, say? $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2019 at 10:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Given this comment, I will not investigate your question, whatever it is, any further. Have you looked at the OED entries for these words, or used google ngrams? $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2019 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ @kimchilover, oxford says middle 19, hope someone knows better $\endgroup$
    – user157860
    Oct 22, 2019 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ See similar post for "scientist". $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2019 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of When and why did people stopped using "natural philosophy" term and started using "science"? $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Oct 22, 2019 at 20:17

3 Answers 3


I looked in the Oxford English Dictionary (subscription required) for English usages.

physics used in the medical sense, I do not report on.

physics used for "natural science" in general: The oldest instance they have is from 1487.

J. Skelton tr. Diodorus Siculus Bibliotheca Historica iii. 174 Among the Grekes, as it is many tymes seen, it is long or they can atteigne vnto thentellective of the phisikes [L. philosophiam, Gk. ϕιλοσοϕίας] by-cause they long perseuere not therin, but geve theym vnto lucrative science.

He uses "phisikes" to translate Latin "philosophiam" and Greek "ϕιλοσοϕίας".

physics used in the more modern sense: The oldest instance they have is from 1715.

tr. D. Gregory Elements Astron. I. Pref. ii The Celestial Physics, or Physical Astronomy [L. Astronomia Physica], is not only the first in dignity of all inquiries into Nature whatever.

He uses "Celestial Physics" to translate the Latin "Astronomia Physica".

science Various obsolete, archaic, and rare usages I do not report on.

science paired or contrasted with art: The oldest instance they have is from 1387.

J. Trevisa tr. R. Higden Polychron. (St. John's Cambr.) (1879) VII. 69 (MED) He..fliȝ into..Spayne, forto lerne curious and sotil artes and sciens þere.

science in a more modern sense: there is this definition from 1600

W. Vaughan Golden-groue i. lxv. sig. Mv The name of science is taken more strictly for a habit gotten by demonstration separated from wisedome; in which last signification Naturall philosophy, & the Mathematickes are called Sciences.

So: what had formerly been called "Naturall philosophy" and "Mathematickes" are now called "Sciences".


According to "The Philosophical Breakfast club", https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/philosophicalbr00snyd, by Laura J. Snyder, William Whewell first coined the term "scientist" in 1833 at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science:

"...If "philosophers" was taken to be "too wide and lofty" a term, then "by analogy with artist we may form scientist. This was, as far as anyone knows, the first time the word "scientist was uttered in public." (page 4).

Snyder goes on to say Whewell also also coined the words "cathode, anode and ion" at Faraday's request.


Some references :

consider that Lord Kelvin published is well-known textbook in 1867 with the title Treatise on Natural Philosophy.

J.C.Maxwell begins his Matter and Motion (1876) with "Physical Science…".

In K.Pearson's The Grammar of Science (1892), the terms : physics and science/scientist, are definitely there.


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