Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Rodney (Butte, Montana) wrote that he’s been seeing TV programs tracking some of the stimulus money to house retrofitting. In particular, many companies have been hiring and training workers to insulate older houses, particularly for senior citizens. Not only is it a matter of comfort and health in the winter, it’s also a proven money saver. Rodney’s specific question was, where does the word insulation come from?

It’s based on the Latin word insula, which means island. In its original meaning, insulation was the act of surrounding a piece of land with water, thus turning it into an island. From there, it gravitated towards the state or condition of being cut off or standing alone.

In the 18th century, thanks to experiments with electricity, it was applied to electrical non-conduction and the materials that provided that protection. By the late 19th century, it was being used to describe construction materials that blocked sound, heat, and cold. In effect, insulation was designed to cut off your dwelling space from outside elements.

Since living on an island is an isolating experience, insularity came to mean narrowness of mind and constriction of feeling, especially when it comes to appreciating the ideas and customs of outsiders.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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