Gas prices are starting to come down, and according to something I read somewhere on the web, they will continue to do so as children start to return to school and the summer driving season comes to an end. Of course, gasoline prices will only come down in the U.S. and Canada, because in other parts of the English-speaking world they call the stuff petrol. Of course petrol is short for petroleum, which is another word for crude oil. So where did we get the word gasoline?
It turns out we can thank the British, or at least a British entrepreneur named John Cassel who, in about 1863, trademarked a lamp fuel made from petroleum called Cazoline, derived from his last name. As the story goes (according to Wikipedia!) an Irishman named Samuel Boyd began selling counterfeit cazeline. When Cassel asked him to stop, he changed the c to a g and so we get gazoline. The Oxford English Dictionary, the authoritative source for words on the right side of the pond, records the first use of gasolene in 1864. Why the word gasoline caught on in the Americas–the US and Canada–but remained petrol in other parts of the English speaking world, is a mystery I wasn’t able to solve with a 10-minute review of Wikipedia.
One thing that didn’t catch on, on either side of the pond, was Cassel’s idea of using gasoline lamps to light houses. Unless of course you really want to light the house, in which case the thing is no longer a cazoline lamp but rather a Molotov cocktail. And the story of the naming of the Molotov cocktail will have to wait for another day.