My question is a bit more complicated than that, actually. Here's a quote from Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita":

"Whose cat has scratched poor you?" A full-blown fleshy handsome woman of the repulsive type to which I was particularly attractive might ask me at the "lodge," during a table d'hote dinner followed by dancing promised to Lo. This was one of the reasons why I tried to keep as far away from people as possible, while Lo, on the other hand, would do her utmost to draw as many potential witnesses into her orbit as she could.

Was it before or after "orbit" became a popular astronomical term? (I.e. before or after Kepler?)

  • "draw into orbit" suggests two things to me, circular motion (like a planet) and an attractive force (like gravity) so I'd go for post Kepler. Nov 24, 2015 at 9:05
  • You want to know the first attested metaphorical use, where a person is compared to a celestial body with gravitational pull sufficient to attract people into an orbit around them? Or are you asking if orbit had a literal meaning that predated its astronomical one (other than eye-socket)?
    – TimR
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:08
  • @TimRomano: Neither, actually. I've been wondering whether it wasn't the former (person) that inspired the coinage of the latter (celestial body).
    – Ricky
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:14
  • "Orbit" comes from the latin "orbis" that designates 1) any kind of circles 2) the course of events 3) circular surface like a disc 4) the world 5) things entering in the scope of another one, i.e. the center.
    – Graffito
    Dec 24, 2015 at 10:49

1 Answer 1


Orbit: (Etymonline)

  • Astronomical sense first recorded 1690s in English; it was in classical Latin, revived in Gerard of Cremona's translation of Avicenna.

According to Ngram, the expression into orbit appears to be quite recent, from the 50's.

  • Johannes Kepler ( December 27, 1571 – November 15, 1630) was a German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer.


  • You used a starting date of 1900, which eliminated earlier attestations of "into her orbit"
    – TimR
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:15
  • @TimRomano - Is that the reason for the downvote? Earlier attestations of "into her orbit" do not appear to be relevant either : books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user66974
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:41
  • Yes. If you wish to repair that oversight I'd remove the downvote, though now that we know the OP wanted to know if orbit had originally meant a person's sway or influence and was only later used in the astronomical sense, it might be moot, and you might just want to remove the ngram entirely along with the remark about Kepler, and I would remove the downvote in that case as well.
    – TimR
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:52
  • It is just ok like that, I just wanted to understand what is for you a valid reason for downvoting.
    – user66974
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:55
  • I'm upvoting this to compensate for the downvote. I hate bad manners.
    – Ricky
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.