The link between the two definitions for the word gravity (a generally downward acting force, and a sense of danger/seriousness) seems obvious. However, I'm curious as to which usage came first.

Was the word gravity first coined to describe Newtonian forces and later used in a figurative sense; or perhaps physicists named the force using a metaphor based on the emotional weight connoted by the term?

Anyone know?

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    Doubtless the Latin gravitas weight, heaviness was also used figuratively of persons, to mean dignity, presence, influence. This was all long before Newton "discovered" the force of nature called gravity. – FumbleFingers Nov 16 '11 at 3:53
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    -1 and voted to close as general reference. This can be answered by a dictionary or simple Google search. – Hugo Nov 16 '11 at 4:15
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    +1 : this is an interesting question for anyone browsing here – cindi Nov 16 '11 at 10:10
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    @cindi: being interesting is not the only requirement for questions. – Marthaª Nov 16 '11 at 23:31
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    That is exactly the question. – JohnFx Nov 17 '11 at 0:30

According to the OED the earliest meaning was "weighty dignity" in 1509. The "attractive force" meaning is from 1692. The word is borrowed from French gravité or Latin gravitātem "heavy, weighty".

grave meaning "place of burial" has a completely different etymology.

  • OED actually has a 1520 and 1533 use, but overall this is right. – simchona Nov 16 '11 at 4:00
  • you're right. and there's one from 1509 too. – morphail Nov 16 '11 at 4:04
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    Gravity as an "attractive force" simply wasn't normally recognised as a concept at all in antiquity. You're addressing the question of when that concept was recognised enough to be named, but OP is asking which of the two meanings heavy in mass and serious in nature came first. The concept of heavy in mass predates the "attractive force" way of looking at things. – FumbleFingers Nov 16 '11 at 4:20
  • Is the 1692 from Newton? – cindi Nov 16 '11 at 10:09
  • No, it's from Matter and motion cannot think: or, A confutation of atheism from the faculties of the soul, a sermon, the 2nd of the lecture founded by R. Boyle by Richard Bentley – morphail Nov 16 '11 at 14:16

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