true bubbles [= "sprit bubble"]

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Sep 4 21:22:34 UTC 2011

At 9/4/2011 04:37 PM, George Thompson wrote:
>  ... a word not in the OED,
>             JOSEPH ROSE, Living a few Doors East of Peck's Slip, in Water
>Street, No. 1046, HAS just imported . . . Tea Cups and Saucers, Bowls,
>Plates & Dishes, And Articles of Queen's Ware, With a large and neat
>Assortment of CHIMNEY TILES, Also a few Setts of true BUBBLES for proving
>the strength of Rum, and what it will bear.
>             Royal Gazette, September 6, 1780, p. 2, col. ?
>The OED has nothing under "bubble" that satisfies this.

Trying mightily to recollect my college physics and chemistry ... is
there not a device that will determine specific gravity (aka
density), which might equate to the strength of an alcoholic liquid?
... The hydrometer.  Wikipedia: "The common type consists of a
graduated stem having a hollow bulb and a weight at its lower end, so
as to float with the stem upright in a liquid, the specific gravity
of which is indicated by the depth to which the stem is
immersed."  Arising as one would expect from Boyle.

For its relevance to brews, see

Going a little further, "spirit bubble".  See OED, s.v. spirit,
earliest quote for the phrase 1862.

Googling for "bubble" in a description of the "hydrometer" before
1799 turns up several which do refer to a "bubble". E.g., A plan of a
course of lectures on the principles of natural philosophy: By Samuel
Vince (1793):
"The hydrometer is an instrument for finding the specific gravities
of fluids, and is constructed upon the principle ... It is usually a
brass stem with a bubble at the bottom into which something heavy is
put to make it sink and keep the stem, which ios graduated, upright,
in order to show how much it sinks in different fluids".

These make me think "bubble" was what we would now call a "bulb".

Nice antedating!


>It has:
>bubble-trier n. an instrument used for testing the accuracy of the tubes of
>a1877    E. H. Knight Pract. Dict. Mech.,   Bubble-trier, an instrument for
>testing the delicacy and accuracy of the tubes for holding the spirit in
>1890    W. F. Stanley Surveying Instruments 88   The Bubble Trier is a bar
>or bed 12 to 20 inches long, with two extended feet ending in points at one
>end, and a micrometer screw, the point of which forms a resting foot, at the
>other end, thereby forming a tripod.
>bubble-tube n. the glass tube of a spirit-level containing spirit and
>enclosing an air-bubble.
>1888    Lockwood's Dict. Mech. Engin.,   Bubble Tube, or Spirit Glass, the
>tube of a spirit-level which contains the enclosed spirit.
>1890    W. F. Stanley Surveying Instruments 86   Level Tubes, or Bubble
>Tubes as they are technically termed, are used in nearly all important
>surveying instruments.

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list