[Ads-l] Reflections/query on the term "glove compartment" (of a car)

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at MST.EDU
Sun Jan 31 21:40:53 UTC 2016


Yesterday a precocious child asked his father why a glove compartment has that name, and the question was then passed along to me. 

The obvious answer, of course, is that the glove compartment was first intended for gloves, but then a few more questions occurred to me:
1) Why was the keeping of gloves (vs. other objects) in the car so important? For this question I found a plausible answer on the Internet: 
"Gloves were originally worn to keep the hands clean. Driving gloves were considered necessary equipment in early cars, many without a hard top, to prevent the cooling effect of fast-moving air from numbing drivers' hands."
That's a good answer. I'm convinced. 
2) But then why is the first attestation in OED3 from 1939? What about those freezing hands during the previous decades? Here's OED3's entire treatment of "glove compartment":
glove compartment   n. a recess in the dashboard of a motor car for small articles such as gloves, etc.
1939   R. Chandler Big Sleep xvii. 138,   I went to the car and got a pair of handcuffs out of the glove compartment.
1959   I. Fleming Goldfinger xii. 173   He took a small pair of binoculars out of the glove compartment.

And btw, neither of the two attestations in OED3 mentions gloves being in the glove compartment.
Is there any way to find out just when glove compartments were installed in automobiles and when the term originated? 

Gerald Cohen 
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The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org


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