[Ads-l] echo chamber (1840)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 13 12:26:42 EDT 2016

OED2 only has "echo chamber" back to 1937 (defined at the time as as
"a reverberant room used to add hollow effects and actual echoes") But
it's been used since the mid-19th century for a variety of
reverberating spaces, both natural and manmade.

Interestingly, the earliest examples I've found (from 1840 and 1842)
are more metaphorical, not too far from current usage.

"Germany," Charles Julius Weber
Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, July 1840, pp. 119-134
p. 122, col. 2: Since the year 1813, the interest in things German,
both in this country and in France, has been steadily on the increase;
foreign criticism has become now something better than an echo-chamber
for the bandying about of mutual misunderstandings.
"On the Study of Languages," Professor [John Stuart] Blackie
Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, Nov. 1842, pp. 747-754
p. 748, col. 1: By the institution of Nature, therefore, it appears,
that to learn a language easily and profitably, a person must be put
into an echo-chamber, so to speak, of constantly repeated sounds, and
remain in that atmosphere for a certain considerable period, more or
less according to his capacity of perception and imitation, till these
sounds, in connexion with the things of which they are the symbols,
have become a habitual and customary part of his associations.
p. 750, col. 1: No attempt was made to institute, much less to
maintain, in vigorous and healthy action, a familiar ECHO-CHAMBER of
learned sounds, such as the natural system points out.
p. 753, col. 2: But in order that the pupil may, in as speedy a way as
possible, get the command of a fair number of vocables, we go back to
our living machinery of an ECHO-CHAMBER, and suggest that the master
should, at an early period of the course, commence reading to his
pupils a series of short discourses or lectures in the language to be


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

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