JF Ptak Science Books Post 2623
"Better is the last smile, than the first laughter."--J. Heywood Dialogue Prouerbes Eng. Tongue, 1550.
I haven't written very often on the word "smile" on this blog--less than ten times in 4000 posts, I think. ("Did Teeth Exist in the Renaissance?", "The Mystery of the Sun's Missing Smile", "Is the Mona Lisa's Smile Nothing?", that sort of thing, all searchable in the Google search box.) This came up this morning because I had an idea for morning coffee to check out "smile" in a patent search for 1850-1925 to see what sort of smile-somethings existed in the Patent Office records. It turns out that even though "smile" appears in two dozen patents for this period, none of them are about the smile of smiling; rather they're all anthropomorphized for varied and unrelated purposes--except that the thing it is they refer to looks like a "smile". I thought I'd find something for an artificial smile, or smile-maker (whatever that would be), or something along those lines, but no.
The differences in the patents in which the word "smile" was used is pretty impressive, and can almost approach a found-poetry status, but not quite--the word appears describing elements of patents for: chuck for bowspirits (1908), production of fertilizer (1918), window cleaner (1909), antifriction cage for roller-bearing rollers (1910), mechanism for a milking apparatus (1919), self-closing funnel (1913), life vest (1912), guide for a molding apparatus (1909), car-coupling for railroad cars (1876); bridle bit (1909); convertible freight car (1914), design for a horse shoe calk (1897), design for a stool (1885)...there are some others, but I think the point is made. Even though the word "smile" is used in many different ways to describe divergent pieces of machinery, they don't really have anything in common from one patent to the next, save for the anthropormorphized shape of the object, which I find amusing.
The slightly odd thing that I have found in this adventure is that "smile" doesn't seem to makes its way into English until 1550 (?), at least according to the OED, which sources the opening quote above from J. Heywood as the first appearance. Perhaps my post on "Did Teeth Exist in the Renaissance?" which is really about the smile in art shoud have asked that question more directly about the word "smile"...
The source for the smiling lad above:
And the opening of the OED treatment of the word "smile":