How ‘magazine’ came to denote a periodical publication.

The common meaning of magazine is a periodical publication containing articles by various writers.

(cf. also gazette, tabloid and red top)

An English innovation, this meaning derives from the primary sense of the word, which is a storehousemagazine was borrowed in the late 16th century from French magasin, denoting a storehouse, in turn ultimately from Arabic maḵzan, maḵzin, a storehouse, from ḵazana, to store up.

Very early, the English word was used figuratively; for example, in The comicall satyre of euery man out of his humor (London, 1600), the English poet and playwright Ben Jonson (circa 1573-1637 makes Puntaruolo exclaim, when “the Ladie is come to the window”:

What more than heauenly pulchritude is this?
What Magazine, or treasurie of blisse?
Dazle, you organs to my optique sence,
To view a creature of such eminence:
O I am planet-strooke, and in yond Sphere,
A brighter starre than Venus doth appeare.

Frequently as part of the title, magazine came to denote a book providing information on a specified subject or for a specified group of people; an early example is the title of a book by Robert Ward, published in London in 1639:

Animadversions of Warre; or, a Militarie Magazine of the truest rules and ablest Instructions for the Managing of Warre.

(cf. footnote for similar terms)

This idea of storehouse of knowledge gave rise to the use of magazine in the sense of periodical publication. The Gentleman’s Magazine: or, Monthly Intelligencer, first published in London in January 1731, initiated this particular use of the word; the Introduction explains the sense development:

(fourth edition – London, 1732)
The Reasonableness of our present Undertaking, […] in the first place is to give Monthly a View of all the Pieces of Wit, Humour, or Intelligence, daily offer’d to the Publick in the News-Papers, (which of late are so multiply’d, as to render it impossible, unless a man makes it a business, to consult them all) […].
Upon calculating the Number of News-Papers, ’tis found that (besides divers written Accounts) no less than 200 Half-sheets per Month are thrown from the Press only in London, and about as many printed elsewhere in the Three Kingdoms; a considerable Part of which constantly exhibit Essays on various Subjects for Entertainment; and all the rest, occasionally oblige their Readers with matters of Public Concern, communicated to the World by Persons of Capacity thro’ their Means: so that they are become the chief Channels of Amusement and Intelligence. But then being only loose Papers, uncertainly scatter’d about, it often happens, that many things deserving Attention, contained in them, are only seen by Accident, and others not sufficiently publish’d or preserved for universal Benefit and Information.
This Consideration has induced several Gentlemen to promote a Monthly Collection, to treasure up, as in a Magazine, the most remarkable Pieces on the Subjects abovemention’d, or at least impartial Abridgments thereof, as a Method much better calculated to preserve those Things that are curious, than that of transcribing.

In April 1732, The Gentleman’s Magazine published a letter dated 14th October 1731, in which an early reader summarised this use of the word magazine, and commented on the usefulness of the publication:

The Gentleman’s Magazine is, perhaps, one of the most useful Things of the Kind that has been at any Time set on Foot; but this Usefulness must in Justice and Gratitude be attributed to your unbyass’d Impartiality and Industry: It serves me, and to my Knowledge several others, for what your Title truly expresses it, that is, a Magazine or Repository of every Thing worthy remarking, and for this Reason will be many Years hence, an Authentick Collection for Historians to refer to, when Disputes shall arise on the Manner and Spirit with which the present Controversies are carried on, the Force of the Arguments on both Sides being fully retain’d; besides many Historical Occurrences may be here found, which, tho’ they escape the Notice of great and voluminous Historians, will serve to explain and clear up the Truth of several Facts which in Time may appear Doubtful; and the Reasons and Origin of some Transactions will be here preserved, which might otherwise be sought after in vain.

French soon borrowed the word in this new signification, originally in the form magasin; for example, Le Nouveau magasin françois ou Bibliothèque instructive et amusante was a magazine published in London in 1750-51. The spelling was magasin in the 6th edition (1835) of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, magazine in the 8th edition (1932-35).



note: Likewise, the noun promptuary, which now denotes a handbook or notebook containing a summary or compilation of information, originally meant storehouse. It is from promptuārium, which in classical Latin meant storeroom, repository, and in post-classical Latin also meant book of summaries, manual—cf. Promptorium parvulorum sive clericorum (Storehouse for Children or Clerics), title of an English-Latin dictionary dating from around 1440.

Similarly, thesaurus, meaning a book that lists words in groups of synonyms and related concepts, is a Latin word, from Greek θησαυρός (= thēsaurόs), meaning storehouse, treasure, treasury. In English, thesaurus came to denote a ‘treasury’ or ‘storehouse’ of knowledge, such as a dictionary or an encyclopaedia. This sense was narrowed to the current meaning by the publication of Thesaurus of English words and phrases, classified and arranged so as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition (1852), by Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869).

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