Tank — a word of unknown origin — appeared in print in England in the early 1400s as a synonym for a wild carrot or parsnip, that use of the word died out, apparently before the end of the 1500s. When tank reappeared in English in 1616 to become a permanent member of the language, it was spelled tanque and referred to a pool or cistern used in the East Indies for holding water:

“Besides their Rivers, … they have many Ponds, which they call Tanques, … fill’d with water when that abundance of Rain fals.”

By 1690 it described an artificial receptacle for holding a large quantity of water or other fluid and was mentioned in that year by John Dryden in Don Sebastian:

“Here’s plentiful provision for you, Rascal, sallating in the Garden, and water in the tanck.” But in the early years of the twentieth century, tank acquired a new and deadly meaning. When World War I broke out in August 1914, soldiers marched off to the battlefield thinking they would be home by Christmas. How wrong they were. No one realized at the time that the rules of war had changed. No longer could you rout the enemy with a simple “Char-r-r-rrge!”

Now both sides could mow down advancing troops by the hundreds with a new weapon, the machine gun. Long before Christmas, the western front was a zigzag of trenches stretching from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. The war had become a deadlock, with the lives of countless soldiers being squandered in a vain attempt to pierce enemy lines. The Germans resorted to poison gas in the spring of 1915 to try to break the impasse, but had to abandon it because any sudden shift in the wind meant gassing one’s own troops. 

The British were working on the problem, too, and in 1915 built the first armour-plated motorized vehicles with caterpillar treads for crossing trenches. Winston Churchill was an early and eager advocate of these new vehicles, the development of which was a well-kept secret. The first of these vehicles were shipped to France in crates labelled “Tank” to deceive German agents into thinking they were water tanks. The name stuck.
                                               Source : 500 years of New Words by Bill Sherk

No comments: