Did an 18th Century British Magazine Coin the Terms “Magazine” AND “E Pluribus Unum”?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to architecture and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the magazine urban legends featured so far.

MAGAZINE URBAN LEGEND: A British magazine introduced into the modern lexicon not only the actual word “magazine,” but also the word “Columbia” to describe America and the slogan “E pluribus unum.”

Before The Gentleman’s Magazine debuted in London in 1731 by Edward Cave, there had never been a successful journal consisting of articles on all sorts of different topics.

But that’s exactly what The Gentleman’s Magazine achieved, and in doing so, Cave actually ended up coining the very TERM “magazine” to describe a journal with different articles on various topics. Magazine meant a storeroom, so this journal was the “gentleman’s storeroom…of knowledge.”

They also coined some other surprising terms and phrases!

Famed writer Samuel Johnson first came to prominence working for Cave on The Gentleman’s Magazine, and it was in an article in 1736 that Johnson coined the term “Columbia” as a poetic name for America. The name, as you know by now, surely stuck, as the District of Columbia can attest.

Here is a snapshot of the first page of the magazine from 1759…

The last addition that the Gentleman’s Magazine made to the American lexicon is the slogan “E plurubis unum” from the Latin meaning “From many, one.”

It appears on the Seal of the United States (designed in 1776)…

It is almost certainly inspired by the motto that The Gentleman’s Magazine used in their annual anthology of their best articles from the year, with that motto on the cover…

As that was the only prominent usage of the term at the time, it is almost certainly what the learned founders of the United States used as the influence (the actual phrase comes from an ancient Latin poem, Moretum, author unknown).

Not a bad legacy for a magazine that went out of business almost 100 years ago, huh?

The legend is…

STATUS: I’m Going With True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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