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Range

Q From Karen Rockhold in the USA: What is the origin of the word range as pertaining to its usage as the kitchen range or gas range?

A The sense is similar to the one we still use in phrases like range of mountains for a set of things all in a row. It derives from the Old French ranc, which may in turn have come from a prehistoric Germanic khrengaz for a circle, from which we also get our word ring. We borrowed the Old French as rank, which we still use in the sense of a set of things in order, as in military or social ranks or a taxi rank, and as range, which shares some senses. Range was first applied in the cooking sense in the fifteenth century; it seems to have been first used for a collection of hearths and ovens set in a row under one chimney, as one might find in the kitchen of a large house serving many people. Gas range, by the way, is an American term: in Britain, we’d talk about a gas stove or a gas cooker, though these usually have ovens included (we do have kitchen range, but only for solid-fuel cookers like the Aga which have a number of cooking positions, including ovens).

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 29 Apr. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 29 April 2000.