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Pronounced /pænˈtɛknɪk(ə)n/Help with pronunciation

A word mainly in British usage for a furniture removal van, it’s a compound of two classical Greek words: pan, “all”, and tekhnikon, “artistic; belonging to the arts”, hence “a place for all the arts”.

It was invented in 1830 as the name for a bazaar, a kind of early craft shop, which opened in that year in Motcomb Street in the Belgravia area of London. There was a fashion for terms in pan– at that period, such as panopticon, Jeremy Bentham’s name for a circular prison of his invention, which was later used as the name of a London showroom for novelties. Panorama was invented by the Irishman Robert Barker. All three may have been influenced by Milton’s Pandemonium as a name for Hell in Paradise Lost, literally “the abode of all the demons”.

Alas, the scholarship of the Pantechnicon’s proprietor was not matched by his business acumen. The enterprise soon closed and the building, constructed to be fireproof, was turned into a furniture repository. The vehicles that transported furniture to and from it were dubbed pantechnicon vans, inevitably shortened to pantechnicons. The name has easily outlasted the building, which, despite its reputation, burnt down in 1874.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 02 May 1998