Do you like to go camping? If so, do you prefer tents or campers?

These days, much of our camping is for recreation and leisure, but I daresay none of us will be surprised to learn that it wasn’t always so. We’re aware of travelers and military making camp when they come to a halt for the day…but do you know where the word really comes from?

Camp has been in English since about 1520, coming to us via French, who in turn got the word from the Latin campus, which means… “a field.”

Originally these wide fields where people stopped to rest was used solely in a military sense–“where armies lodge temporarily.” It only took about 30 years, though, for non-military people to borrow the term. And because so many travelers had cause to camp for the night, plenty of words sprang up around it, like camp-stool in the 1790s, camp-meeting as a religious service that took place in a field (primarily Methodist) by 1809, and camp-followers for the people not military but who traveled with them, like washer-women and other service people, by 1810.

The metaphorical sense of “people adhering to a certain doctrine” is from the 1870s.

As for camping just for fun? That’s unique to modern times.

Word Nerds Unite!

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