History lesson of the day: the definition of inflation

15 May

The Wall Street Journal has a great and well-timed piece on the evolution in the meaning of inflation throughout the ages. Here’s a selection:

Samuel Johnson’s famous A Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, had just one definition for inflation:

          The state of being swelled with wind; flatulence.

Webster’ American Dictionary of the English Language, published by G&C Merriam Co. in 1864, was the first to formally define inflation as an economic term:

undue expansion or increase, from over-issue; — said of currency.

Century Dictionary, a well-regarded American dictionary published from 1889 to 1891, defined inflation this way:

Undue expansion of elevation; increase beyond the proper or just amount of value: as, inflation of trade, currency, or prices; inflation of stocks (that is, the price of stocks).

In 1901, the sixth volume of the Oxford English Dictionary (letters H through K) defined inflation this way:

Great or undue enlargement; increase beyond proper limits; esp. of prices, the issue of paper money, etc.

The second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, published in 1989, defines inflation as:

Great or undue expansion or enlargement; increase beyond proper limits; esp. of prices, the issue of paper money, etc. spec. An undue increase in the quantity of money in relation to the goods available for purchase; (in lay use) an inordinate rise in prices.

Read the summarised blog piece here.

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