Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Spa – Podictionary Word of the Day


iTunes users can subscribe to this podcast

In 1565 Sir Thomas Gresham lamented the fact that he would be unable to go to the Spa for the winter.

Sir Thomas was a royal financial agent to Queen Elizabeth I and not long after she ascended to the throne he was required to spend more time in London than had been his custom.

The Spa for which Sir Thomas hankered was in a little town in Belgium, a sort of hideaway really because almost no one had heard of it.  It had springs of waters with reputed healing properties, and the name of the little town was … Spa.

It wasn’t just that Sir Thomas hated missing his holidays, he was concerned about his health, maybe even whether he’d be able to survive the dreary winter.  The idea that waters such as those at the town of Spa were health-giving is what drew the crowds.

By 1626 we have a citation for an English Spa and by 1777 the name of the town of Spa became truly generic so that any town with a hot spring where you could soak your ills away was called a spa.

It wasn’t until about 1960 that people began opening health clubs and calling them spas without having a hot-springs on the premises.

After that everyone wanted one; in 1974 you could get an aerated bathtub in your own house and call it a spa.

Sir Thomas evidently needn’t have worried too much about his health for that particular winter because he lived another 14 years.

The waters of Spa issue forth from the ground already carbonated and fizzy and are still attracting visitors as well as now being bottled and sold.  The town’s name Spa had originally been Espa which meant “fountain” in the French dialect of the area.

Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of Carnal Knowledge – A Navel Gazer’s Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia as well as the audio book Global Wording – The Fascinating Story of the Evolution of English.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.