I saw something on TV today about two men who built the Popemobile for John Paul II when he visited Ireland in 1979. The Popemobile is the name given to a variety of vehicles in which various popes have been driven about in public. Over the last few days, as people have been talking about the upcoming visit of the current Pope, Francis, to Ireland, I’ve begun to realise that people take this word somewhat more seriously than I thought.
I’d always assumed it was a bit tongue-in-cheek, mainly because it makes me think of the Batmobile, and when you start thinking of the Pope and Batman together, it’s hard to take either too seriously. Of course the name isn’t directly derived from Batmobile: both obviously reference the word automobile.
Funnily enough, for such common machines, automobiles have had quite a few different names over the years. I say car, for example, though the word car predates the existence of the modern motor car. It shares the same origins as the word chariot, and could originally refer to any wheeled, horse-drawn vehicle, like a cart, chariot, or wagon. Both motor car and autocar, referring respectively to the engine and the lack of a horse, can be traced to 1895, though autocar never took off.
Horseless carriage was relatively popular at first, but as the novelty of the lack of horses diminished, it fell out of favour. Automobile though, came about in 1897, and became quite popular, becoming the standard form in American English, with motor car being the most common term in British English, usually shortened to car.
Automobile is the more interesting to me though, as it’s a mixture of Latin and Greek origins. Auto comes from the Ancient Greek autós (self), and mobile from the Latin mobilis (moveable).
So it’s kind of appropriate that Popemobile retains the Latin portion of automobile. I still think it’s a ridiculous term, but then I suppose in 2018 the idea of pope is pretty ridiculous, like kings and queens, so it’s kind of appropriate. It’s hard to take seriously the idea of a man that people think speaks the word of God being driven round Dublin in a car named after his job, that sounds like Batmobile.
Still, at least the weather’s meant to be nice at the weekend.