WORD FORMATION RESOURCE
Both press and print (Middle English) can be traced back to Latin premere, ‘to press’, as can pressure (Late Middle English). Journalists and the newspaper industry have been known as the press, in reference to printing presses, since the late 18th century, although before that a press was a printing house or publisher. Another name for journalists, used since the 1830s or 1840s, is the fourth estate. It was originally used of the then unrepresented mass of people: Henry Fielding wrote in 1752 ‘None of our political writers…take notice of any more than three estates, namely, Kings, Lords, and Commons…passing by in silence that very large and powerful body which form the fourth estate in this community…The Mob.’ By the middle of the 19th century it was firmly established for the press. Carlyle wrote in 1841 ‘Burke said there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters’ Gallery…there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all.’ Burke has been credited with the term, but no evidence beyond Carlyle has yet been found. Press the flesh is US slang from the 1920s meaning ‘to shake hands’. These days it is generally used of celebrities or politicians greeting crowds by shaking hands with random people. The heyday of the press gang, a group employed to force men to join the navy, was the 18th and early 19th centuries, but the first record of the term comes before 1500. Press-ganging people was really a form of arbitrary conscription, a word that appears in Late Middle English in the literal sense of ‘writing down together’ from Latin con ‘with’ and scribere ‘write’, but which was only introduced in the modern sense of compulsory enlistment in Britain in 1916, during the First World War, although the word was first recorded in 1800. Depress (Late Middle English) has the basic sense of ‘press down’.
In the sense ‘to convey in words or by behaviour’, express originally meant ‘to press out, obtain by squeezing’, and its root is Latin pressare ‘to press’. Express meaning ‘intended for a particular purpose’ is from another Latin word meaning ‘to press’, primere, and is the source of express train and other uses that involve high speed. As early as 1845 an express train went ‘expressly’ or specifically to one particular place, not stopping at intermediate stations. This would have been a relatively fast train, and led to the word being interpreted as meaning ‘fast, rapid’.