I recently heard a discussion of stents on the radio and of course wondered about the etymology; it sounded Latin, but I couldn’t go beyond that. So I looked it up and discovered it’s (in the words of the OED, in a 1916 entry) “< the name of Charles T. Stent (1807–85), English dentist.” How about that!

And yet it’s not that simple. Wikipedia says:

As Ariel Roguin describes in his paper “Stent: The Man and Word Behind the Coronary Metal Prosthesis”, the current acceptable origin of the word stent is that it derives from the name of a dentist, Charles Thomas Stent, notable for his advances in the field of denture-making. He was born in Brighton, England, on October 17, 1807, was a dentist in London, and is most famous for improving and modifying the denture base of the gutta-percha, creating the Stent’s compounding that made it practical as a material for dental impressions.

The verb form “stenting” was used for centuries to describe the process of stiffening garments (a usage long obsolete, per the Oxford English Dictionary) and some believe this to be the origin. According to the Merriam Webster Third New International Dictionary, the noun evolved from the Middle English verb stenten, shortened from extenten, meaning to stretch, which in turn came from Latin extentus, past participle of extendere, to stretch out.

So maybe it’s Latin after all? In any case, the OED’s first citation for the original sense (“a substance invented by [Stent] for taking dental impressions; (also) an impression or cast of a part or body cavity made of this or a similar substance, and used to maintain pressure on it so as to promote healing”) is:

1878 C. Hunter Mech. Dentistry i. 2 Wax as an impression material is now seldom used, composition (Godiva, or Stent) or plaster of Paris being now almost invariably employed.

For the newer (“A tube implanted temporarily in a vessel or part”), it’s:

1964 Jrnl. Prosthetic Dentistry 14 1168 All stents must be removed daily and cleaned. A pipestem cleaner is effective in cleaning the tube.


  1. An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, by John Jamieson, D.D., published in 1808, and available on Google Books, has numerous definitions of stent,, including as a verb, to stretch, extend, to straiten [sic], to erect (as a tent), as an adjective, at full stretch, and as a noun, stretched, and also “stent-net,” a fishing net stretched out by means of stakes.
    The concept of a stake, a tent or net peg, seems pretty close to the modern meaning.
    Could be coincidental.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Tom Lehrer reports on a similar investigation:

    I’m sure you’re all aware that this week is National Gall Bladder Week, and so as sort of an educational feature at this point I thought I would acquaint you with some of the results of my recent researches into the career of the late Doctor Samuel Gall, inventor of the gall bladder, which certainly ranks as one of the more important technological advances since the invention of the joy buzzer and the dribble glass.

    Dr. Gall’s faith in his invention was so dramatically vindicated last year, as you no doubt recall, when, for the first time in history in a nationwide poll, the gall bladder was voted among the top ten organs. His educational career began, interestingly enough, in agricultural school, where he majored in animal husbandry, until they… caught him at it one day… whereupon he switched to the field of medicine, in which field he also won renown as the inventor of gargling, which prior to that time had been practiced only furtively by a remote tribe in the Andes who passed the secret down from father to son as part of their oral tradition.

    He soon became a specialist, specializing in diseases of the rich. He was therefore able to retire at an early age…

  3. January First-of-May says

    Tom Lehrer reports on a similar investigation

    I’m reminded of the Device family from Good Omens (the book, that is – I’m not sure if that scene shows up in the TV series, which I have yet to watch).

  4. John Cowan says

    There is no doubt that Thomas Crapper greatly improved (but did not invent) the flush toilet.

    In the Archie’s Madhouse Annual for 1959 (I don’t know when I read it, but not as early as that, so it must have been a reprint) Mr. Weatherbee the principal tells the story of Hatrack J. Mattress, the inventor of sleep. I don’t remember the actual story, but I do remember that in honor of his great invention, a common household item, the hatrack, was named after him. He had otherwise nothing to do with hatracks, and indeed nothing to do with mattresses either, which were invented by someone named Pillow.

  5. the inventor of sleep

    There is a story making rounds over the Internet that modern “sleep” was invented in 19th century.

    Supposedly, the notion of sleeping uninterrupted for eight hours from midnight til morning is a modern invention. People in Middle Ages slept in two portions of 4-5 hours spread over our evening, night and early morning.

    It is claimed that this was so much better than our present arrangement that medieval people didn’t tire as much as we do while doing much more physical work.

  6. Afternoon nap is known in many cultures, which probably reduced the need of night slip.

  7. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Before this post the only Stent I knew of was Gunther Stent, one of the originators of molecular biology. Almost the first thing I did after I arrived in Berkeley in 1967 was to attend a lecture by him in which he asserted that there was nothing much more to be discovered (shades of physicists at the end of the 19th century).

    Apparently the Russian for stent is стент, as one might guess. When I was in St Petersburg a few years ago I was struck by the number of places offering стоматология. As I didn’t know what that was I looked up stomatology in an English dictionary and was surprised to see that it referred to diseases of the mouth — surprised that so many Russians apparently suffered from such diseases. Later I realized that it just meant dentistry.

  8. David Marjanović says

    Funny things happen when you put people in a “sleep lab” (a basement room with no daylight and no other indications of time).

    Some people resume the baby sleep cycle: 4 hours sleep, 4 hours awake.

    Others more or less keep what they’re used to, but over 25 h instead of 24.

    Yet others acquire a 50-h day, of which they sleep 16 h uninterrupted.

  9. David Eddyshaw says't_Sleep,_There_Are_Snakes:_Life_and_Language_in_the_Amazonian_Jungle

    (Moral: if you don’t get your eight hours a night you may lose your powers of recursion)

  10. John Cowan says

    invented by someone named Pillow

    This brings back the advertising slogan of Pillow Woiks [sic]: “Get a Pillow if you want a good mattress!”

  11. Stu Clayton says

    Recursive adjective-lists” is unnecessary, and mildly annoying when one merely wants to understand what is meant. Why not just say “adjective lists” when that’s what you mean, folks ? What does “recursive” add to the understanding of “list” or “sequence” of adjectives ? To figure out what “recursion” means here, you must (1) know what a grammar is, (2) know what a left- or right-recursive production in a grammar is, and (3) hit on the idea that that’s what is being referred to surreptitiously.

  12. AJP Crown says

    NOBODY expects Grumbly Stu!

  13. Heh. I was going to stick a pin in him but then reflected I had just recently done that, and didn’t want to deflate him. Grumble on, my man!

  14. Stu Clayton says

    I get it off my chest, and maybe, just maybe, it’s a grumble for the nations.

  15. Mabel (Assistant Head Waitress) says

    I sure have to agree with Mr G, you walk them feet off all day (cough) and then that on top of it all !

  16. Stu Clayton says

    Mabel sent me an sms that a comment she made here just vanished.

  17. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Your wikilink claims the following for Spanish:

    stent m (plural stents)

    That seems very unlikely to me. I’d expect estent for the singular and estentes for the plural.

  18. John Cowan says

    Recent borrowings like this are often written with sC, even though pronounced esC. For example, status and estatus are both current spellings, and stop is pretty much the only spelling.

  19. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    OK, but what about the plural, which looks more Catalan than Castilian?

  20. I think this has come up before, but the “two sleeps per night” theory was actually advanced not as you might expect by a scientist but by a historian combing through literary references, if I recall correctly, which might make it even more interesting to folks on here:

  21. Stu Clayton says

    The RAE has “stent”: Voz ingl., y esta de C. T. Stent, 1807–1885, dentista inglés.

    The colloquial pronunciation is bound to be /es-‘tent/, since Spanish speakers insist on not being able to pronounce an initial “s” any other way. Colloquials are bound to say /es-‘ten-tes/ as the plural. Medical people, I assume, will write “stent” and “stents”, but how they pronounce those words I don’t know.

    The Mexican maids we had in El Paso called me /es-‘tur/, because they couldn’t handle “Stuart”.

  22. The colloquial pronunciation is bound to be /es-‘tent/

    /es-‘ten/, rather.

  23. Stu Clayton says

    “Cent” was pronounced /sent/ by Mexican shopkeepers in El Paso as far as i remember, but centavo turned up as well.

    I expect Spanish words ending in -ent”, of which there are not likely to be many, have been imported from other languages (English, French). How they are pronounced depends on the source language as well as on Spanish expectations and habits.

    On forvo dot com I found a pronunciation of “stent” supposedly by a mujer de España. She pronounced it in a suspiciously English way, no leading “es-” and with “-enT”, the T almost too clearly audible. They may be a piece of voice software.

  24. “Cent” was pronounced /sent/ by Mexican shopkeepers in El Paso

    Speaking English or Spanish? In any case, of course there’s cross-linguistic contamination in a border town. I’m quite sure villagers in Pueblo or Chiapas don’t pronounce the /t/.

    How they are pronounced depends on the source language as well as on Spanish expectations and habits.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “depends on the source language,” but the source language cannot change people’s linguistic habits. Chinese loanwords are not borrowed into English with tones, and English loanwords are not borrowed into Spanish with b/v distinctions the language does not make, or with final consonants that Spanish-speakers do not pronounce.

  25. David Marjanović says

    Loanword phonemes do happen, but not terribly easily.

  26. Right; I didn’t mean that phonemes are never introduced, just that it doesn’t happen automatically.

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    Kusaal has [h] as a sporadic realisation of word-internal /s/, but no separate /h/ phoneme in native vocabulary.

    However, /h/ occurs word-initially in the exceedingly common loanword hali, “even, as far as, very” (2144 occurrences in the 2016 Bible translation, for example.) Even monoglot speakers always render this word with initial [h], never [s] (or zero.)

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    Just discovered that “shrapnel” was the invention of General Henry Shrapnel.

  29. John Cowan says

    Whose ancestors were named Charbonel.

  30. David Marjanović says

    Shrapnel got into German(s) early enough that it’s pronounced à la française, and the final stress is spelled out: Schrapnell.

  31. January First-of-May says

    The Russian is шрапнель, also with final stress.

    (Wiktionary says it was borrowed directly from English, but I suspect a transmission through French and/or German.)

  32. Vasmer says it was via German.

  33. Just discovered that “shrapnel” was the invention of General Henry Shrapnel.

    Or, to be more exact, shrapnel is named after Gen Shrapnel, but what Shrapnel invented isn’t shrapnel. Shrapnel’s shell was a canister full of musket balls that burst shortly after firing. Previously artillery had used a canister round – a tin full of musket balls that burst immediately on firing and turned an artillery piece into a giant shotgun. Shrapnel’s invention meant that the balls didn’t start to spread out until some time after firing, meaning that it was effective at longer ranges.
    Nowadays “shrapnel” is almost invariably used to mean bits of metal from the casing of a bursting explosive shell or bomb.

  34. David Marjanović says

    The latest-comments page now just shows the 5 latest-commented threads and then says:

    “Now you may think that this is the end. Well it is.
    But there’s some that go on singing.”


  35. January First-of-May says

    Entirely unrelatedly: anyone knows what’s up with John Cowan’s list of commented-on Language Hat posts suddenly dropping off after five entries, all of them from the last several hours? Was there a timer overflow or something?

    I hoped to eventually use it for (yet another run at) an archive binge of Language Hat, but now it’s so utterly minuscule that I wasn’t even able to use it to find out what happened since I last caught up (a few hours ago).

    EDIT: ninja-ed by David Marjanovic while I was forced to set up lunch for my grandmother.

  36. Calling John Cowan… John Cowan to the apocalypse…

  37. John Cowan says

    Oh dear.

    It’ll take me a couple of hours before I have time for this.

  38. John Cowan says

    I’ve launched the process that re-creates the log from scratch. This takes several hours to run, as it involves downloading all the individual posts. I’ll post here again when everything’s back to normal.

  39. John Cowan says

    All fixed! I needed to do a little manual work at the end, but it’s in order.

  40. Whew! Thanks for all your work on that invaluable resource.

  41. January First-of-May says

    Seconding the thanks!

    Though for some reason I still seem to really dislike the ending phrase. Maybe just something simple along the lines of “Alas, the archive of Language Hat does not go any earlier”?

  42. Well, I like it!

  43. David Marjanović says


  44. January First-of-May says

    Alas, I no longer recall which site’s searching system ended its results with “And in the beginning… there was silence”. I really liked that one.

    (I’m not even entirely sure whether it was “silence” or “nothing”, and for that matter whether the “and” was there. Google finds no relevant results with the “and”, and too many irrelevant results to sift through without it.)

  45. John Cowan says

    Perhaps I should change it to SHANTIH SHANTIH SHANTIH.

    The full form of the current closing is:

    Oh be kind to your web-footed friends,
    For a duck may be somebody’s mother.
    Be kind to your friends in the swamp,
    Where the weather is very, very damp,
    Now you may think that this is the end,
    Well it is! (But there’s some that go on singing)

    to the tune of the John Philip Sousa march The Stars and Stripes Forever (start at 0:59). However, the lyrics terminate two lines short of the first strophe of the melody.

  46. David Marjanović says

    “In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.”

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