The Vocabularist: When plastics stopped being plastic

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‘The word “plastic” – often in the news because of pollution rows, carrier bag controversies and Ai Weiwei – has shown itself to be as adaptable as the material it describes.

Plastikos in Greek describes something which can be squashed into shape, from the verb plassein, to mould. It was used by the philosopher Plato, who wrote that of the four elements earth was the most easily moulded (plastikotate) unlike air, fire and water.

One sense of the word, denoting a craftsman’s material, or his skill – and often used metaphorically – has not really changed since then.’

Find out what happened in the mid 19th century!

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