organization: etymology and origins


Prompted by JC Spender’s question – I looked up ‘organization’ in the Oxford English Dictionary (probably gated, unless your university has access), the origins and etymology of the word, and some early literary references.  Not much help, though interesting nonetheless (click below, its long):

[< Middle French organisation (second half of the 14th cent.; French organisation) and its etymon post-classical Latin organizatio organization (a1250, c1362 in British sources) < organizat-, past participial stem of organizare ORGANIZE v. + classical Latin -i{omac} -ION suffix1.] 

1. a. Chiefly Biol. The development or coordination of parts (of the body, a body system, cell, etc.) in order to carry out vital functions; the condition of being or process of becoming organized (ORGANIZED adj. 1). Also: the way in which a living thing is organized; the structure of (any part of) an organism.

a1425 tr. G. de Chauliac Grande Chirurgie (N.Y. Acad. Med.) f. 48v, Varicose, which is a new name, is said organizacioun of veynez in ham out of kynde. ?a1475 (?a1425) tr. R. Higden Polychron. (Harl.) II. 213 The body of man proporcionate to the sawle that equalite of complexion was in hit, conformite of organizacion [a1387 J. TREVISA tr. a cordyne of temes; L. organizationis conformitas]. a1513 J. IRLAND Meroure of Wyssdome (1926) I. 98 The concepcioune of the persoune may be tane for the formaccioune and organizacioune of the body. 1664 H. POWER Exper. Philos. I. 82 The several wayes and Organization of the Body [are] inscrutable. 1690 J. LOCKE Ess. Humane Understanding II. xxvii. 179 That being then one Plant, which has such an Organization of Parts in one coherent Body. 1706 Phillips’s New World of Words (ed. 6), Organization, a forming of Organs or Instrumental Parts. 1807 J. E. SMITH Introd. Physiol. & Systematical Bot. 7 Their curious crystallization bears some resemblance to organization, but performs none of its functions. 1882 S. H. VINES tr. F. G. J. von Sachs Text-bk. Bot. 904 Only in a few plants of low organisation does a fertile union take place between sister-cells. 1974 J. B. FINEAN et al. Membranes & Cellular Functions i. 9 The integrity of the isolated cells is assessed by their ability to exclude dyes such as eosin or trypan blue and to catalyse metabolic pathways which require a high degree of cellular organization. 1991 L. WOLPERT Triumph of Embryo i. 1 This embryonic development presents a fundamental problem of biological organization. 2003 Life Sci. 74 207 The ephrins and their receptors regulate cell movement that is essential for forming and stabilizing the spatial organization of tissues and cell types.

{dag}b. concr. An organized structure; a body; an organism. Obs.

1707 W. FLEETWOOD tr. P. Le Lorrain Curiosities in Husb. & Gardening 27 The Contexture of Plants; whose structure is an Organization compos’d of Fibres. 1768-74 A. TUCKER Light of Nature (1834) II. 283 In the worst-formed bodies, and most untoward organizations, there lies an immortal spirit. 1860 DICKENS Uncommerc. Traveller in All Year Round 24 Mar. 513/1, I must stuff into my delicate organisation, a currant pincushion which I know will swell into immeasurable dimensions when it has got there. 1876 ‘G. ELIOT’ Daniel Deronda II. III. xxiii. 97 Choice organisations{em}natures framed to love perfection.

c. Med. Conversion into fibrous tissue.

1873 T. H. GREEN Introd. Pathol. (ed. 2) 326 A thrombus which is undergoing a process of organization gradually diminishes in size,..and ultimately it becomes converted into a fibro-cellular cord. 1961 R. D. BAKER Essent. Pathol. v. 82 Fibroblasts and capillaries grow into thrombi from the vessel wall and effect fibro blastic repair (organization). 1984 J. R. TIGHE & D. R. DAVIES Pathol. (ed. 4) vii. 48 If the thrombus is not dissolved, then organization will occur.

{dag}2. Early Music. The singing of the organum. Obs. rare.

1782 C. BURNEY Gen. Hist. Music II. 135 There can be no doubt but that some instrument had been used in the singing schools to teach this organization. 1880 W. S. ROCKSTRO in Grove’s Dict. Music II. 609 Hucbaldus,..who the year 930,..prefers no claim to be regarded as the orginator of the new method of Singing, but speaks of it as a practice ‘which they commonly call organization’.

3. a. The condition of being organized; systematic ordering or arrangement; spec. the way in which particular activities or institutions are organized.

1790 E. BURKE Refl. Revol. in France 30 They acted by the ancient organized states in the shape of their old organization, and not by the organic moleculæ of a disbanded people. 1832 tr. J. C. L. S. de Sismondi Hist. Ital. Republics xi. 240 The Turks arrived in Europe with an organization wholly military. 1849 MACAULAY Hist. Eng. II. vi. 129 Compensated by a great superiority of intelligence, vigour, and organization. 1875 W. S. JEVONS Money (1878) 257 The organization of the Clearing House will be described in the next chapter. 1908 G. K. CHESTERTON Man who was Thursday 39 You, my poor fellow, are an anarchist deprived of the help of that law and organization which is so essential to anarchy. 1988 A. LIVELY Blue Fruit 17 He explained to me in detail the organization of the railroad company. 1995 J. SHREEVE Neandertal Enigma (1996) vi. 165 Other clues to Neandertal socioeconomics{em}the small site sizes, the lack of organization, the exceedingly low population densities [etc.].

b. The action or process of organizing, ordering, or putting into systematic form; the arrangement and coordination of parts into a systematic whole; spec. the action of banding together or gathering support for a political cause.

1801 W. DUPRÉ Lexicographia-neologica Gallica 243 France, on her first organization, became a constitutional monarchy. 1815 J. SCOTT Visit to Paris xvi. 317 In the organization of forms, Reubens was a most extraordinary being. 1841 W. SPALDING Italy & Ital. Islands II. 131 To gain self-dependence and internal organization. 1897 M. KINGSLEY Trav. W. Afr. 364 The organisation of a service of transport was then proceeded with. 1952 A. BULLOCK Hitler iii. 139 The support the Nazis received from the rural districts of Germany richly repaid the work of propaganda and organization they began to undertake there in 1930. 1988 F. WELDON Leader of Band iv. 27 Let the spies report back any sign of real unrest, of organisation, and the iron hand descends. 1989 B. H. KERBLAY Gorbachev’s Russia i. 20 The shortcomings of the organization of the economy into sectors..had produced a compartmentalization of activities into a profusion of fiefs and ministries.

c. Organization and Methods: the study of the efficiency of working practices. Freq. attrib.: designating a person or group engaged in such study.

1959 Listener 10 Dec. 1020/1 Organization and Methods may indeed prove that the central principles of local government are irrational. 1963 Listener 28 Feb. 389/2 The Old English state was a ramshackle..affair, lying in 1066 wide open to a take-over bid from William the Conqueror and certain to benefit both spiritually and materially from the brisk and ruthless operations of his Organization-and-Methods men. 1971 K. GOTTSCHALK in B. de Ferranti Living with Computer v. 46 Groups concerned with efficiency in the office are sometimes called organization and methods (O & M) groups. 1990 World Outside: Career Guide 115/1 After Organisation and Methods came management in a large line department. That was followed by four years of responsibility for the development of new products.

4. a. An organized body of people with a particular purpose, as a business, government department, charity, tc.

1793 D. RAMSAY Hist. Amer. Revolution (new ed.) I. p. vi (advt.) Some of these additions we have ourselves received, as in the case of the words ‘organize, and organization’, when applied to political bodies. 1876 N. Amer. Rev. July 130 The Federalist party was a very remarkable political organization. 1880 J. MCCARTHY Hist. our Own Times IV. liv. 169 This vast organisation had apparently sprung out of the ground. 1909 Municipal Jrnl. 29 Oct. 896/2 A change in the Executive Offices of such an organization as the N.A.L.G.O. is always a matter of concern. 1957 C. SMITH Case of Torches i. 6 It was the kind of job that..set me apart from the rest of the organization. 1994 Population Stud. 48 540 Middle-class women ran charitable organizations, which in mothercraft and infant care.

b. orig. U.S. The body of officials directing the affairs of a political party, union, or similar body.

1873 Republic 1 3 The Republican organization had become effete and corrupt. 1904 Booklovers Mag. Oct. 439 Editors are called in frequent consultation so as to be in close touch with the organization. 1923 J. D. HACKETT Labor Terms in Managem. Engin. May 343/1 Check-off System, a system whereby initiation fees, fines, and dues of union employees are deducted from their wages by the employer and periodically remitted to the district union organization. 1992 D. MORGAN Rising in West III. xiv. 246 The local Kern County Republican organization had been slow to exploit the disaffection of the Truman Democrats.

 COMPOUNDS organization centre n. [after German Organisationszentrum (H. Spemann 1921, in Arch. f. Entwicklungsmech. der Organismen 48 568)] Embryol. = ORGANIZER n. 4.

[1927 H. SPEMANN in Proc. Royal Soc. B. 102 180 The region of the early gastrula where these organizers lie may be called for the present a ‘centre of organization’.] 1928 Biol. Abstr. 2 1320/2 Experiments..confirm the assumption that the *organization centers are localized in the 2 cell stage. 1935 Discovery May 136/2 organisation centre is grafted out of its usual will cause these new surroundings to develop into a complete embryo or complete organ. 1973 Adv. Morphogenesis 10 1 (title) The organization center of the amphibian embryo: its origin, spatial organization, and morphogenetic action.

organization chart n. a graphic representation of the structure of an organization showing the relationships of the positions or jobs within it.

1904 System Apr. 265 The *Organization Chart shows..the entire personnel of an organization above the ordinary labor employed. 1941 P. E. HOLDEN et al. Top-managem. Organization 5 A good organization chart for the company as a whole, with auxiliary charts for each major division, is an essential first step in the analysis, clarification, and understanding of any organization plan. 2001 National Post (Toronto) 12 June M3/1 The CIO, or chief information officer, started to appear on organization charts in the early 1980s.

organization man n. orig. U.S. a man who subordinates his individuality and his personal life to the organization for which he works (cf. company man n. at COMPANY n. Compounds).

1956 W. H. WHYTE (title) The *organization man. 1958 J. K. GALBRAITH Affluent Society xviii. 208 Our liberties are now menaced by the conformity exacted by the large corporation and its impulse to create..the organization man. 1995 Smithsonian Apr. 132/2 Today’s Organization Man has shed his gray-flannel suit for a coat of many colors.


Written by teppo

July 13, 2007 at 10:01 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Many thanks Teppo, this is really interesting. I had simply not thought to go back to the OED. many thanks for this whack on the side of the head.

    What is even more interesting is the shift on meaning since the medieval usages to the more contemporary one. this is a quick surmise on my part, but it seems worthy of further study. My conclusion is that earliest usage was about or based on the human body as something that had both clear boundaries and significant forms of arrangement within it. There is a literature on the idea of all means being ultimately related to our awareness of our bodies and their limitations, and the OED seems to support this angle.

    It is also clear that the aesthetics of the body, in terms of balance and harmony, are being transported in the notion of being organized. I am reminded of Polykleitos’s ‘canon’ as the exemplar of perfect arrangement or ‘organization’.

    But we can see in the modern definitions the earlier focus on the boundary is subordinated to the idea of suitable (controllable?) arrangements of the parts. ‘An organization’ gives way to ‘being organized’.

    Hmm …

    Anyway you have given me something to respond to Barbara with (Czarniawska, that is).

    Many thanks.



    July 14, 2007 at 4:18 am

  2. I was also put in mind of a conversation I had with Humberto Maturana a couple of years ago about ‘autopoiesis’ and whether what we call organizations could be autopoietic.

    As is well-known, he disagreed sharply with Stafford Beer and with his co-author Francisco Varela on this matter. He insisted autopoiesis was only relevant to biological entities because the notion was inextricably tied to the development and maintenance of physically identifiable boundaries that separated energy domains. So there is a sense in which his notion is more medieval and unlike that of the modern usage.



    July 14, 2007 at 4:33 am

  3. […] organization: etymology and origins « orgtheory.netJul 13, 2007 … Teppo. Prompted by JC Spender’s question – I looked up ‘organization’ in the Oxford English Dictionary (probably gated, unless your university … […]


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