My Word: X-ray vision makes history

X factor: Wilhelm Konrad von Rontgen found that radiation was passing through objects that were opaque to ordinary light.
X factor: Wilhelm Konrad von Rontgen found that radiation was passing through objects that were opaque to ordinary light.

Most of us have had X-rays at some time.

But X-rays were originally called X-strahlen. In fact, they still are, depending on which country you’re in. 

For a while the rays were called Rontgen rays.

A brief history: The name X-strahlen was given by the discoverer in 1895, German physicist Wilhelm Konrad von Rontgen, who was conducting entirely different experiments.

He found that radiation was passing through objects that were opaque to ordinary light.

On November 8, 1895, Wilhelm Konrad Röntgen accidentally discovered an image cast from his cathode ray generator, projected far beyond the possible range of the cathode rays (now known as an electron beam). 

A week after his discovery, Rontgen took an X-ray photograph of his wife's hand which clearly revealed her wedding ring and her bones.

The photograph electrified the general public and aroused great scientific interest in the new form of radiation.

Hence the term X-rays, also referred as Röntgen rays, though this term is unusual outside of Germany.

Rontgen called his discovery X-strahl, which I am told translates to X-ray in English.

X -rays have been in use in many other areas, including trucks at border crossings, some dental surgeries and some shoe sales outlets, as well as radiograph, art, crystallography. image, star, therapy and a whole host of other words.

I have been told that X-rays have been seen as x-rays, lower case or upper case so take your pick

In 1896, Rontgen said “a sheet of  aluminium 15mm thick (as I will call the rays for the sake of brevity) to pass but greatly reduce the fluorescence”.

My Macquarie describes an X-ray as the  examination of the interior of a person.Among other definitions, Webster describes it as one used in medical diagnosis and Collins says it’s a stream of radiation that can pass through some solid material to help a doctor see if there is anything wrong with you.

Samuel Johnson in his 1755 dictionary said no words began with X. Times have changed since then.

X-rays have been used in many contexts, but do not confuse X-rays with X-rated, which I am not allowed watch.

lauriebarber.com; lbword@midcoast.com.au