Reader Jonathan Lace sent an excellent article on the history of the term Big Bang used by the New York Times. The history is interesting not only for its own sake but also for the example that a revolutionary idea that was originally derided has become a foundational theory is less than 100 years. You can read the entire article here but set forth below is an excerpt:
In 1927, Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest and astronomer from Belgium, first proposed the theory that the universe was born in a giant primeval explosion. Four years later, on May 19, 1931, The New York Times mentioned his new idea under a Page 3 headline: “Le Maître Suggests One, Single, Great Atom, Embracing All Energy, Started the Universe.” And with that, the Big Bang theory entered the pages of The Times.
Over the years, The Times mentioned the theory often, and used a variety of terms to denote it — the explosive concept, the explosion hypothesis, the explosion theory, the evolutionary theory, the Lemaître theory, the Initial Explosion (dignified with capital letters). Occasionally, descriptions approached the poetic: On Dec. 11, 1932, an article about Lemaître’s visit to the United States referred to “that theoretical bursting start of the expanding universe 10,000,000,000 years ago.”
The term “big bang” was coined in 1947 by the British astronomer Fred Hoyle, one of the theory’s most determined detractors. Hoyle preferred the steady-state theory, which held that the expansion of the universe was caused not by an initial explosion at a single moment but by the eternal creation of new matter as the universe expands, with no end or beginning in time. Almost everyone assumed that he used “big bang” to mock the idea, although Hoyle himself denied it.
It was not until Dec. 31, 1956, that The Times used Hoyle’s term and then only derisively: “this ‘big bang’ concept,” the anonymous reporter called it in an article discussing discoveries that “further weakened the ‘big bang’ theory of the creation of the universe.”