I got a flat tire last night, so I'm off to get it patched (hopefully) or replaced (not so much). It got me to wondering where the word tire came from. The OED's first entry on tire contains six definitions that have to do with clothing and related things, as in attire, which is where the word tire itself comes from. The first, obsolete definition in this entry for tire is "Apparatus, equipment, accoutrement, outfit: = Attire."
The second entry for tire has to do with the wheel. The etymology refers back to the first entry's first definition:
- "Probably the same word as preceding entry, the tire being originally (sense 1) the ‘attire', ‘clothing', or ‘accoutrement' of the wheel. From 15th to 17th century spelt (like preceding) tire and tyre indifferently. Before 1700 tyre became generally obsolete, and tire remained as the regular form, as it still does in America; but in Great Britain tyre was revived in the nineteenth century as the popular term for the rubber rim of bicycle, tricycle, carriage, or motor-car wheels, and is sometimes used for the steel tires of locomotive wheels. During the twentieth century tyre became standard in the British Isles."
A tire was originally a metal rim around a cart wheel, and its rubber cousin got its name from that. Here are the relevant definitions:
- 1. collective singular. now obsolete. The curved pieces of iron plate, called strakes or streaks, placed end to end or overlapping, with which cart and carriage wheels were formerly shod (now rarely used, and only for heavy agricultural vehicles, artillery carriages, etc.).
- 2. a. A rim of metal encompassing the wheel of a vehicle, consisting of a continuous circular hoop of iron or steel.
- 2. b. An endless cushion of rubber, solid, hollow, or tubular, fitted (usually in combination with an inner tube filled with compressed air) on the rim of a bicycle, tricycle, or motor-car; now also often upon the wheels of invalid and baby-carriages, and light horse vehicles.