International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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The earliest known uses of the word 'vegetarian'
Compiled by John Davis, IVU Manager and Historian, with help from members of the ivu-history email group

Appendix 3 - to early uses of 'vegetarian'
Alternatives for 'vegetarian' in other languages and cultures.

It should initially be pointed out that the meaning of the English word 'vegetable' changed during the 19th century - it had originally meant just any type of vegetation, as in 'animal, vegetable or mineral' - if it's not animal or mineral then it must be vegetable. It gradually changed to mean only certain types of edible plants. So the term 'vegetable diet', used from 1725, simply meant 'plant diet'.

The natural question when considering the origins of the word 'vegetarian', is what did the Hindus call their diet before the British invented the V word. We have this from the 'Himalayan Academy' (California):

The Sanskrit for vegetarianism is Shakahara, and one following a vegetarian diet is a shakahari. The term for meat-eating is mansahara, and the meat-eater is called mansahari. Ahara means "to consume, or eat," shaka means "vegetable," and mansa means "meat or flesh." ( www.ivu.org/religion/articles/argument1.html )

However, we can find no record of the British using the word 'Shakahara', which is odd as many learned Sanskrit. In the fact the first appearance of the word in Google's 10 million online books is 1995 - exactly the time that the 'Himalayan Academy' started promoting it on the internet, and when their article was first added to the IVU website...

So Shakahara is literally 'vegetable eater' (or in modern usage: plant-eater) - but as most Hindus do not speak Sanskrit this is a term that would only have been used by the Brahmins - if we actually accept that the above is not just a recent invention from combinations of older words.

Amongst the various terms the British did use to describe the plant-food (plus milk) diet before 'vegetarian' appeared, was 'Brahminism'. Most Hindus do use milk and milk products, so 'shakahara' is no more accurate than the western versions. In reality Hindus did not need a separate word because it was simply an integral part of their religion - they just followed a 'Hindu diet'.

In Gandhi's autobiography he recounts how he discovered vegetarianism in London around 1890. He had never eaten meat in his life, apart from one occasion, but he had never thought of 'vegetarianism' as a separate entity until he read Henry Salt's 'A Plea for Vegetarianism'. Gandhi decided it was a good idea in its own right, and joined the London Vegetarian Society.

Other Asian religions were similar in that their diet was just a part of their religion.

Germany - in 1867 Eduard Baltzer founded the Deutsche Verein für natürliche Lebensweise (German Natural Living Society), the first vegetarian organisation outside of the UK or USA (ie the first non-English). We have records that they initially tried to avoid calling it 'vegetarian' simply because it was English, but by the following year there was the Stuttgarter Vegetarierverein (Stuttgart Vegetarian Association). However, that may be a later name change as we have from Der Vegetarier the magazine of the Vegetarier-Bund Deutschlands in May/June 1992:

In the early years of the German vegetarian movement, the followers of the meatless way of life way referred to themselves as "Vegetarianer" - only later, approximately from 1880, the modern word "Vegetarier" became standard.

We have a similar situation in other European languages, all eventually adapting 'vegetarian'. Earlier individuals in those countries who followed a plant-food diet would have used their own version of 'vegetable diet'; Pythagorean diet'; 'Natural diet'; etc.

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