- Nontechnically speaking, a person shocked or spurred into action is said to be galvanized. Technically, when a metal such as iron or steel is given a protective coating of zinc, it too is galvanized. To learn how the word galvanize, with its two disparate senses, originated, you must start with a story concerning the cooking of frogs. There are several versions of this story, but all are basically similar. Let us consider Wilder Penfield's version as reported in Anecdotes, edited by Clifton Fadiman: One evening in the late eighteenth century, an Italian woman stood in her kitchen watching the frogs' legs which she was preparing for the evening meal. "Look at those muscles moving. . . . They always seem to come alive when I hang them on a wire."Her husband, Luigi Galvani, looked. . . . The cut end of the frog's nerve wa.s in contact with a copper wire, and electric current produced by the contact was passing along the nerve to the muscle. As a result the muscle was twitching and contracting. . . .He had discovered the key to electricity, and to nerve conduction, and to muscle action. Here was the basis of all animal movement, reflex and voluntary, in frog and man.Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), born in Bologna, was a physiologist and a lecturer on anatomy at the University of Bologna. He pioneered the branch of physiology relating to electricity, called electrophysiology. Those who studied the strange phenomenon that Galvani reported agreed that the frog's muscles did show signs of vitality. Galvani postulated the theory of animal electricity.However, Galvani's theory was exploded by a fellow Italian, Count Alessandro Volta (after whom the word volt was, named). He discovered that the twitching of the frog's legs was the result of contact of two unlike metals that produced an electric current. Galvani's scalpel had touched the brass conductor of a nearby electrical machine.Volta's finding set off a furor in the academic world. Scientists split into two sides—adherents of Galvani's theory and of Volta's. At times the debates were acrimonious. Galvani was castigated as "the frog's dancing master." The disputes created a serious pressure on the shy Galvani. To avoid any further conflict and to conduct other experiments, Galvani departed for the Mediterranean. While he was away, Napoleon conquered Bologna, among other cities, and demanded an oath of fealty to himself from the members of the university faculty. Galvani refused to take the oath and was summarily dismissed. Sometime later the authorities relented and sought to reinstate him, but Galvani refused the offer. In that same year, he died.Galvani contributed his name to the English language in the word galvanize in the technical and nontechnical senses, enriching both science and language.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.