From Chris Ambidge, this vintage ad for a Vaillant geyser — in German, as it happens, though the company was and is international:

The geyser is a point-of-use water heater, widely used in Europe but not the U.S. From the company’s website:

Our gas water heaters (the revolutionary Vaillant Geysers) have been around since 1894. We were the first manufacturer to produce an appliance for hygienic hot water generation with adjustable water temperature control. Since then we have strived to continuously improve our appliances.

And from OED2:

The name given to an apparatus for rapidly heating water attached to a bath. Also for the heating of water for use in wash-basins, sinks, etc. (See also geezer n.)

The first cite there is:

1878    Gas Engineer Feb. 184 (advt.)    The instantaneous water heater; or Maughan’s Patent constructed that any quantity of hot water can be drawn from it with the utmost facility.

You’ll note the variant geezer in the OED definition. The pronunciation issue comes up in several of the cites:

1920    L. C. Hale American’s London viii. 109   The aristocratic landlady was telling me of the advantage of her own particular geezer… I moved closer to descry the lettering on the cylinder, and lo! it was a geyser. I suppose the word is universally mispronounced over here because they have not been brought up in a geyser country.

1929    S.P.E. Tract xxxii. 400   The mechanical device for heating bath-water made geyser a household word, and though the introducers gave it the vowel of grey, the pronunciation as in key gained ground.

1965    G. McInnes Road to Gundagai v. 83   A crude precursor of the ‘Ascot’ gas heater — known to various Lady Helps as the geezer, the gayzer or the guyzer.

The original is of course the ‘hot spring’ sense (borrowed from Icelandic, where people know from geysers), eventually extended metaphorically to the commercial device.

4 Responses to “geysers”

  1. Lynne Murphy (@lynneguist) Says:

    These are on the way out in the UK…everyone has ‘combi boilers’ now (thank goodness). But I learnt the term (and the pronunciation) in South Africa, where it was used generally for hot water heaters, as far as I could tell…

  2. H. S. Gudnason Says:

    I first saw one–by that company, in fact–in Germany in 1966. One of my more dramatic encounters with it occurred when the pilot light had gone out and I needed to relight it. I had had no experience with gas appliances up to that point, and turned on the gas flow before I lit the match. The resulting explosion did no damage, and would have been very satisfying to see if I hadn’t been the one to cause it.

    There’s a 1944 film of Cornelia Otis Skinner’s Our Hearts Were Young and Gay that includes a scene involving confusion between an old man geezer and a water heater geezer. I remember that I laughed, but it was probably more than 40 years ago that I saw it, and I’ve forgotten the details.

  3. H. S. Gudnason Says:

    By the way, the term I learned for the device in Germany (in the north and 45 years ago) was Durchlauferhitzer–flow-through heater.

  4. the ridger Says:

    I learned that term in English (British) novels. I was quite baffled the first time I encountered it.

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