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Origin of the phrase “Black Hole.”

07/11/2008

According to etymonline:

in astrophysics is from 1968, probably with awareness of Black Hole of Calcutta, incident of 1756 in which 146 Europeans were locked up overnight in punishment cell of barracks at Ft. William, Calcutta, and all but 23 perished.

From glancing over articles, looking for specific information, this claim is apparently exaggerated, if not outright false. But what interests me is just who, person or culture, coined the phrase “The black hole of Calcutta.”

Here is an interesting take on the origin of the of the phrase: http://www.worldwidewords.org/topicalwords/tw-bla1.htm

 The nearest I can find as to the origin of the phrase black hole as relevant to the cell, guard house, what have you, is the following: http://books.google.com/books?id=vdvXOxzbiNwC&pg=PA196&vq=black+hole&dq=John+Zephaniah+Holwell+A+Genuine+Narrative+of+the+Deplorable+Deaths+of+the+English+Gentlemen+and+others+who+were+suffocated+in+the+Black+Hole&source=gbs_search_s&sig=ACfU3U1_wvdNpcmY3_U3qbpJGSue6oysKA#PPA194,M1

Based on that bit of information, it would seem “black hole” as a phrase, was Indian in origin, if not creation. I’m not sure whether Holwell, or another European or member of the Dutch East India Company, adopted the local naming custom, or if a local gave it the prison its name. 

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