Engagement, Uncertainty, & the History of the Word “Insurance”

To increase our insurance knowledge (and to geek out for just a little bit), we trace the history of the word “insurance” back to its roots.

History of the word "insurance"

Back in August 2010 we detailed the long and rich history of insurance, tracing its roots from 3000 BCE China to our modern era. We even charted the surprisingly fascinating history of U.S. car insurance, from the first car insurance policy sold to the exciting advances of the dot-com era. But for all of our historical and factual insurance knowledge, we’ve yet to take a look at where the word itself comes from.

So to increase our insurance knowledge (and geek out for minute), we trace the history of the word “insurance” back to its roots.

The history of the word “insurance”

1556: Insurance means betrothal

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word insurance dates back to 1556, and first appeared in Nicholas Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister, one of the earliest known English comedies.

But surprisingly, when insurance debuted in Elizabethan England, it didn’t mean what it does today. Rather, it was a variant of ensurance, which meant a betrothal, trothplighting (not a word you hear every day), or an engagement to marry. In other words, to be insured in the 16th century meant to be engaged.

And, if you think about it, the idea of insurance as a betrothal still makes sense in the 21st century. After all, your insurance company is engaged to protect you for better or worse and will be there for you through thick and thin.

1622: Assurance (insurance’s precursor) takes on a new meaning

In the early days, people used insurance, ensurance, and assurance interchangeably to mean 2 things: a marriage engagement or the act or means of making certain.

Then in 1622, Gerard de Malynes, a merchant and writer on economics, applied assurance in The Ancient Law-Merchant to refer to the act of insuring the value of property in the event of a loss, thus adding a third meaning to the lexicon.

For the next decade or so, assurance denoted life and marine insurance. Until, in 1635, in a Draft Petition to the King, the petitioners employed insurance to indicate monetary protection against fire damage, and the concept of insurance as insurance was born.

1826: Insurance and assurance diverge

Though contemporary grammarians would balk, assurance, ensurance, and insurance were used coextensively when referring to our modern-day concept of indemnity in England until 1826.

Charles Cabbage, a mathematician and computer pioneer, noted that since assurance commonly referred to life insurance, we should restrict its usage to just that. Insurance, on the other hand, should connote risk to property.

And believe it or not, people listened. Today, assurance is rarely used in England to mean marine, fire, or accident insurance. And in the U.S., assurance has dropped out of usage altogether when referring to protection against losses, though Merriam-Webster still acknowledges that it also means insurance.

1999: Esurance becomes part of American vocabulary

As one of the first online car insurance companies, we’re proud to say we coined a new word in choosing our name when we launched more than a decade ago. By combining the convenience and cutting-edge technology of electronic commerce with the assurance of dependable insurance, Esurance introduced a new concept to car insurance.

Today, Esurance stands for innovative car insurance that combines cool technology (mobile apps, online Coverage Counselor®, and RepairView™) with good old-fashioned service and steadfast reliability to give drivers everywhere the best car insurance experience possible.

Related link

Auto insurance glossary

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