does "aqueous" is an adjective for "gases"? what is the meaning of "aqueous and atmospheric gases" in this context?

"Question: Will utilitarianism make any discoveries in other locomotive directions?" "Yes; look out about these days for carriages and travelling saloons on country roads—without horses, without steam, without any visible motive power moving with greater speed and far more safety than at present. Carriages will be moved by a strange and beautiful and simple admixture of aqueous and atmospheric gases—so easily condensed, so simply ignited, and so imparted by a machine somewhat resembling our engines, as to be entirely concealed and manageable between the forward wheels. These vehicles will prevent many embarrassments now experienced by persons living in thinly populated territories. The first requisite for these land-locomotives will be good roads, upon which with your engine, without your horses, you may travel with great rapidity. These carriages seem to me of uncomplicated construction."

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    Any good dictionary should have clear definitions for all of these words. If you have specific questions about those definitions, the question could be improved.
    – TypeIA
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 15:32
  • does it refers to gasoline?
    – solesoul
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 15:34
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    In part. Hint: This is a very accurate description of a modern internal combustion engine, like in a car, which mixes fuel (gasoline/petrol, diesel, kerosene etc.) with air (containing oxygen, a gas) and then burns it.
    – TypeIA
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 15:49
  • @TypeAI The phrase "aqueous gas" seems to be an oxymoron, and looking in a dictionary didn't clear anything up. I think this seems like a totally reasonable question. Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 16:11
  • I retracted my close vote, since the edit clarifies that the question is about the apparent conflict between aqueous and gas.
    – TypeIA
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 17:29

1 Answer 1


"Aqueous" means, roughly, "watery." In chemistry, "aqueous" usually means "dissolved in water," so that, for example, "aqueous sodium chloride" means "sodium chloride dissolved in water."

I'm not sure what "aqueous and atmospheric gases" is supposed to mean here, but I have a few reasonable guesses.

My best guess is that "aqueous gas" is used to mean hydrogen—that is, gas obtained from water. "Atmospheric gas," then, probably means oxygen, or perhaps just air. Very few cars actually run on hydrogen, but some do, and in the 19th century, it would have been reasonable to guess that most cars in the 20th century would run on hydrogen.

Another possibility is that "aqueous gas" could mean "liquid," and "atmospheric gas" could mean what is now just called "gas." However, I haven't found any evidence that the word "gas" was ever used to refer to liquids.

From a language standpoint, "aqueous gas" could mean "water vapor." However, this doesn't make sense, because the text clearly refers to mixing the "aqueous gas" with "atmospheric gas" and igniting the mixture; scientists in the 19th century presumably knew that water vapor does not burn.

It's conceivable that "aqueous gas" could mean the vapors of a liquid (such as petrol, which is also called gasoline), but I think it seems unlikely that someone would refer to that as "aqueous gas" rather than as simply "vapor."

Finally, nowadays, the phrase "aqueous gas" is often used to mean "a gas dissolved in water," but it seems very unlikely that anyone in the 19th century would have thought that a gas dissolved in water would be useful in an engine.

It is extremely unlikely that "aqueous gas" means "gasoline," because this text seems to have been written before the invention of the automobile, but gasoline was never referred to as "gas" until well after the invention of the automobile.

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    The internal combustion engine definitely existed before 1856 when Andrew Jackson Davis published this in The Penetralia. The accuracy of the description suggests Davis was familiar with the invention. I think aqueous and atmospheric gases may have been a simple oversight; I think it's fairly clear that he's referring to liquid petroleum fuel and oxygen.
    – TypeIA
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 17:24
  • I agree, petroleum is obtained from the fractional distillation of crude oil which is evaporated and the various types of hydrocarbon vapours condense at different temperatures. So petrol is liquefied from gas. Perhaps the author simply overlook that aqueous is related to water, rather than liquid. Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 18:06

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