“Take cover” – Insurance terms and where they come from

The word ‘insurance’ – originally from Latin, stemming from ‘sure’, meaning secure, has been part of the English language since the 1550s. It began its journey as a variant of ‘ensurance’, which is an alteration of assurance – all very similar terms but they all went their own ways and established different meanings in different contexts. 

It was the two Scottish ministers Wallace and Webster, who created the first modern insurance fund in the second half of the 18th century, based on current actuarial and financial principles, rather than mercantile gambling. It established a model that was the foundation of all future insurance models in financial history.

By 1815, the principle of insurance was so widespread that it was adopted even for men fighting against Napoleon. The odds that a soldier would get killed at Waterloo was roughly 1 to 4. If the soldier was insured, at least he would have the consolation of knowing that his family wouldn’t be thrown out onto the streets. It was this moment in history when the phrase ‘take cover’ got a whole new meaning. By taking out an insurance, a soldier purchased a coverage that made sure his family had a roof above their head even after he died.

1550s, “engagement to marry,” a variant of ensurance “an assurance, pledge, guarantee,” from Old French enseurance “assurance,” from ensurer, from en- “make” (see en- (1)) + sur “safe, secure, undoubted” (see sure (adj.)). Commercial sense of “security against loss or death in exchange for payment” is from 1650s. Assurance was the older word for this specific sense (late 16c.).

Online Etymology Dictionary

In English, one ‘takes out an insurance’. In German, we say ‘Versicherung schließen’, literally, ‘to close an insurance’ – as in ‘to close a deal, to strike a deal’. The Hungarians say ‘biztosítást kötni’, literal meaning ‘to bind an insurance’. How do you express this concept in your language? Leave a comment below and let’s continue the conversation there.


Niall Ferguson: The Ascent of Money (A fantastic account on the birth of finance and insurance, from a slightly anthropological perspective. Highly recommended.)
Mashed Radish: Who knew the word “insurance” was so complicated?

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