Although it seems like it could be a new formation, the word latex has been in use since the 1650s. Back then, the term was exclusively stylized with a capital L and referred to clear bodily fluid. By the 1800s, the spelling was standardized and a new definition of "milky liquid secreted by some plants" emerged. Then, in 1930, neoprene was invented, and that was an etymological game-changer: a new meaning of "synthetic rubber" emerged, named after the latex in rubber trees. Usage of the word latex exploded, peaking in 1935 as it became a household noun. The earliest "clear fluid" definition comes (through Latin) from the Ancient Greek word latax, meaning "drop of wine". That is thought to eventually derive from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction lat, which meant "swamp"; the reasons for both of the semantic shifts are unknown. Spandex was coined on the model of latex as an anagram for expands.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.