One need not immerse themselves in the study of etymology to comprehend that the meanings of words change with time. The word we currently recognize as "awful" bears a definite negative connotation. Originally the word was used in this way -- Awe Full, as in "full of awe." This is but one example from our contemporary vocabulary wherein current usage of the word is drastically different from the original intent.
This semantic progression has impacted numerous words and expressions in the English language over the course of time. Pejoration is a process by which a word or term evolves in its meaning, coming to represent something other than its original usage.
A variation in the process of pejoration takes place when a particular brand name or product is universally familiar and becomes the standard by which we compare, refer to, or associate other related but less known products or processes. The validity or technical accuracy of the association notwithstanding, it is a communication reality.
Do you have any Scotch tape? Probably many of you have utilized the term "Scotch tape" when you were thinking simply of clear adhesive tape. Because of its prevalence in the market place and common knowledge of the consumer base, one manufacturer (in this case - Scotch) became a typical standard of reference. Scotch tape, then, has come to represent clear adhesive tape in general, much to the chagrin of other tape manufacturers.
Enter the term, wrought iron, another prime example of semantic evolution. When we shop for a wrought iron gate today for example, we have an image -- a look in our mind's eye. It is this look or classic style which we perceive to be, or associate with the term wrought iron.
Few who purchase ornamental gates in our time, for instance, could look at their gate, touch their gate, even bang on it, and tell you if the gate is made of steel or iron. Few ornamental gate consumers could verbalize the differences between the metals - aluminum, mild steel and iron. Probably even fewer would consider attempting to describe the differences in the manufacture, or the processes involved in forming, shaping and bonding the different types of metal.
They simply use the term wrought iron in an attempt to describe the classic style embedded in their mind. That look is what they like, and what they want!
The term wrought iron in reality refers to the type of metal utilized (iron) and the method of forming and shaping it. The word - wrought - is from an archaic verb meaning simply "to work." Wrought iron then is worked iron. Traditionally this work would have necessarily been performed by hand. The iron utilized in this process would be ductile and malleable with slag inclusions to make hand working possible. If a gate or other product is truly hammered out, shaped, or twisted by hand, there will be hammer and tool marks on the iron as evidence of this process.
In our society the term wrought iron is commonly used to describe the look or style associated with the awe-inspiring, highly ornate designs of the old world craftsmen. Without the term wrought iron how would we communicate the elegance and artistry we visualize when imagining these exquisite works of beauty and charm?
In our world, very few are the craftsmen who actually produce wrought iron goods. Those who do have earned this writer's respect and admiration. While it is required for authentic reproduction on historic structures, the cost alone prohibits most from considering true wrought iron when purchasing a product as sizable as a gate. Wrought iron is also extremely heavy, escalating the costs of shipping and transport. Also, as a result of its weight, installation becomes more complicated and costly.
Gates made of steel or aluminum, for instance, not only cost far less to manufacture, but the transportation costs are less and they do not require as substantial a mounting structure (i.e. - posts, pillars, etc.) as a comparable wrought iron gate.
A brief perusal of web sites offering various ornamental products such as gates, will verify that the term wrought iron in our day, is commonly used in reference to a look or style rather than the actual type of metal or construction process utilized. Although some blacksmiths and fabricators may greet this fact with reluctance, the reality is that the term wrought iron has suffered the eroding effects of semantic evolution. The term, as we use it today, has become the "Scotch tape" of the ornamental gate industry, speaking to a concept in the mind's eye of the layman rather than a technical reality.