Fossil fuels actually refer not only to oil, but coal and natural gas as well. The term is refering to organisms that have died and decomposed over millions of years, and the decomposed material, or “fossils” is what we have now.
The terms “oil” and “coal” have been around for a very long time, but the term “fossil fuel” is much more modern. From the 1940s onward, the idea of fuel as a collective resource was probably as mass production and technology of the fuels for World War II warfare was created.
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the term fossil fuel was first used in 1835. This seems to be a relevant time frame as the first use of the word fossil occurred in 1736. It is hard to say when the term fossil fuel became relevant to the English language, but I would assume that the time frame would coincide with an English speaking countries initial drive for energy. Possibly during England’s industrial revolution lasting through the mid 1800’s?
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