Several authors and historians have contributed their own differing interpretations of the source of the word “escalator”, and some degree of misinformation has heretofore proliferated on the Internet. For reference, contradictory citations by seven separate individuals, including the Otis Elevator Company itself, are provided below.
Name development and original intentions
Charles Seeberger trademarked the word "escalator" in 1900, to coincide with his device’s debut at the Exposition Universelle. According to his own account, in 1895, his legal counsel advised him to name his new invention, and he then set out to devise a title for it on his own. As evidenced in Seeberger's own handwritten documents, archived at the Otis Elevator Company headquarters in Farmington, Connecticut, the inventor consulted "a Latin lexicon" and "adopted as the root of the new word, 'Scala'; as a prefix, 'E' and as a suffix, 'Tor.'" His own rough translation of the word thus created was "means of traversing from", and he intended for the word to be pronounced, "es‧ʹkæl‧ə‧tər" (es-CAL-a-tor).
"Escalator" was not a combination of other French or Greek words, and was never a derivative of "elevator" in the original sense, which means "one who raises up, a deliverer" in Latin. Similarly, the root word "scala" does not mean "a flight of steps", but is defined by Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary as the singular form of the plural noun "scalae", which denotes any of the following: "a flight of steps or stairs, a staircase; a ladder, [or] a scaling-ladder."
The alleged intended capitalization of "escalator" is likewise a topic of debate. Seeberger’s trademark application lists the word not only with the "E" but also with all of the letters capitalized (in two different instances), and he specifies that, "any other form and character of type may be employed . . . without altering in any essential manner the character of [the] trade-mark." That his initial specifications are ostensibly inconsistent, and since Otis Elevator Co. advertisements so frequently capitalized all of the letters in the word, suppositions about the "capital ‘e’" are difficult to formulate.
Derivatives of 'escalator'
The verb "escalate" originated in 1922, and has two uses, the primary: "to climb or reach by means of an escalator" or "to travel on an escalator", and the secondary: "to increase or develop by successive stages; spec. to develop from 'conventional' warfare into nuclear warfare."  The latter definition was first printed in the Manchester Guardian in 1959, but grew to prominent use during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Loss of trademark rights
In 1950, the landmark case Haughton Elevator Co. v. Seeberger precipitated the end of Otis' reign over exclusive use of the word "escalator", and simultaneously created a cautionary study for companies and individuals interested in trademark retention. Confirming the contention of the Examiner of Trademark Interferences, Assistant Commissioner of Patents Murphy’s decision rejected the Otis Elevator Company’s appeal to keep their trademark intact, and noted that "the term 'escalator' is recognized by the general public as the name for a moving stairway and not the source thereof", observing that the Otis Elevator Co. had "used the term as a generic descriptive term…in a number of patents which [had] been issued to them and…in their advertising matter." All trademark protections were removed from the word "escalator", the term was officially genericized, and it fell into the public domain.
- ^ See: Barrow, Dennis. "Seeberg.doc", Internal document, Otis Elevator Co., Farmington, CT: United Technologies; "escalator, noun." OED Online. June 2004. Oxford University Press, available: http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50077810; "Otis Firsts: Escalators in the Gaslight Era", Otis Elevator Co., available: (http://www.otis.com/otis150/section/1,2344,ARC3125_CLI1_RES1_SEC2,00.html); "Subject: History of the Escalator" (unnumbered sales circular letter). Internal document, Otis Elevator Co., Farmington, CT: United Technologies, October 16, 1962; "The Word ‘Escalator’", Human Interest, Online. The Museum for the Preservation of Elevating History, available: http://www.theelevatormuseum.org/h/h-1.htm; Worthington, Jr., William. "Early Risers", American Heritage of Invention & Technology, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Winter 1989): 42; and Wosk, Julie. "Perspectives on the Escalator in Photography and Art", in Up Down Across: Elevators, Escalators and Moving Sidewalks. (Alisa Goetz, ed.) London: Merrell, 2003.
- ^ De Fazio, Diane H. Like Blood to the Veins: Escalators, their History, and the Making of the Modern World (Master's Thesis, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation), 2007: 58 – 61.
- ^ De Fazio, 60. Seeberger noted that the public had come to call his invention the "escə‧lāʹ‧tər" (es-ca-LĀ-tor) by 1906.
- ^ Lewis, Charlton T. and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary: Founded on Andrews’ Edition of Freund’s Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.
- ^ Ibid.
- ^ Seeberger, Charles D. "Trade-mark for Passenger-Elevators." U. S. Trade-mark No. 34724. May 29, 1900. Available: http://uspto.gov
- ^ "escalate, verb." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press Feb. 2007. (http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50077808).
- ^ "escalate, verb.²" The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. Feb. 2007. (http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50077808).
- ^ Folsom, Ralph H. and Larry L. Teply. "Trademarked Generic Words", The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 89, No. 7 (Jun. 1980): 1323–1359.
- ^ Haughton Elevator Co. v. Seeberger85 U. S. P. Q. (BNA) 80–81 (Dec. Comm. Pat. 1950).