What’s in a name?

Cantilever stone staircases are frequently referred to by some other names like: pencheck, hanging,flying or geometric. It is a bit strange that they have come to be commonly known as cantilever (or cantilevered) stairs as they don’t cantilever at all!

Pencheck – is the Scottish name for these stairs and refers to the birds mouth rebate between the treads.

Hanging- seems to be the most common way to refer to them in the 19th century and early 20th century. Modern Practical Stairbuilding & Handrailing by George Ellis which was published in 1936 defines Hanging stairs as – Stairs in which the steps are not visibly supported at the well end, but are built in or otherwise supported at the inner or wall end; chiefly constructed in stone, marble or concrete.

Geometric(al) – this crops up sometimes as just meaning a cantilever stone staircase (e.g. An Encyclopedia of Architecture by Joseph Gwilt) but is more commonly used to mean a staircase of any material that has winders in it. George Ellis in Modern Practical Stairbuilding and Handrailing writes: So called because some acquaintance with solid geometry is required to set them out and to obtain the moulds and templates for the handrails and wreathed strings. In A Treatise on Stairbuilding and Handrailing by W & A Mowat (1900) geometrical stairs are described as having continuous handrails and strings – uninterrupted by newel posts. They go on to say that these staircases can be difficult to make because of the “double curvature”. Sometimes these stairs are also known as “open newel”.

Flying- is how they are referred to in William Purchase’s book Practical Masonry (1904)

Void in the middle – how Palladio refers to them in The Four Books of Architecture (1570)

Chiocciola – is how circular spiral cantilever  stone stairs are referred to in Italian – it means snail shell.

I would be interested to know when they became known as cantilevered staircases as so far I have not been able to find any historic mentions.