Before Newton, an Aristotelian explanation that stones fall because it is their "nature driving them towards the center of the universe" persisted.
But with the discoveries and social change which preceded Newton, Aristotle's explanation took on the tone of a hollow word play. Little matter to most--who cared why a stone falls to earth? So many other questions consumed the mental bandwidth of Newton's contemporaries.
Newton coined a word for an idea that was relegated to faith and fringe-alchemy. Without the concrete evidence to substantiate it, investigators could not take him seriously.
Even with evidence, he was ignored. The evidence was fit into existing paradigms ("that's just what stones do, they fall...it doesn't mean something is pulling them"). Evidence was also dismissed as trivial ("apples fall to earth every day Netwon, duh"). His idea would have to offer a practical application to go mainstream.
Observers could not uncover a mechanical explanation of gravity. So they were faced with a challenge: Newton's "gravity" did not provide any further explanation for a falling rock than Aristotle's "nature". Cautious minds remained skeptical about "gravity". However, they soon found Astronomy could not advance without calculus. The theory of gravity gained ground as a side effect of the success of The Principia's predictive power. "Gravity" was a slight mutation in language which allowed scientists to think outside of the outdated, previous paradigm. But utility, the calculus, gave gravity credibility.
Memeticists take note. All the terms we've cooked up (all of the hairs we split) are irrelevant to the foundation of memetics.
Predictive power, modeling and elegant solutions are basic to future success.