Most of the threads we start here will be words that are at least somewhat uncommon.
But this thread is an exception: Elementary Words; that is, the interesting origins of the names of some of the chemical elements. Ladies and gentlemen, feel free to start your google engines -- but please leave gallium, nickel, tungsten and palladium as future entiries from your wordcrafters.
[This message was edited by wordcrafter on Fri Jul 19th, 2002 at 09:52 AM.]
In Germany mythology, the Kobold was a domestic sprite who appeared in a variety of guises. In the lore of German miners, the Kobold (or Kobalt) was a malicious, mountain-dwelling gnome.
German miners had begun calling cobalt-containing ores Kobalt as long ago as the early 1500s, because they were worse than useless; they were dangerous. They often contained arsenic contaminants that would cause sores on the miners’ feet and hands. Even in the early 1700s, cobalt ore was held to be harmful to neighboring silver ores.
my great grandfather was the owner of a coal mine in pennsylvania. he was german. i noted in my oxford reference dictionary next to kobold that i wondered if he had ever seen a kobold. considering he and his cousin the town doctor used to imbibe regularly. of an evening. strictly medicinal. bitters, you know.
i like this icon. it looks like he got his teeth knocked out.
Greetings, word lovers:
The most elementary word I know is 'abecedarian' defined in my dictionary as 'rudementary'.
Helium is so named from the Greek Helios, meaning the sun. It was discovered on the sun before it was found on the earth. Pierre-Jules-César Janssen, a French astronomer, noticed a yellow line in the sun's spectrum while studying a total solar eclipse in 1868. Sir Norman Lockyer, a British astronomer, realized that this line could not be produced by any element known at the time. He reckoned that a new element on the sun was responsible for this mysterious yellow emission. This unknown element was named helium by Lockyer.
The German copper miners of the 1700’s called a mineral Devil’s copper because it interferred with the smelting of copper. In their tongue the term was kupefernickel; indeed, we still speak of the Devil as "Old Nick". From this comes the name of the metal element nickel, a part of that mineral.¹
Thus when a US’n carries in his pocket the coin called a nickel, he is carrying the Devil with him.
¹Note: various sources claim other reasons why the miners felt bedeviled by this mineral. Some claim the smelting difficulty as above; others say the ore looked deceptively like copper ore but yielded no copper; others that it was a nuisance to miners who were searching for a much more valuable metal, silver.
I was about to say eruditely that (as I'd always assumed) your abecedarian was a word coined to mean "as easy as ABC" by using the sound ABC.
I'd have egg on my face. Upon look-up, I found that it comes from Late Latin abecedrius, alphabetical. The coinage was made in latin, not in english.
Ah, but don't forget the Roman alphabet used ABC, too!
arnie notes that "the Roman alphabet used ABC, too!"
Here's where my lack of latin shows. In english one recites the alphabet as "Ay Bee Cee Dee Eee Ef Gee Aitch" etc. (in french it's different).
But I don't know how it was pronounced in latin. Can anyone tell me whether the latin alphabet ABC is recited as AyBeeCee, which would match the coinage of abecedrius?
GALLIUM: Discovered and named by French chemist Paul-Emile LeCoq de Boisbeaudran in 1875. But why that name?
It would be unseemly for a scientist to name a discovery after himself. LeCoq claimed that he chose gallium in honor of his country France, the latin name of which is Gallia (as in Charles de Gaulle). That’s what he claimed – but his own name LeCoq means 'the rooster' in French, and gallus is 'rooster" in Latin. Was LeCoq crowing just a bit with that name?
That suspicion arose during LeCoq’s lifetime, and he of course denied it. What would you expect? (A web-source says, "According to his obituary by Arnaud de Gramont, he was very anxious to deny this rumour during his life," but I find nothing about any concrete acts of his to squelch that 'rumor'.)
According to the web: French dictionaries typically cite the 'gallus' (rooster) etymology, while English language dictionaries quote the 'gallia' (France) etymology – with one exception. OED weighed in on the side 'rooster' but, according to that websource, was planning to change that in the OED third edition.
You pays yer money, you takes yer choice. I personally don’t buy for a moment the story that Mr. LeCoq innocently did not have “rooster” in mind.
[This message was edited by wordcrafter on Mon Jul 22nd, 2002 at 19:27.]
"I personally don't buy for a moment the story that Mr. LeCoq innocently did not have rooster in mind."
Zo, you seenk zis iz, how you say en Anglais, ze Coq-up?
Wolfram and tungsten are alternate names for the same element. Though the chemical symbol is W, the wolfram name is much less common in english. Other languages split between the two names: some use names akin to tungsten (french; japanese); others use names akin to wolfram (german, polish, dutch; scandanavian tongues; chinese ); others use both versions (italian; spanish)
The two names trace back to two ores of this metal:
- tungstenita, from tung sten = heavy stone in swedish or norwegian.
However, in those languages the element’s normal name is "volfram" and “wolfram”
- wolframite, probably wolf rahm = wolf-dirt, because the ore disturbed the melting of tin. It was thought the ore digested tin.
By the way, you are reading this by tungsten right now. The electric light bulb you use was simply impractical until a tungsten filament was tried; previous substances burned out quickly and gave little light.
The second-discovered asteroid was named Pallas for Pallas Athene, the Greek goddess of wisdom, following the custom of naming solar-system bodies after the Greek gods and goddess (e.g., Ceres, the asteroid discovered shortly before). Very soon thereafter, in 1803, the Brit William Hyde Wollaston discovered a new element and it was named palladium -- but was it named for the asteroid, or for the goddess?
The sources I’ve found generally indicate that it was named for the asteroid, but they do not explicitly face that question. But note that palladium (for the goddess) had been a word long before that, meaning 1. a safeguard; esp. a guarantee of social institutions; 2. a sacred object, as a statue, with power to preserve a city of state. One wonders whether British Wollaston may have had "preservation of the state" in mind, given the state of Napolean’s career at the time.
Interestingly, it is clear that Napoleonic politics were affecting names in another field, music. In 1803 Beethoven originally dedicated his third symphony to Napolean and called it his Napoleon Symphony. But before the premiere perfomance, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. Beethoven, in a tremendous fury, ripped the title page from the score, declaring angrily that his hero had become a tyrant and that he would not dedicate a symphony to such a person. The symphony's new inscription, "composed to celebrate the memory of a great man," seems to refer wistfully to an earlier Napoleon who no longer existed. It is now called the Eroica symphony.
[This message was edited by wordcrafter on Sat Jul 27th, 2002 at 10:58.]
The palladium story gets a bit more convoluted -- and venal.
"Many natural philosophers had recognised the commercial market for malleable platinum before him, but even the most capable had achieved little more than sporadic success before giving up in frustration." Wollaston had discoverd a workable process and, to make his fortune from it, kept his process secret until his death in the late 1820's.
Thus when he discovered palladium (and still later, rhodium) amoung the wastes-solvents from his platinum extraction, "[t]his discovery presented Wollaston with a dilemma. He wanted to make his discovery known to the world, but in a way that would reveal as little as possible of his still-secret platinum business." His performance in the face of that dilemna was not particularly admirable.
See A secret history of platinum