The Naming of Metals

Can someone tell me how the various metals were named? Steel, Copper, Iron... Where did their names come from? Latin, Greek, etc...

Just curious...

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If in doubt, assume the name of any metal or mining term is ancient German.

Steel is from the German "Stahl", which is ancient.

Iron has the chemical symbol Fe, from the Latin "Ferrum"

No-one (AFAIK) knows the real etymology of "iron". It's certainly old, and is sometimes said to be from "aesir" (Norse) or "aisar" (Etruscan), both terms meaning "the gods". Because iron rusts, it isn't found in metallic form in geological deposits, as copper is. What iron or steel was found naturally occurring was meteoric or "from the gods".

Copper's Greek name was "chalkos", which still crops up in mineral names like chalcopyrite. From Roman times though it became known by the place it was mined - Cyprus. "aes cyprium" were "alloys of Cyprus", which eventually became cuprum (hence the chemical symbol Cu) and then the English copper

"Tin" came from an old German word meaning "foreign", as it needed to be imported. There was an ancient tin trade with Cornwall and the Mediterranean, to make bronze. Apart from the fact it hasn't sunk yet, Cornwall may have been the historical Atlantis.

Zinc comes from "Zinke", a 16th century Bohemian term for "point", in relation to the crystal shape of this newly discovered metal. Although brass was ancient, smelting the pure metal itself is relatively recent.

Cobalt and nickel are amusing, both being named after demons. "Kupfernickel" ("copper imp") was a "fool's gold" of Bohemian copper miners - it looked like valuable copper ore, but was worthless (at the time).

Cobalt was a bit more dangerous. The silver mines in the Harz mountains also contained veins of minerals rich in cobalt, arsenic and sulphur. This was toxic (possibly from arsine gas) and the miners blamed demons or "kobolds"

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Andy Dingley

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