82. Plumbum (Lead) - Elementymology & Elements Multidict

Elementymology & Elements Multidict

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Plumbum Lead
Lood – Blei – Plomb – Plomo – 鉛 – Свинец – 鉛
Multilingual dictionary

Plumbum Latin

— Germanic
Lood Afrikaans
Bly Danish
Blei German
Lead English
Blýggj Faroese
Lead Frisian (West)
Blý Icelandic
Bläi Luxembourgish
Lood Dutch
Bly Norwegian
Bly Swedish

— Italic
Plomo Aragonese
Plumbu Aromanian
Plomu Asturian
Plom Catalan
Plomo Spanish
Plomb French
Plomp Friulian
Chumbo Galician
Piombo Italian
Piuump Lombard
Plomb Occitan
Chumbo Portuguese
Plumb Romanian - Moldovan

— Slavic
Олово [Olovo] Bulgarian
Olovo Bosnian
Цвінец [cvinec] Belarusian
Olovo Czech
Olovo Croatian
Òłów Kashubian
Олово [Olovo] Macedonian
Ołów Polish
Свинец [Svinec] Russian
Olovo Slovak
Svinec Slovenian
Олово [Olovo] Serbian
Свинець [svynec'] Ukrainian

— Baltic
Švinas Lithuanian
Svins Latvian
Švins Samogitian

— Celtic
Plom Breton
Plwm Welsh
Luaidhe Gaelic (Irish)
Luaidh Gaelic (Scottish)
Leoaie Gaelic (Manx)
Plom Cornish

— Other Indo-European
Μολυβδος [molyvdos] Greek
Կապար [kapar] Armenian
Plumb[i] Albanian

— Indo-Iranian/Iranian
Sirb, Sirîç Kurdish
Зды [zdy] Ossetian
Сурб [Surb] Tajik

— Indo-Iranian/Indo-Aryan
লেড [leḍ] Bengali
سرب [srb] Persian
સીસુંનો [sīsu'no] Gujarati
सीसा [sīsā] Hindi

Plii Estonian
Lyijy Finnish
ólom Hungarian
Ширысь [Širys'] Komi
Вӱдвулно [Vüdvulno] Mari
Киви [kivi] Moksha
Plii Võro

Qurğuşun Azerbaijani
Хура тăхлан [Hura Tăhlan] Chuvash
Къоргъасын [k"org"asyn] Kazakh
-- [--] Kyrgyz
Хар тугалга [har tugalga] Mongolian
Kurşun Turkish
قوغۇشۇن [qoğuşun] Uyghur
Qoʻrgʻoshin Uzbek

Other (Europe)
Beruna Basque
ტყვია [tqvia] Georgian

رصاص [raSāS] Arabic
עופרת [oferet] Hebrew
Ċomb Maltese

Yèn (鉛) Hakka
[namari] Japanese
[nab] Korean
ตะกั่ว [takua] Thai
Chì Vietnamese
[qian1 / yuen4] Chinese

Plomo Cebuano
Timbal Indonesian
Matā Māori
Plumbum, ²Timbal Malay

Other Asiatic
കറുത്തീയം [kṟuttīyam] Malayalam
ஈயம் [īyam] Tamil

Kubéle Lingala
Loto Sesotho
Plumbi, ²Risasi Swahili

Temētztli Nahuatl

Titi, ²Waychi, ³Antaki Quechua

Loto Sranan Tongo

Plumbo Esperanto

New names
Leadplom Atomic Elements
Costa Dorseyville
memory peg

Dense, dark blue-gray metal. Fairly soft
melting point 328 °C; 622 °F
boiling point 1740 °C; 3164 °F
density 11.35 g/cc; 708.56 pounds/cubic foot
Known to the ancients
Plumbum, Latin word for this element

History & Etymology

Lead was probably one of the first metals to be produced by man. Pearls of metallic Lead and Copper were found at archaeological stratum X at Catal Hüyük, Konya, Anatolia, Turkey, dated at around 6500 BC.

Perhaps the first written mention as "abaru" is on Babylonian tablets found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (668-626 BC). One of them includes a hymn to Gibil, the god of fire: "You melt Copper and Lead, you clean Gold and Silver". During the excavations of the city of Ashur a Lead chunk of 400 kilograms was discovered, which dates from 1300 BC. In the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian compendium of medicine, dated at around 1550 BC, Lead is mentioned. It is also mentioned several times in the Old Testament, such as:

"Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters." (Exodus 15, 10).
"Only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead, Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean " (Numbers 31, 22-23).

The manner in which prehistoric people extracted lead from its minerals is not well-known. However, there are vestiges of very rudimentary furnaces, done of stone, where these people heated up the lead minerals with bonfires (that burned wood and coal) to extract the element.

In the fifth century BC the Romans made an extensive exploration of lead deposits in the whole Iberian Peninsula. In the period 700 AD to 1000 AD the German mines of lead and silver, in the Rhine valley and in the Hartz mountains, were very important, just as those of Saxony, Silesia and Bohemia in the 13th century.

Symbol for Lead & SaturnThe alchemists believed Lead to be the oldest metal and associated it with the planet Saturn. Because of its heavy weight it played a special role in the alchemic operations, they assigned to it the ability easily to be converted into Gold. They had many names for it, some secret, among others Plumbago (lead ore).

In astrology alchemy the seven heavenly bodies known to the ancients were associated with seven metals also known in antiquity:

Sun (Sol)Gold (Aurum)
Mercury (Mercurius)Mercury (Hydrargyrum)
VenusCopper (Cuprum)
Moon (Luna)Silver (Argentum)
MarsIron (Ferrum)
JupiterTin (Stannum)
SaturnLead (Plumbum)

The long history of Lead is reflected in the many different words for this metal. See the list of names to the left and in the overview of Lead in over 100 languages (click here).
We can identify many different roots, even the three main European branches of the Indo-European language group have five different roots (some related) for their name of this common metal: plumbum, the Germanic languages use Blei or Lead and the Slavic uses also two roots, olovo and svinec.

1. Plumbum and μολυβδος (Italic branch, Greek)
According to most linguists are the Latin Plumbum and the Greek μολυβδος [molybdos] borrowed from the same older language, from which also the Georgian prpeni, brpeni = lead, tin, and the Baskian berán (beruna) were derived. The original language is not, as was thought earlier, Indogermanic or a Semitic language, but more likely a prehellenic language from the Aegeic area. The linguist Van Windekens supposes that Pelasgian was the donor language and unclosed the root *b(o)lub. Other see the Iberian language as the donor of both words, since the Iberian peninsula is rather rich of lead. Also the Celtic language was seen as the source.
It is also tried to interpret the Latin plumbum with help of Indogermanic languages in the suffix -bho-, often used for the names of animals and colours; thus to trace plumbum back to pl-on-bho and to include it in the family of the Greek πελιος [pelios] = bluish-black.
Others see both these names derived from the Sanskrit bahu-mala = very dirty.
Plumbum was the generic name for soft white metals with low melting points, as lead and tin, and later also bismuth and their alloys. Later plumbum was differentiated with the addition of black and white: Plumbum album (white plumbum; or Plumbum candidum) for Tin and Plumbum nigrum (black plumbum) for Lead.

2. Blei (East and North Germanic)
Old High German:blio, bliwes
Middle High German
Old Saxon
Middle Dutch:
Old Nordic, Swedish, Danish:bly
The linguists see in these forms a relation to the old Germanic root *blipia (*bhlei-tio), meaning light, bright (the latter only for the sky), and via this to the the Indogermanic root blei-: bhləi: bhli = to shine; to this belongs also the Old Saxon and Old Frisian blin = colour. If the German *bliwa = lead a colour adjective is to this root, in accordance with the Lithuanian blyvas = lilac, violet-blue, is disputed, but likely, since otherwise the New High German blau = blue should be based on a further unknown Celtic *bliuo. Blei is than the "bluish metal", just as Silver is the white metal and gold the yellow metal.
Others see in the Old High German word blio a derivation from the Greek μολυβδος [molybdos] and/or the Latin plumbum.

3. Luaidhe, Lead (Celtic, West Germanic)
Middle High German:lôt
* meaning however tin
The English Lead is first used in the first English translation of Historia Ecclestiastica Gentis Anglorum by Beda Venerabilis (672/3-735 AD), attributed to King Alfred the Great (871-900 AD): "Britannia venis metallorum, aeris, ferri et plumbi et argenti fecunda" = Britanny is abundant in metal ores of copper, iron, as well as lead (leade) and silver.
It is borrowed from the Irish luaide of unknown origin, although some see it derived from Celtic loud or Sanskrite loka = reddish, because of the red colour of lead oxide (red lead).
Another option is that it is derived from *louadia from plumbum (the p- lost in Celtic) (or the donor language for the Latin word).

4. Švinas, Svinec (Baltic, East Slavic)
The modern Russian name, свинец [svinec], agrees with the Lithuanian Švinas and the Latvian swins, and entered the Finnish languages (Livonian svina) and the gipsy language (swinzi). Curious is the Estonian name sea tina = pig's tin, resulting from an ambiguous combination of the Russian svinec = lead and the Old Slavic svinija = pig.
The origin of the word свинец [svinec] is not clear; probably there is a relation with the Greek κυανος [kyanos] = a darkblue material (Homer, κυανεος [kyaneos] = steel blue). Мир Химии thinks about a derivation from свинка (svinka), little pig. The reason is that the ingots of lead were called pigs. Figurovskij supposes a relation with wine (вино), since the ancient Romans (and in the Caucasus) wine was stored in Lead vessels, which gave unique taste to it.

5. Olovo (West and South Slavic)
The confusion between Lead and Tin as found in the table above (Lead) is also found in the Baltic and Slavic languages: Old Prussian alwis = Lead, became Lithuanian alwas and Russian олово [olovo], both meaning Tin. The West and South Slavic languages use olovo also their name for Lead.
The old indication for Tin is Plumbum album (white lead), Lead was Plumbum nigrum (black lead). Мир Химии writes that lead was called in Russia Lead originally олово (olovo). When Tin first appeared, people erroneously assumed it identical with Lead, and named it of course олово (olovo). When they finally learned to distinguish both metals, the old name олово was used for the new metal, and its predecessor was called свинец (svinec).

Historical names of Lead isotopes
Name & Symbol (hist. and modern) First described Notes
Radium-B Ra B 214Pb 1904 Rutherford  
Thorium-B Th B 212Pb 1904 Rutherford  
Actinium-B Ac B 211Pb 1904 Debierne  
Ra D 210Pb 1906 Hahn  
Thorium-D Th D 208Pb      
Actinium-D Ac D 207Pb      
Radium-G Ra G 206Pb      

A peculiar website from Lavian-American Andis Kaulins, Indo-European Afro-Asiatic Words for Metals - Copper Lead Tin Iron Bronze Gold Amber. I am not sure what to think of the value of his unorthodox information, but give it for what it is worth. Kaulins presents the following list for Lead:

Akkadian ABARU (also magnesite?)
Aramaic 'ABARA
Hebrew 'OPARET
Armenian KAPAR
Arabic 'ABARun
Lithuanian GINTAR- = AMBER

And similar lists for Iron, Copper, and Tin. In examining all of these ancient terms for these metals, Kaulins sees that all names have two basic roots as their origin:
(1) "bar, var, par". Indo-European for "to smelt, boil" (Latvian var).
(2) "dzel, zil", meaning "yellow, gold, blue, dark blue, shiny" (Latvian zil).
He adds: "Latvian SVINS "lead" relates to words in Latvian meaning "shiny, burn" SVEC-/SVEK- "candle", SVIL- SVIN- ("hot, burning, celebrating, fiery"), SVID- "sweat, i.e. the shiny drops of perspiration". Interesting here is also that Latvian SVEKI means the "resin" of trees.

Chemistianity 1873
LEAD, the indispensable to Plumbers,
Named Plumbum, is a bluish gray metal,
With strong metallic lustre when newly cut,
But which tarnishes on exposure to moist Air.
Lead is very soft, may be drawn to wire
Or roll'd to sheet, has little tenacity,
Melts at low heat, and in part vapours at red heat.
J. Carrington Sellars, Chemistianity, 1873, p. 161
Further reading
  • Mary Elvira Weeks, Discovery of the Elements, comp. rev. by Henry M. Leicester (Easton, Pa.: Journal of Chemical Education, 1968), pp. 40-42.
  • Blei. Gmelins Handbuch der anorganische Chemie, System-Nummer 47 (1973).
  • James B. Calvert, "Lead" 2002 (on-line).

Sources Index of Persons Index of Alleged Elements