Those Odd Elemental Symbols Like Na and Sn

Iron Elemental SymbolHave you ever noticed that some of the elemental symbols like Au for gold and Fe for iron make absolutely no sense? While neon is symbolized Ne and helium He, which make sense, you end up with a few oddballs. The reason is because some elements have Latin-based symbols. Others have German-based symbols (for example, Tungsten symbolized as W for wolfram), but we’ll just focus on the Latin-based symbols.

“Why Latin?”, you may ask. Back in the day (which was a Tuesday sometime before the 1900s), only the elite could afford to study the sciences. It was super expensive to buy or make the proper equipment, plus only the wealthy were well educated. As with all educated and wealthy individuals in Europe before the 1900s, most were able to write and read Latin. In fact, nearly all reputable scientific journals were published in Latin. Hence, Latin was used in symbolizing the earliest of the discovered elements.

Here are some of the Latin-based symbols for elements:

  • Na – English: Sodium, Latin: Natrium
  • K – English: Potassium, Latin: Kalium (could also be attributed to the Arabic word, al-qili)
  • Sn – English: Tin, Latin: Stannum
  • Sb – English: Antimony, Latin: Stibium
  • Au – English: Gold, Latin: Aurum
  • Ag – English: Silver, Latin: Argentum
  • Cu – English: Copper, Latin: Cuprum
  • Fe – English: Iron, Latin: Ferrum
  • Pb – English: Lead, Latin: Plumbum

Let us know if you know of any odd elemental symbols and their origins!

[Photo Credit] Wade M

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