Elementymology & Elements Multidict
Lood – Blei – Plomb – Plomo – 鉛 – Свинец – 鉛
Lead Frisian (West)
Plumb Romanian - Moldovan
SlavicОлово [Olovo] Bulgarian
Цвінец [cvinec] Belarusian
Олово [Olovo] Macedonian
Свинец [Svinec] Russian
Олово [Olovo] Serbian
Свинець [svynec'] Ukrainian
Luaidhe Gaelic (Irish)
Luaidh Gaelic (Scottish)
Leoaie Gaelic (Manx)
Other Indo-EuropeanΜολυβδος [molyvdos] Greek
Կապար [kapar] Armenian
Indo-Iranian/IranianSirb, Sirîç Kurdish
Зды [zdy] Ossetian
Сурб [Surb] Tajik
Indo-Iranian/Indo-Aryanলেড [leḍ] Bengali
سرب [srb] Persian
સીસુંનો [sīsu'no] Gujarati
सीसा [sīsā] Hindi
Ширысь [Širys'] Komi
Вӱдвулно [Vüdvulno] Mari
Киви [kivi] Moksha
Хура тăхлан [Hura Tăhlan] Chuvash
Къоргъасын [k"org"asyn] Kazakh
-- [--] Kyrgyz
Хар тугалга [har tugalga] Mongolian
قوغۇشۇن [qoğuşun] Uyghur
Other (Europe)Beruna Basque
ტყვია [tqvia] Georgian
Afro-Asiaticرصاص [raSāS] Arabic
עופרת [oferet] Hebrew
Sino-TibetanYèn (鉛) Hakka
鉛 [namari] Japanese
납 [nab] Korean
ตะกั่ว [takua] Thai
鉛 [qian1 / yuen4] Chinese
Plumbum, ²Timbal Malay
Other Asiaticകറുത്തീയം [kṟuttīyam] Malayalam
ஈயம் [īyam] Tamil
Plumbi, ²Risasi Swahili
South-AmericaTiti, ²Waychi, ³Antaki Quechua
CreoleLoto Sranan Tongo
New namesLeadplom Atomic Elements
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.
The 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:
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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?)
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:
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.