- Chemistry (etymology)
In the history of science, the etymology of the word chemistry is a debatable issue. It is agreed that the word derives from the word alchemy, which is a European one, derived from the Arabic al-kīmīā (الكيمياء). The Arabic term is derived from the Greek χημία or χημεία. However, the ultimate origin of the root word, chem, is uncertain.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the majority theory is that al-kīmīā is derived from χημία, which is derived from the ancient Egyptian name of Egypt (khem, khame, or khmi, meaning "black earth", contrasting with the surrounding desert.) Therefore, alchemy is the "Egyptian art". However, it is also possible that al-kīmīā was derived from χημεία, meaning "cast together".
Traditionally, the science of alchemy was once considered to have sprung from great Egyptian figure named by the Greeks "Hermes Trismegistus" (the "thrice-great" Hermes, celebrated as priest, king, and scholar), who is thought to have been the founder of the art. Reputed to have lived about 1900 B.C., he was highly celebrated for his wisdom and skill in the operations of nature. In 1614 Isaac Casaubon demonstrated that the works attributed to Hermes – the so-called "Hermetic corpus" – were actually written pseudonymously during the first three centuries of the Common Era.
The first documents written in ancient Greek date from around 800 B.C. more than 1,000 years after literary Egyptian; so Greek alchemists may have adopted Egyptian terminology. Other possible sources include the Old Persian word "Kimiya" meaning gold. The alchemical theories associated with Hermes Trismegistus, is the syncretism of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian Thoth. Moreover, it is known that "[t]he four chemical gods of the Egyptians, the female-male original principle of Osiris (male Sun) and the corresponding Isis (Wife-sister, female Moon), as well as Mercury and Vulcan, became eight gods and finally twelve gods, who were later taken over by the Greeks." This origin theory, in chemistry, was generally known as the "pyramid of composition" and was utilized in the writing of Michael Maier, who in turn influenced Isaac Newton in his alchemical writings in the 1680s. Hence, the ancient "Egypt" word kēme (3000 B. C.), which stands for earth, is a possible root word of chemistry; this later became "khēmia", or transmutation, by 300 AD, and then “al-khemia” in the Arabic world, then alchemia in the Dark Ages, then “chymistry” in 1661 with Boyle’s publication, and now “chemistry”.
In Alexandria alchemy began to flourish in the Hellenistic period; simultaneously, a school of alchemy was developing in China. The writings of some of the early Greek philosophers might be considered to contain the first chemical theories; and the theory advanced in the 5th century B. C. by Empedocles — that all things are composed of air, earth, fire, and water — was influential in alchemy.
J. R. Partington in his four-volume work History of Chemistry (1969)  says that “the earliest applications of chemical processes were concerned with the extraction and working of metals and the manufacture of pottery, which were forms of crafts practiced many centuries before the Bronze Age cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia.” Thus, according to Partington, alchemy preceded Egypt and Mesopotamia.
There are two main views on the derivation of the word, which agree in holding that it has an Arabic descent, the prefix al being the Arabic article. But according to one, the second part of the word comes from the Greek χημεία, pouring, infusion, used in connexion with the study of the juices of plants, and thence extended to chemical manipulations in general; this derivation accounts for the old-fashioned spellings "chymist" and "chymistry". The other view traces it to khem or khame, hieroglyph khmi, which denotes black earth as opposed to barren sand, and occurs in Plutarch as χημεία; on this derivation alchemy is explained as meaning the "Egyptian art". The first occurrence of the word is said to be in a treatise of Julius Firmicus, an astrological writer of the 4th century, but the prefix al there must be the addition of a later copyist. In English, Piers Plowman (1362) contains the phrase "experimentis of alconomye", with variants "alkenemye" and " alknamye". The prefix al began to be dropped about the middle of the 16th century (further details of which are given below).
According to the Egyptologist Wallis Budge, the Arabic word al-kīmiyaʼ actually means "the Egyptian [science]", borrowing from the Coptic word for "Egypt", kēme (or its equivalent in the Mediaeval Bohairic dialect of Coptic, khēme). This Coptic word derives from Demotic kmỉ, itself from ancient Egyptian kmt. The ancient Egyptian word referred to both the country and the colour "black" (Egypt was the "Black Land", by contrast with the "Red Land", the surrounding desert); so this etymology could also explain the nickname "Egyptian black arts". However, according to Mahn, this theory may be an example of folk etymology. Assuming an Egyptian origin, chemistry is defined as follows:
- Chemistry, from the ancient Egyptian word "khēmia" meaning transmutation of earth, is the science of matter at the atomic to molecular scale, dealing primarily with collections of atoms, such as molecules, crystals, and metals.
Thus, according to Budge and others, chemistry derives from an Egyptian word khemein or khēmia, "preparation of black powder", ultimately derived from the name khem, Egypt. A decree of Diocletian, written about 300 AD in Greek, speaks against "the ancient writings of the Egyptians, which treat of the khēmia transmutation of gold and silver".
Arabic al-kīmiyaʼ or al-khīmiyaʼ (الكيمياء or الخيمياء), according to some, is thought to derive from the late Greek word khymeia (χυμεία) meaning "the art of alloying metals, alchemy"; in the manuscripts, this word is also written khēmeia (χημεία) or kheimeia (χειμεία), which is the probable basis of the Arabic form. According to Mann, the Greek word χυμεία khumeia originally meant "pouring together", "casting together", "weld", "alloy", etc. (cf. Gk. kheein (χέειν) "to pour"; khuma(χύμα), "that which is poured out, an ingot"). Assuming a Greek origin, chemistry is defined as follows:
- Chemistry, from the Greek word χημεία (khēmeia) meaning "cast together" or "pour together", is the science of matter at the atomic to molecular scale, dealing primarily with collections of atoms, such as molecules, crystals, and metals.
From Alchemy to Chemistry
It was the mineralogist and humanist Georg Agricola who first dropped the Arabic definite article and began, in his Latin works from 1530 on, to write "chymia" and "chymista" instead of the earlier "alchymia" and "alchymista". As a humanist, Agricola was intent on purifying words and returning them to their classical roots. He had no intent to make a distinction between a rational and practical science of "chymia" and the occult "alchymia", for he used the first of these words to apply to both kinds of activities. The modern denotational distinction arose only in the early eighteenth century.
During the rest of the sixteenth century Agricola's new coinage slowly propagated. It seems to have been adopted in most of the vernacular European languages following Conrad Gessner's adoption of it in his extremely popular pseudonymous work, De remediis secretis: Liber physicus, medicus, et partim etiam chymicus (Zurich 1552). This work was frequently re-published in the second half of the sixteenth century, and the earliest known occurrences of forms of the French "chimie," the German "Chemie," the Italian "chimica," and the English "chemistry" are found in early translations.
- ^ a b "alchemy", entry in The Oxford English Dictionary, J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, vol. 1, 2nd ed., 1989, ISBN 0-19-861213-3.
- ^ p. 854, "Arabic alchemy", Georges C. Anawati, pp. 853-885 in Encyclopedia of the history of Arabic science, eds. Roshdi Rashed and Régis Morelon, London: Routledge, 1996, vol. 3, ISBN 0415124123.
- ^ Encyclopedia Britannica, 2002 Edition, CD-ROM
- ^ Weekley, Ernest (1967). Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0486218732
- ^ History of Alchemy from Ancient Egypt to Modern Times – the AlchemyLab.com
- ^ Not including the Linear B tablets from 1300-1100BCE, which are more inventory lists than anything else
- ^ Cunliffe, Barry (2001). Atlas of World History. Barnes & Noble. ISBN 0760727104.
- ^ (Budge The Gods of the Egyptians Vol. 1 p. 415)
- ^ Cohen, Bernard, I.; Smith, George, E. (2002). The Cambridge Companion to Newton. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521656966.
- ^ the Alchemist’s Corner (this ref is dodgy and doesn't even work for me).
- ^ Brock, William, .H. (1992). The Chemical Tree – A History of Chemistry. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 00393320685.
- ^ Partington, James, R. (1937). A Short History of Chemistry. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.,. ISBN 0486659771.
- ^ Encyclopedia Britannica – 1911 Edition.
- ^ a b Harper, Douglas. "alchemy". Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=alchemy.
- ^ Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. alchemy
- ^ Cf. Liddell-Scott-Jones s.v. χυμεία.
- History of Alchemy – Timeline
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