lithium

Lithium, with atomic number 3, is the first of the alkali metals. The element was first isolated in 1817 in the laboratory of Swedish chemist Jöns Jakob Berzelius. Berzelius named the element lithos, from the Greek meaning stone. In short order, the name was changed to conform to the practice of using the -ium ending for metallic elements.

The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from the Royal Institution of Great Britain’s Journal of Science and the Arts in 1918:

The chloride of lithium [...] is a white semi-transparent body.

The chemical symbol for lithum is Li, taken from the first two letters of the name.1


1Oxford English Dictionary, lithium, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 18 August 2009, http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50134214

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