Boron, the element with atomic number 5, takes its name from borax, one of the ores in which it is found. The word borax is from the Old French boras, which in turn takes it from Latin and ultimately from the Arabic bauraq.1
The word borax has been in English use for centuries, found as early as c.1386 when it appears in Chaucer’s General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in a description of an ointment that could not improve the summoner’s pock-marked face:
Ther nas quyk-silver, lytarge, ne brymstoon,
Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,
That hym myghte helpen of his whelkes white,
Nor of the knobbes sittynge on his chekes.
(There was no quicksilver, litharge*, nor brimstone,
Nor any borax, ceruse**, nor oil of tartar,
That might help him with his white pimples,
Or with the knobs sitting on his cheeks.)
(* = lead monoxide; ** = white lead)
Boron was first isolated by British chemist Humphrey Davy in 1807. The first citation of the word’s use in English is from Davy’s 1812 Elements of Chemical Philosophy:
I first procured boron in October, 1807, by the electrical decomposition of boracic acid.3
The chemical symbol for boron is B, taken from the first letter of the name.
2Chaucer, Geoffrey, General Prologue, lines 629-33, in The Riverside Chaucer, Third Edition, Larry D. Benson, ed., Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1987.
Copyright 1997-2017, by David Wilton