Cobalt, element number 27, takes its name from the German kobold, a goblin or imp, especially one found in mines. Miners in Germany assigned the ore a demonic nature and referred to it as kobold and later as kobalt because of its low value and, since it is commonly found in combination with arsenic, the deleterious health effects that came with mining and refining it.

Cobalt has been known since ancient times and has been used to produce blue pigment through the centuries. But it was not until 1735 that Swedish chemist Georg Brandt isolated it in elemental form.

The word first appears in English in John Pettus’s 1683 Fleta Minor: The Laws of Art and Nature in Assaying Metals:

Concerning the Cobolt oars, there are many sorts of them.

The modern spelling appears about a half century later, somewhat before 1728 in John Woodward’s An Attempt Towards a Natural History of the Fossils of England:

Cobalt is plentifully impregnated with arsenick; contains copper and some silver. Being sublimed, the flores are of a blue colour: these, German mineralists call zaffir.1

Cobalt has the chemical symbol Co, taken from among the first letters of its name.

1Oxford English Dictionary, cobalt, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 11 September 2009,

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