Antimony, element 51, comes from the medieval Latin antimonium. The origin of the Latin word is unknown, but the Oxford English Dictionary speculates that it comes from Arabic. The classical Latin name for the metal is stibium, from which comes its modern chemical symbol, Sb. Use in English dates to the late 15th century.1
Samuel Johnson, in his 1755 dictionary, provides this delightful, albeit utterly incorrect, etymology:
The reason of its modern denomination is referred to Basil Valentine, a German monk; who, as the tradition relates, having thrown some of it to the hogs, observed, that, after it had purged them heartily, they immediately fattened; and therefore, he imagined, his fellow monks would be the better for a like dose. The experiment, however, succeeded so ill, that they all died of it; and the medicine was thenceforward called antimoine; antimonk.2
2A Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson, ed., s.v. ANT–ANT, London: Knapton, et. al. (1775).
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton