Arsenic, element 33, has been known since antiquity. The English word comes from Old French in the 14th century and that from the Latin arsenicum. The Latin word, in turn, is from the Greek άρσενικόν (arsenikon, a yellow arsenical mineral also known as orpiment). The Greek word is from the Syriac zarnīkā, which is ultimately from Persian.1
One of arsenic’s first appearances in English is from Chaucer’s The Canon Yeoman’s Tale, c.1396:
Arsenyk, sal armonyak, and brymstoon;
And herbes koude I telle eek many oon.
(Arsenic, sal ammoniac (ammonium chloride), and brimstone (sulfur);
And herbs could I list many a one.)2
Arsenic has the chemical symbol As. (Argon is Ar.)
1The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, arsenic, 4th Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, accessed 18 September 2009 from Dictionary.com;
2Riverside Chaucer, Larry D. Benson, ed., 3d ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987, p. 273.
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton