Fluorine, the element with atomic number 9, is a combination of the root fluor, meaning flowing or flux,1 and the suffix -ine. A flux is a substance used to remove oxidation in metals about to be welded or soldered, and the mineral fluorspar or flourite (calcium fluoride) has been used as a flux since the 16th century. The -ine ending is from the French and ultimately the Latin -ina and is used to form feminine abstractions. It was used unsystematically by chemists in the early 19th century in names such as bromine, iodine, chlorine, and fluorine. More recent chemical use restricts the ending to alkaloids and other basic substances.2
The first citation for fluorine in the Oxford English Dictionary is by British chemist Humphrey Davy in an 1813 article in the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society:
It appears reasonable to conclude that there exists in the fluoric compounds a peculiar substance [...] it may be denominated fluorine, a name suggested to me by M. Ampère.3
German-Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered hydrofluoric acid in 1771, which he dubbed “Swedish air.” But because of fluorine’s highly reactive and corrosive behavior, and because of the danger it posed to chemists working with it, it was not isolated for over a hundred years. French chemist Henri Moissan did so in 1886, a discovery that led to his receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1906.
The chemical symbol for fluorine is F, taken from the first letter of the name.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton