Zinc, element number 30, takes its name from the early modern German Zink, a word of unknown origin. There are several conjectures as to the origin of the German word. The most common one is that the metal forms prongs or spikes in the furnace, or Zinken, German for prongs or teeth.1 Another conjecture is that it gets the name from its resemblance to tin, which in German is Zinn.2
The 16th century Swiss German alchemist Paracelsus is often credited with being the first to use the word and appears to be the first European to identify the metal as a distinct element. The earliest English language citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from John French’s 1651 The Art of Distillation:
Any sulphurous, and imperfect metall, as Iron, Copper, or Zinke.3
Zinc has the chemical symbol Zn.
1Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, C.T. Onions, editor, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966, p. 1023.
2Skeat, Walter W., Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, New York: American Book Company, 1901, p.622.
Copyright 1997-2016, by David Wilton