zirconium / zircon

Zirconium, element 40, was first isolated in 1824 by Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius. In 1808, British chemist Humphry Davy had attempted to isolate the metal, but failed. Davy, however, did successfully name the element, being the first to use the term zirconium. From the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of 1808 (of the four names cited in the quote, only zirconium stuck):

Had I been so fortunate as to have [...] procured the metallic substances I was in search of, I should have proposed for them the names of silicium, alumium, zirconium, and glucium.1

The term zircon, for zirconium silicate, however, is older and is ultimately from the Persian āzargūn, possibly by way of the Arabic zarqūn, both of which mean fire-colored or vermillion.2 English use of zircon is from German, perhaps by way of French, and dates to 1794, shortly after German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth first identified the mineral. The 1794 edition of Richard Kirwan’s Elements of Mineralogy is the first English language work to use the name, in the form circon:

This earth has been discovered by Mr. Klaproth; it has as yet been found only in the stone called Jargon, or Circon, of Ceylon.3

But in a coincidence that word lovers will enjoy, the word zircon is several decades older in the from jargon, which dates to the 1760s. This jargon, also jargoon, is etymologically unrelated to the linguistic term and is simply an alteration of the Arabic zarqūn.4

Zirconium has the chemical symbol Zr.


1Oxford English Dictionary, zirconium, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 26 September 2009, http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50291279.

2The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, zircon, 4th Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, accessed 26 September 2009 from Dictionary.com.

3Oxford English Dictionary, zircon, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 26 September 2009, http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50291272.

4Oxford English Dictionary, jargon, jargoon, n2, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 26 September 2009, http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50123096

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