Copper, element number 29, is another elemental name that can be traced back to Old English, but unlike most Old English words, this one ultimately has its root in Latin. The Old English form is copor, and appears in an Anglo-Saxon manuscript Lacnunga (Remedies) from c.1000 in British Library MS Harley 585:
Gnid þa buteran on þæm hwetstane mid copore.
(Rub the butter on the whetstone with copper.)
The Old English word is believed to come from a supposed Vulgar Latin form *coprum. The Late Latin form is cuprum, and the Classical Latin is Cyprium, from the name of the island of Cyprus, a source of the metal in classical times.1
Copper has the chemical symbol Cu, taken from the first two letters of its Late Latin form.
1Oxford English Dictionary, copper n.1, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 13 September 2009, http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50049764; and A Latin Dictionary (Lewis and Short), Cyprus, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1879, p. 508.
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton