Sulfur, or sulphur, element number 16, has been known since antiquity. The name comes from the Latin via Old French. It appears in Anglo-Norman (French spoken in England following the Norman Conquest) in the 12th century and makes its English appearance by the late 14th. From the alliterative poem Cleanness, lines 953-54, which appears in British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x (the “Pearl manuscript"):

Þe rayn rueled adoun, ridlande þikke
Of felle flaunkes of fyr & flakes of soufre.

(The rain poured down, spreading thickly
Of fell sparks of fire and flakes of sulfur.)1

The chemical symbol for sulfur is S, taken from the first letter of its name.

1Oxford English Dictionary, sulphur, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 31 August 2009,

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