Archaic Chemical Terms

Part III (G-L)

Go to Part I (A-B), Part II (C-F), Part IV (M-R), or Part V (S-Z).

galena: native lead sulfide, PbS, or lead or silver ore, or the slag remaining after refining lead.

glacial: glass-like, crystallized. This usage persists in terms such as glacial acetic acid and glacial phosphoric acid.

glance: a mineral with a glassy appearance. Specific examples include:

Glauber's salt: sodium sulfate, Na2SO4.10H2O, named for the iatrochemist Johann Glauber who prepared it; also sal mirabilis.

glucinium or glucinum: beryllium, Be. [Berzelius, Marignac, Newlands, Ramsay]

grain : unit of mass. The English grain was equal to 1/7000 the mass of a pound avoirdupois, or 0.0648 grams; the French grain was 1/9216 of a livre or about 0.0531 grams. For late 18th-century French system, see livre. [J. Davy, Lavoisier, Priestley, Proust]


gros: Unit of mass in late 18th-century France; see livre. [Lavoisier 1 & 2]

hepar: This Latin word for liver referred to reddish-brown (i.e., liver-colored) metal sulfides. (See sulphuret.) Hepar sulphuris (liver of sulphur) was a synonym either for potassa sulphurata (a mixture of various compounds of potassium and sulfur made by fusing potassium carbonate and sulfur) [Cavendish, Priestley, Stahl] or, in homeopathic contexts, for calcium sulfide, CaS.

Homberg's salt: boric acid, B(OH)3.

hydrargyrum: Latin for mercury, hence the symbol Hg

igneous fluid: a postulated elastic fluid sometimes used synonymously with caloric (matter of heat), sometimes with phlogiston (matter of fire), and sometimes as a substance with the postulated properties of both. [Lavoisier 1 & 2]

corneous silver, mercury, or tin: the chlorides of these metals, because of resemblance to horn. Also corneous silver, mercury, or tin.

illinium: another name proposed for promethium, element 61.

ionium: an isotope of thorium produced in uranium decay, namely 230Th (half-life = 80 kyr). See table. [Boltwood 1907; Soddy 1, 2, & 3]

Jupiter: In astrological and alchemical thought, the seven heavenly bodies known to the ancients were associated with seven metals also known in antiquity. Jupiter was associated with tin. [Helmont]

kalium: Latin (and German) for potassium, hence the symbol K.

kelp: ashes of seaweed from which carbonates or iodine were extracted

Kelvin scale: an absolute temperature scale (i.e., one in which absolute zero is assigned the value zero) named after William Thomson, first (and last) Baron Kelvin of Largs, who first proposed an absolute temperature scale. One Kelvin (denoted simply K or sometimes in older sources °K) is the same size as a Celsius degree, so the normal freezing point of water is 273.15 K and the normal boiling point is 373.15 K. (See Celsius scale, Fahrenheit scale, Rankine scale, Réaumur scale.) [Kelvin]

King's yellow: a native yellow arsenic(III) sulfide, As2S3 (yellow arsenic, orpiment)

Kurrol's salt: a potassium phosphate, (KPO3)4, with ion-exchange properties

lapis: Latin for stone; also an alchemical term for non-volatile solids

laughing gas: nitrous oxide, N2O (phlogisticated nitrous air).


Libavius, fuming liquor of (spiritus fumans Libavii): tin tetrachloride, SnCl4, which fumes because it is hydrolyzed by moisture in the air to stannic oxide. First prepared at the beginning of the seventeenth century by the German chemist Andreas Libavius. When mixed with one-third of its weight of water, it forms a hydrate formerly called butter of tin.[J. Davy]

libra (pound) Troy: See apothecary measures.

ligne: Unit of length in late 18th-century France; see pied. [Lavoisier]

lime: calcium oxide, CaO (burnt lime, calcareous earth, quicklime) [Dalton, Lavoisier, Priestley, Ramsay, et al.]

litharge: a yellow lead(II) oxide, PbO. [Marignac, Priestley]

livre: Unit of mass in the late 18th-century France: 1 livre (Paris pound) = 16 onces; 1 once (Paris ounce) = 8 gros; 1 gros = 72 grains. In modern units, the livre is equivalent to 489 grams or about 1.08 pounds in the "English" system still commonly used in the United States. [Lavoisier, Proust]

lunar, as part of a chemical or alchemical name, refers to silver; see moon. Lunar caustic is fused silver nitrate, AgNO3; so is lapis lunaris. Lunar crystals are solid silver nitrate.

lye: potassium hydroxide solution, KOH

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