Today I was playing a quiz online. I like quizzes. I also like money, which I would have won, except that I got a question wrong. That question was:
Which of the following words is derived from a Greek word for a type of precious tree sap?
Do you know what the answer was?
Yes, it was electricity. How did you know?
I’ll freely admit that I didn’t know the answer, so I guessed that it was protoplasm. I knew the proto- prefix wasn’t related to sap, but I thought the plasm part might be, considering that blood plasma is a liquid. Admirable logic, I like to think, but it didn’t help.
But at least I consoled myself with the fact that I’d learned something new, and I promised myself that I’d look into the etymology of electricity, and make sure you learn something new too!
The modern word, and its variant forms, can be traced back to the Greek word elektron, referring either to amber or pale gold (a compound of one part silver to four parts gold).
And what exactly does electricity have to do with amber?
A lot actually.
Precursors to the word electricity were used to refer to substances which, like amber, attracted other substances when rubbed. The physical forc was named electricity because it was first generated by rubbing amber.
And I thought amber was just useful for cloning dinosaurs!