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amalgam

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amalgam

Postby tcward » Mon Apr 11, 2005 6:22 am

Of course, it was gailr's use of this term in another thread that caught my eye. (Thank goodness! It goes out wandering every now and then -- without my permission, of course! -- and it's nice to get it back! :P)

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

amalgam
1471, "soft mass formed by chemical manipulation," from M.L. amalgama, "alloy of mercury (esp. with gold or silver)," an alchemists' word, perhaps an alt. of L. malagma "poultice, plaster," from Gk. malagma "softening substance," from malassein "to soften," from malakos "soft." The word may have come from Gk. via Ar. al-malgham. Amalgamation in the figurative sense of "combining into one uniform whole" is from 1775.


According to Microsoft Encarta, amalgam originally meant "soft alloy" in English, but it's easy to see how its use could quickly spread to mean "mixture", in any metaphorical sense.

Interesting to me, also, is the addition of a new noun form, amalgamation, in 1775, which seems to imply that the verb form should be amalgamate -- and 233,000 hits on a Google search for the latter is proof positive that the word is being used, at least. I've never heard amalgamate used by anyone, but it does sound natural as the verb form. Amalgamation appears to be used more often to describe mergers, in a more general sense, or the act that forms the merger.

Of course, any Greek assimilation of an Arabic term is interesting in its own right. I wonder what the event was that introduced this word to the Greeks?

-Tim
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Re: amalgam

Postby M. Henri Day » Mon Apr 11, 2005 10:52 am

tcward wrote:...

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

amalgam
... The word may have come from Gk. via Ar. al-malgham. Amalgamation in the figurative sense of "combining into one uniform whole" is from 1775.


...

Of course, any Greek assimilation of an Arabic term is interesting in its own right. I wonder what the event was that introduced this word to the Greeks?


If I understand the matter aright, Tim, this word (which by the way in Swedish is usually used to refer to the soft mercury alloy (previously) found in dental fillings) was not introduced into Greek from Arabic, but into (late) Latin from Greek, via Arabic. This path is not itself unusual ; many of the Greek philosophical terms that were introduced into Latin during the middle ages were taken from Arabic translations and/or commentaries on Greek works. Without these intermediaries, Greek scholarship would have largely been lost to us here in Western Europe....

Henri
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Postby tcward » Mon Apr 11, 2005 11:37 am

Ah, I see... I hadn't had my coffee yet when I composed that first entry.

Here's a Swedish dictionary entry on "amalgam":

amalgam (1754), jfr. tyska och engelska amalgam, holländska amalgaam eller amalgama, franska amalgame; av medellatin amalgama av arabiska al-malgham, 'mjukgörande salva' sannolikt utgående från grekiska malagma 'uppmjukande medel'. amalgamera (före 1520).


I'm sure I don't understand all the details correctly, but it does seem to corroborate your understanding of the Online Etymology article, Henri.

-Tim
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Postby M. Henri Day » Mon Apr 11, 2005 11:48 am

Thanks, Tim, for the link to an interesting website !...

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Postby Apoclima » Mon Apr 11, 2005 5:06 pm

Wow! Tim, that is a find! It looks like I need to brush up on my Arabic (or Spanish) if I really want to know Swedish.

So many terms spread like wild fire through the European languages. Was that just before or during the Renaissance?

Apo
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Postby tcward » Mon Apr 11, 2005 5:32 pm

Well, my limited understanding of history is that the Arabic peoples were very active in the sciences during the period in the West we call the Dark Ages. It really was a kind of Enlightenment for them. They made many advances on Greek scientic treatises, etc.

I would look up some links to post about this, but I don't have time at the moment.

I'm sure Apo can find some great reading material! :)

-Tim
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