Sunday, March 12, 2023

cadmium and kedem

The chemical element cadmium has an interesting etymology. Here's what the Online Etymology Dictionary states:

bluish-white metallic element, 1822, discovered 1817 by German scientist Friedrich Strohmeyer (1776-1835), coined in Modern Latin from cadmia, a word used by ancient naturalists for various earths and oxides (especially zinc carbonate), from Greek kadmeia (ge) "Cadmean (earth)," from Kadmos "Cadmus," legendary founder of Boeotian Thebes. With metallic element ending -ium. So called because the earth was first found in the vicinity of Thebes (Kadmeioi was an alternative name for "Thebans" since the time of Homer).

It then continues to point out that calamine - known from the calamine lotion used to treat itchiness - may get its origin from cadmium:

"zinc carbonate," also, confusedly, "zinc silicate," 1590s, from French calamine, from Old French calemine, chalemine (13c.), from Medieval Latin calamina, corrupted by alchemists from Latin cadmia "zinc ore," from Greek kadmeia

But lets go a little further. Where did the Theban king Cadmus get his name? 

According to Greek mythology, he was Phoenician, and according to Herodotus, he was the one that introduced the Phoenician alphabet to the Greeks. The Phoenicians used the same alphabet as the speakers of Hebrew, which is why the the two alphabets (names and shapes of letters) are so similar.

Cadmus coming from Phoenicia also likely explains the origin of his name. Many scholars say it derives from the root קדם, meaning "east." For example, in his CEDEL Klein writes that the name denotes "the man who came from the East." 

Hebrew also has kedem קֶֽדֶם  meaning "east." But the root קדם can also mean "be before, be in front", because at that time people oriented themselves towards the east. This sense of "before" was not only in space, but also in time, so קדם can also mean to precede. 

So if this is the case, cadmium and calamine are cognate with Hebrew words like:

  • קָדַם kadam - "to precede, to take precedence"
  • קְדָם kedam - "preliminary"
  • קֹדֶם kodem - "before, previously"
  • קִדֵּם kidem -  "to promote, advance"
  • קִדְמָה kidma - "advancement, progress"
  • קָדִימָה kadima - "forward, onward"
  • קַדְמוֹן kadmon - "ancient"
This last word, kadmon, appears only once in the Bible, in Yechezkel 47:8, where it means "east." Klein thinks that perhaps the original name of Cadmus was Kadmon, but the suffix was changed to "os" when the name was adopted into Greek.

No comments: