Physics 2000 Science Trek The Periodic Table

Chemical Symbols

Some of the abbreviations for the names of elements make sense--H for hydrogen, C for carbon, He for helium. But some of them seem completely random. What's the deal?

Some elements have been given symbols based on their names in Latin, which was once commonly used by scientists as an international language. For example, here are some familiar elements with their Latin names:

Element Symbol Latin name
sodium
Na
natrium
potassium
K
kalium
iron
Fe
ferrum
copper
Cu
cuprum
silver
Ag
argentum
tin
Sn
stannum
gold
Au
aurum
mercury
Hg
hydrargyrum
lead
Pb
plumbum


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