potash, potassium hydroxide

(Dutch > New Latin: potassium carbonate)

Potassium, Its Origins and Uses

Potassium carbonate was originally obtained by burning wood or other vegetable matter, soaking the ashes in water, and evaporating the resulting liquid in iron pots. The resulting substance was hence called potasschen in early Dutch, literally "pot ashes", and the word was adopted into English as potash.

From potash, or its French relative potasse, the chemist, Sir Humphry Davy, coined in 1807 the term potassium for the metallic element that occurs in potash.

Potash has been used in soap, fertilizers, etc. Potassium, a soft, silver-white, wax-like metallic chemical element, oxidizes rapidly when exposed to air. It occurs abundantly in nature in the form of its salts, which are used in fertilizers, glass, etc. The chemical symbol is K (from kalium, a Latinized form of the Arabic word for alkali).

Potassium is not found in a free state in nature, but in a combined form is distributed in nearly all soils and terrestrial waters and in many rocks.

Alkali originally referred only to the material obtained from the ashes of plants, sodium, and potassium carbonates. Native sodium cabonage was used buy he Egyptians for making glass as early as the 16th century B.C.; records originating in lower Mesopotamia and dating from the 17th century B.C. mention the use of saltpetre (saltpeter) for making glazes.

Potassium occurs in nature only in compounds and is essential for the growth of plants. It is one of the most abundant elements in the earth's crust, is the lightest metal known except lithium, and it belongs to the alkali metals.

Among potassium's most important compounds is potassium carbonate, commonly called "potash", and potassium nitrate, commonly called "saltpeter".

Saltpeter is a borrowing of Old Middle English salpetre [about A.D. 1300]; a borrowing of Old French, salpetre, a learned borrowing from Medieval Latin; also borrowed directly from Medieval Latin sal petrae, "salt of rock"; (Latin sal, "salt" + petrae, genitive of Latin petra, "rock").

—Compiled from information located in the
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.; William Benton, Publisher;
Chicago; 1968; pages 322-323.

More information about potassium may be seen at this link.

Information about other elements may be seen at this Chemical Elements List.