blende, a.k.a. sphalerite

I first encountered the term "pitchblende" when I was a kid, probably in some old science fiction book or other. I knew it had to do with uranium, but wasn't quite sure exactly what it meant 'til I looked it up recently: it's a mineral that contains radium and uranium, the "pitch" part referring presumably to it looking like pitch, and the "blende" part referring to, well, blende.

Which leads inevitably to the question: What's blende?

MW11 to the rescue: "blende," it turns out, is a synonym for "sphalerite."

And now you know as much as I do.

Well, okay, I know slightly more (unless you already knew this), because I have cleverly followed the dictionary's link to "sphalerite" and learned that it's a zinc ore, "composed essentially of zinc sulfide."

Turns out "sphalerite" derives from Greek "sphaleros" meaning "deceitful," because sphalerite is "often [...] mistaken for galena." I'm amused that whoever named it (around 1868) felt that its deceitfulness was its most important property, and felt so strongly about that that they named it in Greek.

At any rate, this obliquely reminds me of one of my favorite dictionary definitions: once, years ago, I looked up an unfamiliar term and found a definition that I remember as having said "a specular variety of galena, found most often in Derbyshire." Which sounded approximately like gibberish a la "The gostak distims the doshes" to me. Sadly, I don't recall what the word was that had that definition, and a web search isn't turning up any promising candidates.

Now I suppose I have to tell you that "galena" is apparently a lead ore, lead sulfide.

If this keeps up, I may have to retitle this blog to "Rocks & Stuff."

5 Responses to “blende, a.k.a. sphalerite”

  1. jere7my

    Could the Derbyshire galena have been “slickensides”?

  2. Jed

    Yes!!! J7y wins the prize; well done. Did you just happen to know that, or did you look it up? Either way, I’m impressed.

    Anyway, thank you! Now I remember that one of the reasons I was so amused by the definition was that “slickensides” seemed like such a silly word in the first place. Somehow I don’t think it occurred to me to parse it as slicken+sides.

    I’m not sure where I got that particular definition. The Webster’s 1913 definition for slickensides says “A variety of galena found in Derbyshire, England,” which is close but not quite as eye-catching.

    (On a total tangent, see also “So, who is this Webster 1913 guy, anyway?” at Everything2.)

  3. jere7my

    I lookered it up. The nifty thing about slickensides is it’s apparently a natural explosive; tap it with a hammer, and it blows itself out of the rocks!

    Slickensides are also a kind of rock formation that has nothing specifically to do with galena, and that definition probably makes more etymological senseā€”it involves rocks sliding over and polishing one another.

  4. Lee

    Wonderful. Slickensides. I’ve just copied this into my own personal dictionary! I’ll find a use for this somewhere in a story, I’m sure.

  5. Fred

    Galena is the Spanish word for lead, as well.


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