Tuesday, 5 January 2010


The lovely people at the 100 Days blog have thrown down the gauntlet in response to Matt Sheret's note: “If You’ve Got Something Interesting To Say Then Say It. But Don’t Say It In Glitter.” I've found a great word that's therefore vaguely on topic. Bear with me.

Captain Thesaurus helped me find synonyms for glitter, and somewhere down the bottom of the list (after the flashy, glistering, shimmery words) I found "phlogiston". I dutifully looked it up as I'd never heard of it before. It is an awesome word:

phlogiston n an imaginary element, believed in the 18c to separate from every combustible body in burning. adj phlogistic of, like or containing phlogiston (chem); combustible (archaic); inflammatory (med); fiery.

There's also a verb:

phlogisticate vt to combine with phlogiston [Origins from Greek neuter of verbal adj phlogistos burnt, inflammable, from phlogizein to set on fire] Chambers, 1998

18th century means it's slightly later than the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s, but burnings were still in full swing as capital punishment in many countries. (They only stopped in England after a bill was passed in 1790). Phlogiston was in fact thought to be the element largely responsible for combustion in all flammable materials, and the origins of this theory are tied up with alchemy in the 1600s. I like to call it the Crazy Science. Captain Wikipedia has a bit more random information about it.

Returning to the task in hand though, it's a brilliant word and I imagine it would sparkle like glitter if phlogiston was real; sort of a cross between fireworks and a Star Trek transporter beam.
Phlogiston: Energize!

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