Posted By: wwh amalgam - 02/14/04 08:40 PM
In an O.Henry short story, he uses "amalgam" as a figure or
speech, meaning creation of something desirable from a mixture of two ingredients. I looked up the definition to
see the etymology.

NOUN: 1. Any of various alloys of mercury with other metals, especially: a. An alloy of mercury and silver used in dental fillings. b. An alloy of mercury and tin used in silvering mirrors. 2. A combination of diverse elements; a mixture: an amalgam of strength, reputation, and commitment to ethical principles. See synonyms at mixture.
ETYMOLOGY: Middle English, from Old French amalgame, from Medieval Latin amalgama, probably ultimately from Greek malagma, soft mass.

I wonder who discovered and promoted the use of such a blessing to suffering humanity. How fortunate it is that
the mercury does not cause significant toxicity.

The American HeritageŽ Dictionary

Posted By: belMarduk Re: amalgam - 02/15/04 04:10 PM
You know how sometimes, a word just rub you the right way and it automatically becomes part of your vocabulary. This is one of those words...I have always loved this word in French, Bill...un amalgame.

I'm not sure I'll be adopting it in English though. It is too "round" in the mouth and feels a bit like mumbling. In French it is clearer and brighter when spoken.

Posted By: Father Steve Re: amalgam - 02/15/04 08:57 PM
How fortunate it is that the mercury does not cause significant toxicity.

There are dentists who have persuaded their patients that the mercury in amalgam (and tuna fish) causes Multiple Sclerosis and who have made a small pile of cash replacing every amalgam filling in the patient's mouth ... which strikes me as a cruel way to trade on the desparation of others.

Posted By: wwh Re: amalgam - 02/15/04 09:16 PM
Mercury toxicity is hard to figure. Many millions of people
have had mercury amalgam fillings.Perhaps a tiny fraction of that number may have had toxic symptoms, but the evidence is scanty. In the early days of syphilis, some victims took horrendous doses of mercury compounds, and survived. Yet a couple years ago, a lady chemist spilled a mercury compound on her glove, and was dead in not many minutes. Obviously the structure of the mercury compound
absorbed makes an enormous difference.

Posted By: Father Steve Mad as a hatter - 02/15/04 09:37 PM
The Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" was doubtless insane from exposure to elemental mercury and/or its compounds. Hat makers in the 19th Century used mercury to work felt. Repeated exposure to its vapours causes neuropsychiatric symptoms which are well documented. The expression "mad as a hatter" is not without its medical historical referent.

Posted By: grapho Re: amalgam - 02/15/04 10:44 PM
How fortunate it is that mercury does not cause significant toxicity.

Is that said with tongue in dental work, wwh?

Check out this story, titled "States battle mercury levels", in today's Detroit News:



"Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that becomes a toxic pollutant when released into the air, water and soil by human activity. Exposure at high levels can damage the brain, kidneys and developing fetuses.

People are most directly exposed by eating contaminated fish. Mercury accumulates in fish after rain washes emissions into waterways."

If mercury is dangerous when it is ingested by eating contaminated fish, why is it not dangerous to ingest mercury from a filing?

Fillings wear out and sometimes break. What happens to the mercury in those fillings? How is this any different than eating a fish contaminated with mercury?

Posted By: wwh Re: amalgam - 02/15/04 11:17 PM
Apparently in mercury amalgam, the mercury must be bound in such a way that toxic compounds do not form. And in mercury
compounds, mercurous salts are far less dangerous than
mercuric salts. It was an organic mercury compound that was
able to penetrate the chemist's glove (type of glove not stated) and the penetrate her skin so rapidly that a quckly lethal dose was absorbed. I had organic chemistry sixty years ago, and don't remember enough to know how to search for information about mercury toxicity.

I found that citation about chem prof poisoning. I was wrong in that death did not ensue rapidly.

© Wordsmith.org