What Is the Origin of the Name of Carbon?

By Allene E Swienckowski
A Compound of carbon

Carbon is the chemical make-up of all known life on earth. Carbon is present in all known life forms. Carbon is also the second most abundant chemical in the human body. Carbon, as an element, forms more compounds than any other element in the Periodic Table of elements. Carbon is probably the most versatile chemical element of all elements. Carbon derives its name from the Latin word “carbo” meaning coal, and its word origin can be traced to ancient times.

Types of Carbon

Carbon Jewel

As an allotrope, carbon is stable in its various multi-atomic states although each state has a different molecular configuration such as carbon-14 that is used to determine the age of antiquities. Carbon is a chemical oxymoron. A diamond, one carbon configuration, is the hardest substance on earth. Graphite, another carbon configuration, is extremely soft and pliable. Almost all forms of carbon are solid under normal conditions while also being the most thermodynamically stable. Carbon exists in both organic, meaning living, and non-organic compounds. In it’s organic form carbon can be found in coal, peat, oil and methane. Inorganic carbon can be found in limestone, dolomite and carbon dioxide

Girl's Best Friend

Many have said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Exactly how many girls do you know would think that a giant lump of black coal would symbolize undying love? Not too many, right?. But if you were to ask those same young women if they liked diamonds their answers would be a resounding “yes!” In the chemical world, diamonds, or carbon, are a valuable commodity because of their inherent natural composition--diamonds have a very low electrical conductivity that yields the highest thermal (heat) conductivity. Diamonds are crystalline and are typically clear and highly transparent. Diamonds are the ultimate abrasive.

Carbon Is a Living Oxymoron

In it’s crystalline state carbon is one of the hardest substances on earth. Yet it also exists as graphite, which is soft and makes streaks on paper. Graphite derived its name from the Greek word graphite which means to write. Graphite, in its carbon state, is a soft, black, opaque substance. Carbon as graphite is an excellent lubricant and conducts electricity well. Some forms of graphite are used as heat insulators in heat shields and fire breaks. Graphite is typically black in color yet opaque.

The Versatility of Carbon

Carbon not only exists in nature but is also present in the human body. Eighteen percent of the chemical make-up of every human being is carbon. Carbon has been used to heat our homes and it adorns our bodies as one of the most desired and precious jewels on earth. It is safe to say that our lives would be negatively impacted if carbon did not exit.

Origin Of Carbon

The existence of carbon has been known and recorded since ancient Rome. Without carbon, our world and our lives would be very different. In fact, it is safe to say that without carbon much of earth as we know it would not exist.

About the Author

Allene E. Linden Swienckowski's articles have appeared in OpenSalon.com and Allvoices.com for two years. Swienckowski contributed to Suite101.com, the "LA Times/ Sunday Magazine," "Pasadena Star News," and "The Village Voice." Ms. Swienckowski attended UCLA, USC and Cal State University at Los Angeles.