Week forty-two: OCCAMY (probability 21311), by David Sutton

OCCAMY is a name for a silvery alloy, a base imitation of silver and gold. The name is a corruption of the word alchemy, and has nothing to do with the programming language OCCAM, which takes its name from William of Occam or Ockham, the philosopher for whom Occam's razor is named.

Alchemy has given us a number of other interesting words. There is, for example, SERICON, thought to be a red or black tincture, and BUFO, a black tincture, from Latin bufo, toad. AZOTH is the alchemist's name for mercury, an element that they regarded as particularly magical, and an ALEMBROTH was their name for the compound mercury ammonium chloride, also called salt of wisdom. ALKAHEST refers to the universal solvent sought by alchemists. An ATHANOR was a kind of furnace they used, and an ALUDEL was a pear-shaped pot used in sublimation.

An alchemist himself, or CHYMIST, might also be called a SPAGERIST (or SPAGIRIST or SPAGYRIST), and the science of alchemy was sometimes called SPAGERICS (or SPAGIRICS or SPAGYRICS). These terms are thought to have been coined by Paracelsus, who was born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim but found it wouldn't fit on the laboratory door. It was also Paracelsus who gave the name LAUDANUM to a tincture of opium, OPODELDOC to a kind of soap liniment used in medicine, NOSTOC to a kind of blue-green alga, and coined the familiar words SYLPH and GNOME.


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