Week forty-six: SHAKUDO (probability 25003), by David Sutton

SHAKUDO is an alloy of copper and a small percentage of gold, used in Japanese decorative art, and especially in sword fittings, to give a blue-black patina.

There are a great many interesting words for alloys, derived from an eclectic mix of languages. Japanese also gives us SHIBUICHI, an alloy of copper and silver, used in Japanese decorative art to give a silver-grey patina; it takes its name from the Japanese shi, four + bu, part + ichi, one. Chinese gives us PACKFONG, an alloy of nickel, zinc, and copper; this has variants PAKFONG, PAKTHONG and PAKTONG.

TUTENAG is an alloy of copper and zinc, and is of Marathi origin. Another alloy of copper and zinc, sometimes with a little arsenic, is TOMBAC, which takes its name from a Malay word and has variants TAMBAC, TAMBAK, TOMBACK and TOMBAK. Yet another alloy of copper and zinc is SIMILOR, a French word from Latin similis, like + aurum, gold, because of its yellowish colour. French also gives us OROIDE, an alloy of copper and zinc or tin, from Latin aurum, gold, + Greek eidos, form, POTIN, an alloy of copper, zinc, lead and tin and ORMOLU, an alloy of copper, zinc and sometimes tin.

Spanish gives us VELLON, an alloy of copper and silver used in old Spanish coinage. German gives us SPIEGEL, literally 'mirror', an alloy of iron and manganese used in making steel.

More modern alloys tend to have less exotic names formed on an abbreviated portmanteau principle. Thus we have NICAD, from nickel and cadmium, NITINOL, from nickel and titanium, MAGNALIUM, from magnesium and aluminium, CHROMEL, from chromium and nickel, and ALNICO, from aluminium, nickel and cobalt. All very clear and functional, but it leaves one a little wistful for the glories of ORICHALC (Spenserian ORICALCHE), a mysterious gold-coloured alloy, possibly brass, that took its name from Greek oros, a mountain, + chalkos, copper, and even has its very own adjective, ORICHALCEOUS.


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