Copper, Cyprus, and a little… iron
The word ‘copper’ comes from the Latin form of the name of the island of Cyprus, where this metal was mined in ancient times. In Latin, 'aes' meant copper and thus, 'Cyprium aes' meant 'Cyprian copper'. However, as bronze, copper's alloy with tin, became far more extensively used than pure copper, the meaning of 'aes' shifted to 'bronze', and 'cuprum', the contracted form of 'Cyprium' (from Gk. Κύπριον), acquired its current meaning.
'Aes' passed into Germanic languages (which originally did not distinguish copper from its alloys) and eventually became ‘ore’ in English. If you wonder why ‘ore’ looks so different from ‘aes’, the answer is that ‘ore’ was derived from ‘aeris’, the genitive case of ‘aes’. The same form also gave rise to ‘aeramen’ (object made of copper), which, in turn became ‘rame’ in today's Italian.
Looking further back in time, we can trace the origin of 'aes' to the Proto IndoEuropean root ‘eis’ (‘is-(er)o’, powerful, holly), which is also the root of words such as ‘iron’ in English ('strong metal' in contrast to softer bronze) and ‘hieros’ (strong, holly) in Greek.
Here is how 'copper' is spelled in some languages today: kobber (Danish); koper (Dutch); cuivre (French); Kupfer (German); cobre (Spanish+Portuguese); kupari (Finish); cupru (Romanian); koppar (Swedish); kuiv (Haitian Creole)
Posted September 5, 2013
Filed Under: Blog