Periodic table of the Icelandic Elements (and the Case of the missing Z)

So the other day I decided that it might be interesting to look up the names of crystals and types of rocks in Icelandic to see if I could discover any neat compounds. I posted the word of the day last week as “hrafntinna” which is obsidian, one of the only types of rocks I could find translated in the dictionary I used. Then I stumbled upon “kvikasilfur,” “quick silver” or “mercury,” and decided to seek out all the elements on the periodic table. My proudest find was this very neat Periodic table of the elements:

lotukerfið

If you click on the image, or here, you can be taken to an interactive website that explains each element in Icelandic, which is fantastic for a little bit of scientific learning.

It seems that most of these elements have been adapted into the language from the original elements, free from specific compounds. The noble gases, in the bright blue haven’t changed a bit. Most others can be interpreted by English speakers that don’t know a single bit of Icelandic, like 77, which is “Iridín” in Icelandic and “Iridium” in English. Others like number 82 “Blý” which is “Lead” are not even close to the original form. It is really interesting to imagine how strange this might be for Icelanders to learn in Icelandic because the original abbreviations for each element remain standard throughout most, if not all, languages. Take for example H for Hydrogen. In Icelandic, Hydrogen is actually “Vetni.”

If you notice, element number 53, Iodine, is actually “Joð.” With a little bit of research I was able to find that in German it is “Jod,” but could not distinguish exactly where that word derived from. My point though is that by chance, the name for the letter J in Icelandic is “joð” as well. This seems to just merely be a homonym, but with a little poetic license I have unconsciously begun to associate the letter J with a purple vapor that constitutes Iodine (The word “Iodine” is Greek for violet, after all). I heard the word “Juniper” today and immediately imagined a Juniper tree enveloping itself in a purple haze/fog. This is what unintentional Icelandic homonyms do to me. I hope I am not the only one!

But back to some factual Icelandic. One last thing I’d like to mention is number 30, which is Zinc. Or shown above, “Sink.” In 1973, the letter Z was actually abolished. I have spent many hours looking into why that happened and in every account of this happening, no reasoning is stated. But for example, “Íslenskur” meaning “Icelandic,” used to be “Ízlenskur” and “Versla” meaning to trade or shop, used to be “Verzla.” The only accounts I can find of the letter Z being used are in certain place names and established schools, like Verzlunarskóli Íslands, the Commercial College of Iceland. Strangely enough, their website name is actually labeled as Verslo.is*, instead of Verzlo. A good way of remembering that Zinc is “Sink” is to think of the fact that yes, Zinc does actually sink in water due to its density.

*The domain in Iceland is actually “.is” instead of “.com” or other various domain names.

We will now have a moment of silence for the memory and the loss of the beloved letter Z.

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