How Did the Element Mercury Get Its Name?
The element, “mercury,” was named after Mercury, the swift messenger of the gods in Roman mythology. Anyone who has ever tried to pick up some spilled mercury would agree that the name is appropriate. Mercury is a metal that is liquid even at ordinary temperatures.
Although it is a liquid, it does not stick to most of the things that water does. When spilled, it breaks up into lots of tiny balls which roll around so easily that they are hard to pick up. For this reason, and because of its silvery color, mercury is also called quicksilver.
Mercury is a very toxic element. It can enter the body through an open wound or by inhaling or ingesting it. It can then cause damage to nerves, the liver and the kidney, as well as a number of other symptoms.
Despite its toxic qualities, mercury can still be useful to us. The element conducts electricity and is used in electrical switches of thermostats and certain types of doze alarm-type alarm clocks, and the compact fluorescent light bulbs, where mercury vapor is one of the chemicals used.
Due to its high density and compactness, mercury is also used to make thermometers, barometers and other scientific instruments. However, for safety reasons, consumer use of mercury in thermometers has become less common over the years, as digital thermometers have been introduced.