Aspects of the Word...

phlogiston

Roots

Meaning

 

 

'Phlogiston' represents an early attempt to explain what we now know as 'oxidation', but comes at it from different angle. Whereas 'oxidation' is understood in terms the taking in of oxygen, 'phlogistication' is understood in terms of the loss of phlogiston - namely of that 'flame-like' property lost when a body combusts. It seems to be a half way point between thinking of matter in qualitative terms, typical of alchemy, and the more strictly quantitative understanding of modern science. It brought together for the first time, under one heading, such apparently disparate phenomena as combustion, metabolism and rusting. The very strangeness of the word is perhaps suggestive of its transitional role, at a time when a subtle shift was happening in the way we view the world.
01/10/14

 

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