The element antimony has been known and used since antiquity for a variety of purposes in several different mineral forms. Stibnite (Sb2S3),the most common mineral form of antimony, pictured here, was used 5,000 years ago for among other uses as an eye cosmetic called kohl, crushed up into a sparkling powder much like the glitter used by today’s tweens. Antimony takes its symbol and periodic table abbreviation Sb from stibnite, which is a direct Anglicization of the Latin form stibium which meant antimony. First isolated by Vannocio Biringuccio, (1480–c. 1539) an Italian metallurgist, antimony is now a common component of solders, fireworks and electronic components. With an orthorhombic crystal structure, stibnite forms spectacular growths prized by collectors. The etymology of antimony is much less certain-some etymologists give the early Greek form a lost transliterated origin, while other more fanciful explanations abound, including the folk-etymology from France of anti-moine, meaning anti-monk as a compound of antimony was known to be poisonous and therefore hazardous to early monks and alchemists.
Image of stibnite courtesy of conspiracyofhappiness via flickr used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.