Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson is going to be good for lots of new words, with its setting in the 17th and 18th centuries and characters who established the basic scientific principles we use today. I thought I’d start with the title. I know the meaning of quicksilver — I have a distinct memory about learning the word that people younger than me won’t have.
Here are a couple of quotes from the early part of the book that describe quicksilver.
On Sir Isaac Newton’s temperature scale, where freezing is zero and the heat of the human body is twelve, it is probably four or five. If Herr Fahrenheit were here with one of his new quicksilver-filled, sealed-tube thermometers, he would probably observe something in the fifties. p. 4.
He had sensed someone was following him, but seen nothing whenever he looked back. Now he knows why: his doppelgänger is a lad, moving about like a drop of quicksilver that cannot be trapped under the thumb. p. 6
Quicksilver is mercury, a silver metal that is liquid at room temperature. When I was a girl, thermometers contained mercury, including the ones for monitoring fevers. Thermometers were glass so, of course, once in a while, they broke. One broke in our house when I was about 7 years old. We knew, then, that mercury was poisonous, so my dad didn’t play around with it using his thumb. He put the drop of mercury on an old plate and used the handle of a spoon to show us the way that quicksilver slips and slides and refuses to be separated from itself.
Have you ever seen mercury display the trait that gives it the common name of quicksilver?
Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion’s Weblog. Kathy says: “Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.”