GC: n

S: HSE – (last access: 7 February 2014); (last access: 30 July 2015); DORLAND p. 161.

N: 1. 1650s, earlier albeston, abestus (c.1100), name of a fabulous stone, which, set afire, could not be extinguished; from Old French abeste, abestos, from Latin asbestos “quicklime” (which “burns” when cold water is poured on it), from Greek asbestos, literally “inextinguishable,” from a- “not” (see a- (3)) + sbestos, verbal adjective from sbennynai “to quench,” from PIE root *(s)gwes- “to quench, extinguish” (cognates: Lithuanian gestu “to go out,” Old Church Slavonic gaso, Hittite kishtari “is being put out”).
2. The Greek word was used by Dioscorides as a noun meaning “quicklime.” “Erroneously applied by Pliny to an incombustible fibre, which he believed to be vegetable, but which was really the amiantos of the Greeks” (OED). Meaning “mineral capable of being woven into incombustible fabric” is from c.1600 in English; earlier this was called amiant (early 15c.), from Latin amiantus, from Greek amiantos, literally “undefiled” (so called because it showed no mark or stain when thrown into fire). Supposed in the Middle Ages to be salamanders’ wool. Prester John, the Emperor of India, and Pope Alexander III were said to have had robes or tunics made of it.
3. Any asbestiform mineral of the serpentine group (chrysotile, best adapted for spinning and the principal variety in commerce) or amphibole group (especially actinolite, anthophyllite, gedrite, commingtonite, grunerite, and tremolite).
4. “Asbestos” is the general term applied to fibrous silicate minerals which are commercially valuable because they are resistant to heat and chemical attack and exhibit high tensile strength.
5. earth flax: An early name for asbestos.
6. Not to be confused with “amianthus” and “mountain cork” (q.v.).
7. Any of several minerals that readily separate into long, flexible fibres. Chrysotile, the fibrous form of the mineral serpentine, is the best-known type and accounts for about 95 percent of all asbestos in commercial use. It is a hydrous magnesium silicate with the chemical composition of Mg3Si2O5(OH)4. The other types all belong to the amphibole group of minerals and include the fibrous forms of anthophyllite, amosite (grunerite), crocidolite (riebeckite), tremolite, and actinolite. Though valued since ancient times for its resistance to fire, asbestos fibre did not achieve commercial importance until the 19th century. Modern asbestos production began in 1868 with the workings of a mine in Italy, and in 1878 large-scale production from deposits in Quebec began. Production slackened in the late 20th century owing to the health hazards posed by the mineral.
8. Cultural Interrelation: We can mention the documentary The History of Asbestos.

S: 1 & 2. OED – (last access: 2 September 2014). 3, 4, 5 & 6. TERMIUM PLUS (last access: 30 July 2015). 7. EncBrit – (last access: 30 July 2015). 8. (last access: 29 February 2016); (last access: 29 February 2016).


CR: asbestosis