Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Get the Lead Out


Lead is defined as a soft, malleable, ductile, bluish-white metallic element, extracted chiefly from Galena and used in containers and pipes for corrosives, solder and type metal, bullets, radiation shielding, paints, and antiknock compounds. Its symbol is Pb, and that’s because the Latin word for lead was plumbum.


Originally, plumbers were people who worked with lead, and pipes and fixtures used in a house’s plumbing were part of their output. Today, if we have clogged pipes or wayward plumbing, we call a plumber.

Some commentators believe that one component leading to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire was chronic lead poisoning, which is called plumbism, not surprisingly. Others disagree, pointing to other substances as the culprit.

Other terms evolved from the Latin word for lead. A plumb or plumb bob is a weight on the end of a line used by builders to establish a true vertical. Informally, plumb came to mean truly, utterly, and completely, which is why Gabby Hayes could refer to someone as "plumb loco." And a plumb line--a weight on the end of a line--was used to establish water depth.


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