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I'm going through some Chinese language materials and finding some interesting discoveries across multiple dialects.

In Chinese 锑[銻] is Antimony (Sb) & 铝(鋁) is Aluminum (Al).

In Cantonese there are words like:

  • 銻煲 which is literally Antimony + pot, but it is defined as an aluminum cooking pot.

  • 銻盆 is also literally Antimony + basin but it is also defined as an aluminum tub.

  • 銻罉 Antimony + pan, but is actually an aluminum pan.

ABC Canto even goes as far as defining 锑 as:

aluminum

Sichuanese also has the same thing going on:

  • 锑锅 - again is literally Antimony + pot, but is also defined as aluminum pot.

Why would Antimony (Sb) and Aluminum (Al) be confused like this?


This 贴吧 suggests:

锑、锡、铝长得太像,早期没分清楚,乱来,然后沿用下来了。比如锡矿山,其实不产锡,而是锑。

Which I believe is quite plausible.

  • Some words in Chinese and its dialect may have the different or misused word that refer to something especially to those words that are originated from country outside of China. It's just that the word to translate into started very long time ago and nobody correct it at that time. After few generations, although they are the wrong words but had been used for many years and everybody will assume that to be correct and keep it that way since everybody understand that. It's not a confusion, it's just they are not bother to change it after decades. – Khahoe Tan Sep 5 '18 at 8:40
  • @KhahoeTan I, mostly, agree with what you said but I do know for fact people who believe that 锑锅s are made out of 锑, etc. – user3306356 Sep 5 '18 at 9:01
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    锡and铝 are also confused in Chinese. Most people use 锡纸 to refer to aluminum foil, even though this kind of foil is no longer made from tin. – user12075 Sep 5 '18 at 23:18
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Yes, they are chemically fairly similar in their natural state, as well as tin; all very light coloured metals, less dense than iron. China is still (as of 2017) the world's largest producer of antimony, accounting for over 75% of global annual production.

There is another dimension to this, which is that antimony has been known since antiquity, way before aluminium, in the West and in the East. However, in ancient China it was generally considered to be the same as tin. One of the largest antimony mines is Xikuangshan (錫礦山, lit. Tin Mine Mountain), in Lengshuijiang (冷水江), central Hunan, and was thought to have been discovered in 1521.

Antimony was given its modern Chinese name in the 1870s. Straying into speculation, I think that it would have been enough time for 銻 to have diffused into common use (and move away from 錫) in the southern topolects, maybe under the influence of this mine in Hunan. So I'd expect 銻 or something like it to be common words in Xiang, Sichuanese, Gan, maybe Hakka and Cantonese. Again, just a guess, but something to check!

It would be very difficult to trace the production and nomenclature of aluminium goods in the post-war of modern Chinese history, but not impossible if you were in the local community. You would have to ask the 单位 which was responsible for either manufacture or transport of such goods, or some HK vendors from that time.

  • Actually both Al and Sn are malleable and ductile. They can both be made into very thin foil. See here or their Wikipedia page. Sb is not. – user12075 Sep 5 '18 at 23:38
  • @user12075 Ah touché. – Michaelyus Sep 6 '18 at 9:01

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