English: Element mercury (Hg), liquid form.

English: Element mercury (Hg), liquid form. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now in this post, I’m not talking about the planet Mercury, nor the Roman god. In fact, the god Mercury had the nickname “quicksilver”, which was the old name for Mercury. He was called quicksilver because he was said to have fluid, silvery motion, just like quicksilver. The god had the name Mercury first, so eventually the element was just named Mercury.

Mercury is one of the only totally metallic elements that are molten at room temperature (if you freeze it, it would have about the same properties as Aluminum), and so are, or were, very fun to play with. Mercury is very dense, and so when one sinks one’s hand into a bowl of it, one can feel the pressure squeezing in on the hand. Unfortunately though, Mercury is toxic, and attacks the brain functions, meaning you’ll go nuts. Literally.

It was only about 60-100 years ago that it was discovered that Mercury was poisonous, and it sure was disappointing. Imagine playing around with that silvery fluid. Before it was discovered that it was toxic to the brain, kids on factory tours used to stick their whole arm in a barrel of the stuff. Too bad I’ll never be able to experience that *sniff*.

Have you ever heard of the term “Mad as a hatter”? This is because Mercury used to be a common product in creating the red tints in hats. Hatters were in contact with Mercury quite a lot, and thus were, well, mad as a hatter!



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