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Notation of one or two letters derived from the scientific names of the chemical elements (e.g., S for sulfur, Cl for chlorine, Zn for zinc). Some hark back to Latin names: Au (aurum) for gold, Pb (plumbum) for lead. Others are named for people or places (e.g. einsteinium, Es, for Einstein). The present symbols express the system set out by the atomic theory of matter. John Dalton first used symbols to designate single atoms of elements, not indefinite amounts, and Jons Jacob Berzelius gave many of the current names. Chemical formulas of compounds are written as combinations of the elements' symbols, with numbers indicating their atomic proportions, using various conventions for ordering and grouping. Thus, sodium chloride is written as NaCl and sulfuric acid as HSO.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on chemical symbol, visit Britannica.com.
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