The word amalgam today can be used in political or literary commentary to describe a fusion, a blend of things. However, that definition used to have a much more literal definition, and still does, somewhat. More recently, amalgam has described liquid mercury alloyed with other metals to cover cavities (less used nowadays, mercury being bad and all stuff), and before that, it just meant "a blend with mercury" in general. This is from the French word amalgame, from Latin amalgama, both with the same meaning, in an alchemical context. Somewhere in Roman times, this mutated from earlier malagma (which meant "plaster", and earlier "poultice"); probably a misspelling or otherwise accidental alteration. Finally, malagma goes back to the Arabic word malgham, a "poultice for sores", which developed from Ancient Greek malakos and the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction mel, also "soft". That dip through another language family was interesting, as was the observation that amalgam is an amalgam of phonetic alterations.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.