Napalm was invented on Valentine's Day in 1942 in a classified Harvard weapons research laboratory. It was made out of aluminum salts from naphthenic and palmitic acids, and some scientist around that time combined the first parts of those words to give us the modern term. Naphthenic, meaning "pertaining to cycloalkanes", comes from Latin and Ancient Greek naphta (describing petroleum residue) and possibly Old Persian beyond that; it's thought to derive from the word naft, meaning "moist". Palmitic, describing the acid, contains the Latin root palma, meaning "palm of the hand". Through Proto-Italic, that likely comes from a Proto-Indo-European word with a similar pronunciation and definition. Usage of the word peaked in 1970 and is now appears in literature half as often as when it did then.
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.