How did meerschaum get its name and Where does the word “meerschaum” come from?

Because of its whiteness and softness, and because it was often cast up along the shores of the sea, the ancients thought this light, soft mineral actually to be the foam of the sea turned into stone.

Hence in all languages it was named “sea foam.”

Little practical use was found for the mineral until German artisans began to carve it into pipe bowls and cigar holders, seeing that it would readily absorb nicotine from the tobacco and acquire a beautiful, warm brown color.

Thanks to this German application we have accepted the German name, from weer, sea, and schaum, foam. The scientific name is “sepiolite,” from Greek sepia, cuttlefish, and lithos, stone, because the mineral resembles the bone obtained from those animals.

A more appropriate name for us to use than German meerschaum would have been “aphrodite,” from Greek aphros, foam. This would have honored the goddess Aphrodite, supposed to have been created from sea foam.

Unfortunately, however, the name is now applied to another mineral of similar composition.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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