The word Gas derives from the Ancient Greek word Chaos. Sounds strange? It isn’t, as proved by some simple lessons in mythology:

According to Hesiod1, chaos is defined as the primary beginning, not as an abstract concept but as a dark area filled with clouds. Plato 2 states that Chaos gave birth to Eros (a spitting image of his father, indeed!)

Ok, all this sounds good, but what does it have to do with gas?

Until 1640 absolutely nothing. In that year, a talented Flemish “chemist”, Johann Batista Helmont (1577 – 1644) succeeded in the manufacture of fuel gas mixture (carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, CO, CO2, unbound gas, gas sylvestre). Only, he did not know what to call it. He thus borrowed the Greek word chaos, to denote the amorphous and indeterminate mass of gas, as that was what he believed chaos would be like (χάος >caos > gaos > gas)3. All words relating to gas, from gaz to carbonated beverages like gazoza, were then derived from this. Gas is a common word in all languages of the world.

(1) Hesiod, Theogony, 116.

(2) Plato, Symposium 178. Reference of the word chaos as a cloudy gas also in: Aristophanes (Birds, 192, 1218), Virgil (Ecloghe, VI, 31), Ovid (Metamorfosi), and the Gospel according to St. Luke (16, 26).

(3) J. B. Van Helmont, Ortus medicinae, Amsterdam 1652. In pages 59, 86 he assumes authorship of the term and acknowledges the relationship with the word chaos

The text in Latin: halitum illum, gas vocavi, non longe a chaos veterum secretum

Text translated from Greek

George Damianos