Etymology of Formic Acid

Source: Google(Oxford)

So, we know that 'Formic Acid' was derived in formic acid in the late 18th century from the Latin word 'formica'. From Wikipedia:

Formica is a genus of ants of the family Formicidae, commonly known as wood ants, mound ants, thatching ants, and field ants. Formica is the type genus of the Formicidae, and of the subfamily Formicinae.

I think I've read in some junior classes that the biological name 'Formica' was given to ant because of the secretion of 'Formic Acid' by it which is the cause of the irritation at the stung area.

So, I want to know - Is formic acid derived from 'Formica' (ants) or are ants' (biological name) derived from the presence of 'formic acid' in them?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The acid was named after the ants it was isolated from. The Romans did not understand chemistry in the way we do. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 25 '19 at 18:59

The name 'formic acid' has been derived from the name 'formica' as it is derived literally from ants. Wikipedia clearly states:

The word "formic" comes from the Latin word for ant, formica, referring to its early isolation by the distillation of ant bodies.

If you type 'formic acid etymology' in Google, it will give two links that proves the above statement:

  1. 1791 (in formic acid), literally "from ants," coined from Latin formica "ant". The acid first was obtained in a fairly pure form in 1749 by German chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf (1709-1782), who prepared it by distilling red ants.(etymoline)

  2. As early as the fifteenth century, some alchemists and naturalists were aware that ant hills gave off an acidic vapor. In 1671, English naturalist John Ray became the first person to describe the isolation of formic acid by the distillation of large numbers of ants. These insects secrete the substance for attack and defense purposes. Thus the name "formic acid" was coined from the Latin word for ant, formica.(newworldencyclopedia)

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm now envisioning a new foodie trend: distilled red ant liquor... $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 25 '19 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ Formic acid is the main culprit behind causing blindness from methanol exposure. Nature is not that forgiving. $\endgroup$
    – M. Farooq
    Oct 26 '19 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ And how did the name 'formica' for ant came by ? $\endgroup$
    – Sristy
    Oct 26 '19 at 4:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Sristy. Not clear. Some relate to a sanskrit word, meaning to give away (already knew they release a substance). Others to for (carrier) and mica (little speck). $\endgroup$
    – Alchimista
    Oct 26 '19 at 8:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Sristy Formica is the Latin name for ant since the chemical was produced by distilling large number of ants, it was named formic acid. It is not the other way round. $\endgroup$ Oct 26 '19 at 9:46

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