Asphalt Etymology

The word asphalt is derived from the late Middle English, in turn from French asphalte, based on Late Latin asphalton, asphaltum, which is the latinisation of the Greek ἄσφαλτος (ásphaltos, ásphalton), a word meaning "asphalt/bitumen/pitch", which perhaps derives from ἀ-, "without" and σφάλλω (sfallō), "make fall".Note that in French, the term asphalte is used for naturally occurring bitumen-soaked limestone deposits, and for specialised manufactured products with fewer voids or greater bitumen content than the "asphaltic concrete" used to pave roads. It is a significant fact that the first use of asphalt by the ancients was in the nature of a cement for securing or joining together various objects, and it thus seems likely that the name itself was expressive of this application. Specifically Herodotus mentioned that bitumen was brought to Babylon to build its gigantic fortification wall. From the Greek, the word passed into late Latin, and thence into French (asphalte) and English ("asphaltum" and "asphalt").

The expression "bitumen" originated in the Sanskrit, where we find the words jatu, meaning "pitch," and jatu-krit, meaning "pitch creating", "pitch producing" (referring to coniferous or resinous trees). The Latin equivalent is claimed by some to be originally gwitu-men (pertaining to pitch), and by others, pixtumens (exuding or bubbling pitch), which was subsequently shortened to bitumen, thence passing via French into English. From the same root is derived the Anglo Saxon word cwidu (mastix), the German word Kitt (cement or mastic) and the old Norse word kvada.

Neither of the terms asphalt or bitumen should be confused with tar or coal tars.

Modern usage

In British English, the word 'asphalt' is used to refer to a mixture of mineral aggregate and asphalt/bitumen (also called tarmac in common parlance). The earlier word 'asphaltum' is now archaic and not commonly used. In American English, 'asphalt' is equivalent to the British 'bitumen'. However, 'asphalt' is also commonly used as a shortened form of 'asphalt concrete' (therefore equivalent to the British 'asphalt' or 'tarmac'). In Australian English, bitumen is often used as the generic term for road surfaces. In Canadian English, the word bitumen is used to refer to the vast Canadian deposits of extremely heavy crude oil,[61] while asphalt is used for the oil refinery product used to pave roads and manufacture roof shingles and various waterproofing products. Diluted bitumen (diluted with naphtha to make it flow in pipelines) is known as dilbit in the Canadian petroleum industry, while bitumen "upgraded" to synthetic crude oil is known as syncrude and syncrude blended with bitumen as synbit. Bitumen is still the preferred geological term for naturally occurring deposits of the solid or semi-solid form of petroleum. Bituminous rock is a form of sandstone impregnated with bitumen. The tar sands of Alberta, Canada are a similar material.


About Radiant Global

We supply our materials for use in the roads, construction and general civil engineering industry. Supplying bitumen and natural asphalt (“like-Gilsonite”) is also a significant part of our business


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