1. Symbol Sn A crystalline, silvery metallic element obtained chiefly from cassiterite, and having two notable allotropic forms. Malleable white tin is the useful allotrope, but at temperatures below 13.2°C it slowly converts to the brittle gray allotrope. Tin is used to coat other metals to prevent corrosion and is a part of numerous alloys, such as soft solder, pewter, type metal, and bronze. Atomic number 50; atomic weight 118.71; melting point 231.93°C; boiling point 2,602°C; specific gravity (gray) 5.77, (white) 7.29; valence 2, 4. See Periodic Table.
2. Tin plate.
3. A container or box made of tin plate.
4. Chiefly British
a. A container for preserved foodstuffs; a can.
b. The contents of such a container.
tr.v. tinned, tin·ning, tins
1. To plate or coat with tin.
2. Chiefly British To preserve or pack in tins; can.
1. Of, relating to, or made of tin.
a. Constructed of inferior material.
[Middle English, from Old English.]
Word History: The origins of the word tin may date to a time before Western Europe was settled by speakers of Germanic, Celtic, and other branches of the Indo-European language family. Related words for this metal are found in almost all Germanic languages, such as German Zinn, Swedish tenn, and Old English tin (the source of the Modern English word). Together, these Germanic words suggest the reconstruction of a Proto-Germanic word *tinam, "tin," but no other branch of Indo-European language family has a word exactly comparable to this. Latin has a vaguely similar-sounding word for tin, stagnum (also spelled stannum), that may have been borrowed from a Celtic source. These facts suggest that the Germanic word for tin may originate in a pre-Indo-European language of Western Europe. This possibility is supported by the Bronze Age importation to the Near East of tin and copper from Western Europe. There are relatively few rich deposits of tin in the earth's crust, and production of bronze in the ancient world was limited by the availability of tin. During the Bronze Age, the civilizations of the Near East and the Mediterranean area depended on relatively few sources to provide the tin needed to make bronze. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st century BC, explains that much ancient tin came from deposits in Cornwall in Britain. From there, it was shipped through Gaul to supply the rest of the Mediterranean world. At the time when the early Indo-European peoples began to move westward from their homelands in Eastern Europe—sometime after 4000 BC—they had probably just mastered early techniques of bronze production, in which arsenic rather than tin is alloyed with copper. Tin, however, makes a much superior kind of bronze, and the early Indo-European peoples may have borrowed words for tin from local peoples who were already trading in tin ingots or working the tin deposits of Western Europe.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.