1570s, from Latin, from Greek naphtha "bitumen," perhaps from Persian neft "pitch," or Aramaic (Semitic) naphta, nephta, but these could as well be from Greek. In Middle English as napte (late 14c.), from Old French napte, but the modern word is a re-introduction. In ancient writers it refers to a more fluid and volatile variety of natural asphalt or bitumen. In modern use, a colorless inflammable liquid distilled from petroleum.