c. 1400, "native sodium carbonate" (a sense now obsolete), from Old French nitre (13c.), from Latin nitrum, from Greek nitron, which is possibly of Eastern origin (compare Hebrew nether "carbonate of soda;" Egyptian ntr). Originally a word for native soda, but also associated since the Middle Ages with saltpeter (potassium nitrate) for obscure reasons; this became the predominant sense by late 16c.
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Definitions of niter
(KNO3) used especially as a fertilizer and explosive;