Etymology
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smelt (v.)

"fuse or melt," especially ore, by heat, in a furnace, to separate the metal in it, late 14c. (implied in smelter "one who smelts ore"), from Dutch or Middle Low German smelten "to fuse, smelt, liquefy," from Proto-Germanic *smelt- (source also of Old High German smelzan, German schmelzen "to melt"), from PIE *smeld-, variant of PIE root *mel- (1) "soft." Thus the word is related to melt (v.). Italian smalto "enamel" is from dialectal smalzo "butter," which is from Germanic; compare enamel, email. Related: Smelted; smelting; smeltery.

smelt (n.)

common name of various small fishes, Old English smelt "sardine, small salmon-like sea fish," cognate with Dutch smelt "sand eel," Danish smelt (c. 1600). OED notes that it has a peculiar odor (but doesn't suggest a connection with smell); Klein suggests an explanation in the way the fish "melts" in one's mouth. Century Dictionary speculates ("perhaps") it means "smooth" and compares Old English smeolt, smylt "serene, smooth." Watkins says from PIE root *mel- (1) "soft."

updated on January 27, 2023

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