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I was wondering about one of the meanings of effervesce, "give off bubbles". I wonder if you could use effervesce for a solid, and how it's used in a sentence.

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Literally, to effervesce is to release trapped gases from within. This is the currently understood meaning and is how the word is used at present.

However, the original meaning has little to do with bubbles as such.

effervescence (n.)
1650s, "the action of boiling up," from French effervescence (1640s), from Latin effervescentem, present participle of effervescere "to boil up, boil over," from ex- "out" (see ex-) + fervescere "begin to boil," from fervere "be hot, boil" (see brew). Figurative sense of "liveliness" is from 1748. Related: Effervescency.

Since only fluids (liquids and gases) can boil, it is natural to apply the concept only to them and not to solids.

Solids are said to merely "release trapped gases:"

fracturing rock to release trapped gas
fracture the shale rock to open pores and release trapped gas and oil
Shale has a low permeability and thus doesn't release trapped gas easily

In the pharmaceutical industry, usually tablet forms (compacted powders) that release gases in a similar way (when dropped into a glass of water) are classified as "effervescent solids". However, that should be considered a domain specific usage (jargon).

  • I have always referred to alka-seltzer tablets and the like as effervescent, though I am no pharmacist. Technically, I suppose, they don't effervesce till dropped in water; but most people would understand the usage. – Tim Lymington supports Monica Nov 20 '13 at 16:33
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Effervesce, as a verb, can be applied to a liquid or gas. I am not aware of any valid application to a solid.

Of a liquid: give off small bubbles of gas

Of a gas: to issue or come forth as a gas.

An example: Alcohols effervesce as they begin to ferment.

  • Not me, but I did find The metal {zinc} effervesces readily. Okay, a solid probably wouldn't do that except "in the presence of this acid", in that example. But if we landed a zinc-plated spaceship on Venus or somewhere else with a highly reactive atmosphere like that acid, I'd probably say it was the ship effervescing, not the atmosphere in contact with it. – FumbleFingers Nov 20 '13 at 4:25
  • I should have made it clear that these definitions are from a chemistry perspective. So, yes, this is a good counter example. The usual example people think of with a solid is the alka-seltzer in a glass of water. Here, and also in the case you describe, I believe, the chemical reaction is occurring at the solid/liquid interface, and the gas is given off as a product of the reaction. In neither case is the solid actually emitting the gas, but instead a gas is issuing from the thin layer of liquid. I accept that it may be used as a descriptive term for a solid in non-technical applications. – long Nov 20 '13 at 4:41
  • Actually, I hadn't thought of alka-seltzer when I searched Google Books for "metal effervesces", but I was really trying (and failing) to find a "dry" context. I wouldn't bet the farm on your "non-technical" caveat though. I'm no materials scientist, but it seems likely to me they can/could make a solid which would effervesce in a vacuum, when subjected to the right intensity/frequency of electromagnetic radiation or whatever. I doubt it would necessarily involve heat "boiling" the solid into a liquid. – FumbleFingers Nov 20 '13 at 5:09
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    @F But effervescence involves bubbles. It's more likely that a solid would sublime, no? – Andrew Leach Nov 20 '13 at 6:27
  • Effervesce as a verb meaning “to exhibit great excitement, vivacity, etc.” also applies well to many people, some of whom contain not just gas and liquids, but solids too. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Nov 20 '13 at 6:27

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