On the Genealogy & Family History Stack Exchange I asked What might 'pitt Zink' in 1873 South Australian diary mean? and the first answer I received more or less aligns with my thinking that Zink is being used where today we would (in Australia) write Zinc. The writer was living in South Australia, but prior to emigrating had been a school master in Staffordshire, England for at least the period 1821-1827.

Was Zink ever considered to be a valid spelling of Zinc and, if so, when might it have ceased to be used?

  • 1
    Wikipedia (en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zink) lists "zink" as a "misspelling of Zinc, a metallic chemical element." The German spelling is zink. Googling "zinc etymology" shows that the spelling seems to have changed in the mid-1600s. Jul 18 '17 at 1:27
  • 8
    Bear in mind that there was no "authority" for correct English spelling prior to the first reputable dictionaries. The first reasonably credible English dictionary was produced in 1604, and Samuel Johnson's work -- arguably the first "modern" dictionary - came out in 1755. The OED was not complete until 1927. And it's reasonable that a variant spelling could remain in common use for around 100 years after the "official" spelling was blessed by Johnson or OED or whoever.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 18 '17 at 1:39
  • 1
    "I have guided mine destiny vary vell so far, and I zink I can still so do." J. Storer Clouston: Count Bunker.
    – Kris
    Jul 18 '17 at 7:29
  • My understanding is that the word sink (as in "kitchen sink") derives from zinc. The fact that it ends with a 'k' implies to me that the metal would have ended with a 'k' as well at some point in time.
    – Simba
    Jul 18 '17 at 9:44
  • @simba Old English Sincan looks like the source of sink, not zinc.
    – jejorda2
    Jul 18 '17 at 11:24

According to Oxford English Dictionary, the answer is yes. Zinke was the earliest attested spelling of the word, with zink also preceding zinc.

The earliest attested use of the word is from 1651.

Any sulphurous, and imperfect metall, as Iron, Copper, or Zinke.

  • John French · The art of distillation; or, A treatise of the choisest spagyricall preparations · 1st edition, 1651 (1 vol.).

The spelling you suggested is believed from 1734.

We took six Ounces of Copper, and melting it in a Wind-Furnance, added to it an Ounce of Zink.

  • Peter Shaw · Chemical Lectures publickly read at London in … 1731, and 1732; and since at Scarborough, in 1733, for the improvement of arts, trades, and natural philosophy · 1734.

And finally, the earliest attested spelling with a 'c' is from 1813

Zinc is one of the most combustible of the common metals.

  • Humphry Davy · Elements of agricultural chemistry, in a course of lectures of the Board of Agriculture

You ask: When might it have ceased to be used?

OED indicates that zink was used into the 1800's, in its remarks on the forms of the word:

Forms: 16–18 zink, (16 zinke, 16–17 zinck), 17– zinc.

However, jlovegren proved that some uses from the 1900's can be found. I would add to that these snippets from 1906 and 1914, respectively. However, the dates provided by OED are probably an accurate measure of when each form was in common use.

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  • Earliest attested spelling with a c is from 1813, but “17– zinc”? That looks a bit odd… Jul 18 '17 at 14:36
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I was wondering about that too. My guess is it's just the first use they attested that starts with a 'c', maybe not necessarily the earliest such spelling they could find. I'm not sure how they get their dating on the various forms. Jul 18 '17 at 14:51
  • @JanusBahsJacquet "17-" just means "from the 17th century to the present time.
    – alephzero
    Jul 18 '17 at 17:11
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    @alephzero I think what Janus was confused about was why the date of the earliest attestation for "zinc" is 1813. 17- means "1700 - present" (not 17th century). public.oed.com/how-to-use-the-oed/… So the question is, why is there no attestation of "zinc" from the 1700's? Since it's not the first attested date of the word generally, I'm guessing they don't necessarily try to antedate every spelling form. Jul 18 '17 at 17:27

You can find the spelling in print sometimes, though obviously it's not standard. May be influence from German, Dutch, Danish, etc.

See below from American Machinist, Volume 27, Issues 27-52 (1904).

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And this from an 1822 work, A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary, and Expositor of the English Language....

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